Several things happened to us at our clinic in Gatineau this past week that remind Cherlie and me that the Lord’s timing is quite amazing. Since the hurricane in October, we have made an effort to acquire donations of relief supplies to augment our service to the communities around the clinic. Our first priority, obviously, is providing them with health care, which we do in our clinic. But we cannot help but feel empathy for their living situation and the needs that dominate their lives. It is because of this that we initiated our home-building project, helping people to rebuild their houses and, in the process, re-establish some semblance of normalcy in their lives.
We were recently informed that we were to receive a truckload of rice and beans to distribute to needy people in our area. The donation was from Texas businessman Gary Heavin and his wife Diane, who have been assisting with relief efforts in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake. I met Gary at the airport in Jérémie a few months ago as he was flying in food supplies to the Grand’Anse immediately after the hurricane. A more compassionate couple you will not find! We were told that we would receive 250 sacks of rice and 150 sacks of pinto beans and the person coordinating the transportation of the food out to Jérémie would contact me. Acting on faith, I instructed Gemi and Viel, our community workers, to give out cards to 475 families in 8 communities in the mountains above our clinic so each family could receive ½ sack of rice (25#) and 2 gallon cans of beans (1/4 sack). In two days, all the cards had been distributed.
Last week, I got a call from Rocky, the person who was coordinating transportation of the food for Gary and Diane. We decided that Monday, February 20th would be a good day for him to come out to Gatineau. Since we were advised that the food would shortly be on its way to us, Gemi and Viel informed the communities to come to the clinic on Saturday, February 25th for the distribution. We wanted to get it to them as soon as possible. (You have to realize, of course, that information like this is mostly passed from mouth to mouth, since few people in these mountains communities have cell phones.) But, the message was given, nonetheless.
Monday morning passed and no word from Rocky, so I called him around noon. The truck he was going to use had a problem with the shocks and he had to find another truck. We decided to try for Wednesday. Wednesday morning came and went with no news. Wednesday afternoon brought the news that the truck was stuck in traffic in PAP due to some police activities and they couldn’t get through. “Okay,” I said. “Better to try first thing in the morning, since the road to Jérémie is long.” That brought us to Thursday. Way last week, Cherlie and I had decided that we would stay overnight at the clinic Thursday night and do a distribution on Friday of some kitchen kits (with cooking pots and eating utensils), plastic jerry cans and blankets that we had been given by IOM (International Organization on Migration). We were giving these supplies to over 200 families in several communities that were close to the clinic, including the community of Gatineau itself. So we had hundreds of people coming to the clinic on Friday and hundreds more on Saturday. What had we gotten ourselves into?!
Thursday came and went and no food due to more problems on the road. I began to get apprehensive. What were we going to do with hundreds of hungry people walking for hours from high up in the mountains to get food that wasn’t there? I didn’t want to think about the possibility. Cherlie and I kept busy Thursday evening cleaning and organizing several storerooms and packing newly acquired clinic supplies in drums. Rote tasks always help to clear the mind and leave it free for reflection and prayer, I’ve found. That was the case Thursday evening as I worked!
When we opened the doors of the residence Friday morning, the yard was already starting to fill with people, clutching their little “cards”, which were actually just pieces of paper on which was typed the name of the clinic and the materials or food that were to be distributed. We’ve given out several batches of “cards” since the hurricane; cards for bean and corn seeds for planting, cards for house building materials, cards for food packs (still stuck in customs) and blankets, cards for rice and beans and cards for kitchen kits and jerry cans. There have been lots of cards due to lots of needs and, thankfully, lots of donations. Deciding where to give out each set of cards has been a challenge but we’ve tried to take care of people in the communities closest to the clinic first and then move up further into the mountains based on their needs and whether other resources have been available to them. Gemi and Viel have been the ones responsible for distribution of the cards and they have walked miles in the process, doing a great job of covering the territory and connecting with our Community Promoters to help in the process.
Friday was a full day with distribution of the kitchen kits, blankets and jerry cans, as well as more tin for Stage Two of our house building project. Here’s how the day progressed:
People starting to gather for distribution of the kitchen kits
Heavy wool blankets being prepared for distribution
Each group had their photo taken after receiving their supplies
Cherlie and Viel giving out the kits after the cards were collected and names recorded
One of our patients (middle of the photo) helps out with the distribution
After their photo, they all put their kits on their heads and walked on home
Recipients of the kits walk along the road from the clinic
At the same time the kitchen kits were being distributed, Gemi and his crew were busy distributing more tin for Stage Two of our home building program. Another 750 homes in need of repair have been identified and their homeowners are coming in now to receive their supplies of tin and nails.
Piles of tin fill the clinic yard for distribution for home building
In the midst of Friday’s activities, we had very little phone contact with Rocky, who was supposed to be bringing our food supplies out to us. Gemi spoke with him several times but we had trouble figuring out where he was and then estimating when he might arrive up at the clinic. Rocky promised Gemi that he would be there before Saturday and we didn’t need to cancel the distribution. All we could think about was the hundreds of people who would be walking for hours to come to the clinic for food the next day. If the food wasn’t there…..! We didn’t want to entertain that possibility but the situation was looking more and more discouraging by the hour. It was obvious that Cherlie and I were going to spend another night in Gatineau as we waited for the food delivery. We packed up all of our belongings that evening, realizing that if the food wasn’t there and hundreds of hungry people were, we might need to get out of Dodge quickly! We prayed and prayed as we worked.
At 10:30pm Rocky called to say they had just crossed Riviere Glace (the Ice River), so they were still several hours away. I slept fitfully, alternately thinking and praying my heart out. “Please, Lord, make the impossible possible,” I prayed. My cell phone lost its signal, so Rocky called Gemi at 1am to say that he was in Jérémie and didn’t want to wait until dawn to come up the mountain. So, Gemi gathered up Viel and two other friends and they drove their motorcycles down the mountain to meet Rocky and the truck in order to show them the way up to the clinic. At 4am Gemi drove up outside our residence and honked his horn. I was already awake, having heard the sound of the large truck in the distance. The truck had made it up to Gatineau but got stuck in a small stream that they had to cross a short distance from the clinic. They couldn’t budge in the mud, had a flat tire and we didn’t have another vehicle to come pick up the sacks of food. Cherlie and Gemi and I discussed the situation over coffee. If we unloaded the truck and put the sacks of food outside without protection, we knew the hundreds of people who were supposed to receive it wouldn’t have a chance because the “locals” would take it all for themselves. All we could imagine was chaos. Been there, seen that, don’t want to be a part of it today. We discussed all the possibilities and as we talked, the clinic yard began to fill with people who had been walking since midnight to get there. They had little pieces of paper in their hands – precious pieces of paper that meant that their families wouldn’t be hungry that night. My heart ached as I looked at them streaming into the clinic yard. “The food was here but would they get it?” I wondered.
Gemi went on down to where the truck was stuck and a few minutes later Rocky appeared at our door. We invited him in and listened to him recount the hardships of the trip out to Jérémie. Having driven that same road hundreds of times myself, I nodded as I listened. “What would you like us to do, Rocky?” Cherlie asked, cutting to the quick. It was obvious that Rocky wanted to get out of the mud-hole and back to Port-au-Prince as quickly as he could. So, we decided that the truck would be unloaded immediately and the sacks of rice and beans would be put into the public school that just happened to be very nearby. The school had been damaged by the hurricane and was missing its roof but the rooms were intact and its doors were open. How convenient! So, Rocky went on back to the truck and Gemi explained the situation to the people waiting in the clinic yard, who followed his motorcycle down the road to the mud-hole. And, that’s when the miracles started to happen.
By 8:00 AM the truck had been unloaded by Rocky’s and Gemi’s men and all sacks were accounted for and placed in a room in the school. Then, the crowd of people got behind the truck and in one massive effort, they freed it from the mud so Rocky could be on his way back home. By this time, a large crowd of “locals” had gathered – the same “locals” that we thought would run up and steal the food. Instead, they placed themselves at the doors of the school and not only helped maintain order but they helped measure out the rice and beans and put it in the recipients’ sacks. Dozens of Gatineau community members stayed all day long, helping us distribute food to those who were without. It was an incredible example of benevolence begetting benevolence. You see, the Gatineau “locals” were the ones who just ALL received tin and cement to rebuild their houses. And, yesterday most of them just received kitchen kits and blankets from us. So, it was apparent that they realized that this time the gifts were for others. And, they helped us provide them with enthusiasm.
All the sacks of rice and beans were distributed that day. There were some people who came from far away and did not have cards and they were served also. And, there were a few local people who wanted food and were turned away as well as a few who had cards and there was no more food to give them. But, overall, over 500 people were served and they went back up that mountain knowing their families would eat for a few days at least.
As Cherlie and I drove back down the mountain to come home that night, we thanked all the local people we saw along the way, including the pastor of the Baptist church in Gatineau. “Please tell your people in church tomorrow that we appreciate their help,” we said. “It’s what they needed to do,” he said. No, they didn’t need to do it, but they did because maybe, finally, attitudes in the community are changing as they see compassion at work in their midst. Praise the Lord for His perfect timing and for many lessons learned that day.
Sacks of rice and beans in the public school in Gatineau after being unloaded
Crowd of people waiting for food from the school
Measuring cans of rice into sacks for recipients