Mission: Haiti 2009
Mini-Mission Trip Report
By Josh Carroll
Climbing For Christ
Mini-Mission: Haiti 2009 was an emotional roller coaster for our team, which consisted of Steve Quakenbush, Justin Lee, and me.
It began Thursday, March 26, with a looming storm on the horizon. Up to two feet of snow had been forecast along the Front Range of Colorado, where we live.
Steve and Justin left Cañon City at 10 a.m., about six hours ahead of their original schedule, in an effort to beat the storm. They succeeded. Colorado State Department of Transportation closed CO SH115 between Canon City and Colorado Springs just hours after they went through.
The team assembled at my house in Denver just after 3 p.m., where we watched as the storm intensified and the inches of snow piled up into feet. Much of the afternoon was spent watching news updates from Denver International Airport (DIA) and Internet updates of flight times with JetBlue. We were scheduled to leave just after midnight. We ended up staying up all night getting updates on our delayed flights.
We made it to DIA just after 6 a.m. Friday, March 27, after having been told that our flight was supposed to leave at 8:30 a.m. We found that JetBlue had moved the flight to 11:55 a.m. and the check-in counter would not open until 9:30 a.m.
“WAS THIS TRIP GOING TO HAPPEN? WAS GOD TRYING TO SAY SOMETHING?”
We began to doubt whether or not we’d be able to make it to the Dominican Republic.
At 9 a.m. the JetBlue representatives finally made it to the counter and checked in our bags. The sun started to poke through the clouds and it looked as though maybe, just maybe, we'd be on our way. Indeed we were. Just after noon, we left DIA and were on our way to JFK. A layover in JFK, another JetBlue delay, and we were off to DR. The team agreed that stopping at the hardware store and shipping port in Santo Domingo — two tasks that I wanted to do in preparation for the water-pump system we are planning to build in Gentilhomme, Haiti in November and December — were of less priority than making it to the children in Jimani.
Landing just after 2 a.m. Saturday, March 28, we quickly grabbed our bags. All six checked bags made it just fine! We went to customs where we received a welcome similar to the arrival of our Mission: Haiti 2008 team last December. We met quite a bit of resistance at first, regarding the medication and vitamins we were carrying in six large duffels.
Then a customs official asked: “¿Adónde van con todo esto?” (“Where are you going with all of this?). The moment I said, “Jimani,” God opened the doors to our team. She quickly zipped up the bags and nodded, saying, “Sí ellos necesitan este material allí. ¿Su para el derecho de haitianos?” (“Yeah, they need this stuff there. It’s for Haitians, right?”). I replied yes and she sent us on our way. Thank you, Father.
For anyone who has ever been on Mission: Haiti (18 Climbing For Christ members have participated in five mission trips in four years) and walked down the hallway in the Dominican airport that leads to passenger pickup, you know the excitement of seeing Miguel standing behind the rail, waiting for you to arrive! “Miguel!” I said, as he walked up the ramp and greeted us. The reunion was especially significant for Steve, as he and Miguel exchanged several hugs and immediately started talking about the children (Gilbert, Sainte-Anne, and Miche).
Gilbert is the 15-year-old boy who God used us to rescue from death after he suffered a compound fracture in 2007 and did not receive medical help until Miguel found him — 27 days after he’d broken his leg. He lost his leg, but his life was spared. He will be sized for a prosthetic with the help of Climbing For Christ member Craig DeMartino.
Sainte-Anne is the 7-year-old girl whose leg was damaged as an infant when her parents had a tug-of-war for possession of her. The Mission: Haiti 2006 team was the first to meet her, when Sainte-Anne’s grandfather requested our five members pray over her. Climbing For Christ’s prayer team has lifted her for healing since, and that prayer will be answered in surgery this summer.
Miche is the 9-year-old boy who Climbing For Christ president Gary Fallesen observed hopping home from school in April 2007. His leg was also damaged when he was an infant and he has never been able to walk on it.
Justin, Steve and I piled into a mini-van and began the long, long drive to Jimani. It was nearly 6:30 a.m. Saturday when the team arrived. The sun was coming up, but we had no idea what day it was. Miguel dropped us off at Hotel JV so we could lie down for a “couple hours rest.”
Jeffrey, Miguel's son, showed up at 8:30 a.m. and told us that breakfast was ready. There is no time for rest when there is such great need.
Steve and Donya hugging at Miguel's house in Jimani.
DAY 1 IN JIMANI began with a breakfast treat. White cheese and frito plantains! This meal is usually reserved for the last night of the mission, but Katlee (Miguel's wife) prepared it especially for us that morning. As we walked up the road to Miguel’s house, someone special was waiting near the road. It was Donya. She had been waiting outside for Steve to come up the hill. She met Steve at the edge of Miguel’s property and gave him a big hug. She then lifted her sleeve to show Steve her arm. “I don't believe this,” Steve said over and over. “It’s healing. This shouldn't have healed. I just can't believe it.” Obviously, though, Steve does believe. We all believe. We know exactly Who helped heal Donya — it was our Great Physician.
We sat down for breakfast and watched as more and more people filtered into the area. We recognized many of them. There was Blanco (the pastor from Miguel’s church), and Marjonnie (our cook in December). We saw Gilbert come in, and Sainte-Anne. By the time we were finished eating breakfast, there was already a large crowd forming outside of Miguel's home. Word had spread that Dr. Steve was in town.
Most of the morning was set aside for examining Sainte-Anne and Miche. Miguel showed Steve the X-rays of their knees. Steve was able to see evidence of a past break in Miche’s leg, but there doesn’t appear to be any past break in Sainte-Anne's leg. Steve's conclusion from the radiographs was a positive one. He feels confident that the surgeons in Cañon City, Colo. will be able to move forward with plans to operate on the children’s’ knees.
Sainte-Anne and Miche.
We then filmed each child's legs, investigating their range of motion, strength and ability to move the leg under their own power. Each child struggled significantly to extend their leg even an inch, whereas they can bend their legs relatively well. Miche, in particular, has experienced a significant amount of atrophy of his quadriceps, hamstring, and calf muscles. His upper leg was only as big around as my wrist. Videos were made, and nearly 40 still photos were taken to deliver to the surgeons.
Although we did not bring any medicine along to hold clinics, Steve saw a few emergency patients in the afternoon. Rummaging through the box of medicine leftover and saved by Miguel from December, as well as digging through our own first-aid kits, we had just the right stuff. There were a few isolated cases of infections, and some broken bones, and then it was time for the first serious case: a badly burned baby.
Boiling water had spilled on the back of his head and down his back. Roughly 150 square inches of his head, neck, back, and side were burned. The burns appeared to be second and possibly third degree. Steve discovered that the skin was very dry and brittle. The baby experienced a large amount of pain when Steve would touch him. Steve used some extra burn cream (added for free to the order Steve had placed for Donya by a pharmacist in Cañon City because it had a “cracked lid”) to put on the baby's back. With the help of Madam San Luis and Justin, Steve re-wrapped the baby in clean dressings and instructed the mother to bring the child back on Sunday after church.
All this time, Steve was speaking ... KREYOL! He has been studying hard over the past three months in a Kreyol (Haitian Creole) medical dictionary, and fell right into it with the Haitian patients. Justin, Miguel, and I were all very impressed.
Saturday afternoon, we presented Miguel and the children with some gifts from the U.S. Steve gave Miguel a suit that Miguel and his 15-year-old son Jeffery both tried on. Miche, Sainte-Anne and Gilbert all received picture books of the mountains in Colorado. Miche especially liked his book; he wouldn't put it down, no matter where he went. He was particularly fond of a picture of mountain goats. The children also got some brand new shoes and clothes donated by people of Steve's church in Cañon City.
Miche with his picture book showing mountain goats in Colorado.
I played games with a group of children and helped Jeffrey with his English homework. Many of the children in Jimani are learning Spanish and/or English in addition to knowing Kreyol. Older children, like Jeffrey and Gilbert, speak Spanish well. I was excited to talk and play with them because I also speak Spanish. In one particular case, Steve had a patient who spoke only Kreyol and was using words that Steve did not know. Miguel was at the church so he was unable to help. The Haitian patient spoke to a man named Molbe, who then told it me in Spanish, and I told Steve in English. I recalled the article I wrote for Climbing For Christ's quarterly magazine, The Climbing Way (Volume 13, Spring 2009), about overcoming language barriers on mission trips: “We will overcome the obstacle and our plans for good will happen.”
We finally went to bed around 9 p.m. Saturday, but loud music in the town square for a presidential campaign party, and a Catholic church song-and-dance night next door that lasted until late into the night, hindered our ability to catch many zzz’s.
DAY 2 IN JIMANI began with a visit to Miguel’s house for coffee before Sunday morning worship. We were able to see all of the children, Miguel, Katlee and Donya in the new clothes we brought them! Miguel took the three of us to church to listen in on Blanco's Sunday school lesson from 1 Samuel. Blanco stressed the absolute need to do exactly as God would expect us to. At the end of Sunday school, the children began filling up the back of the church and soon worship began. We recognized many of the melodies from December, and even recognized a few hymns we sing at our own churches in the U.S.
As is customary in Miguel’s church, he likes to “hear from the Americans.” So we honored his request. Steve spoke first, as Miguel said, “Since Gary is not along on this trip, I select Steve as the chief, and Steve go first!” Steve shared a message of unity. It’s very easy to notice the differences between our Haitian friends and ourselves, but Steve reminded the congregation that because we worship the same God, we read the same inspired Word of God, and because He is our father, we are all one family.
I spoke next. Miguel informed me that the church had been learning the Ten Commandments, so I shared with them about the disciples asking Jesus, “Which is the greatest commandment of all?” I asked the church, “Do you wonder which is the greatest commandment? What pleases God more than any other?” I went on to share that they should “love the Lord their God, with all their heart, all their soul, and all their mind.” And to “love their neighbor as they love themselves.”
Justin shared Psalm 1:1-3, building on what Miguel had been sharing about being a friend to God. And he challenged the church to do exactly what God wants in order to be fruitful and to please God in all they do.
After church, Steve re-bandaged the baby. Madam San Luis held the baby on her lap as Steve peeled large portions of skin from the baby's back, revealing pink skin below. The baby cried as Steve worked his way across and down the neck and back. After removing all of the burned skin, Steve reapplied the burn cream and dressings, commenting,” The burns look a lot better already. They just need to keep cleaning and wrapping.”
The afternoon was spent in fellowship with many of the church members. Miguel took us on a walk to the teacher’s home, and to a hill that overlooks the lake near Jimani. We looked at Miguel’s farm, some baby piglets, and played with a very young puppy. Back at Miguel’s home we began saying our good-byes and got ready to return home. At 7:30 p.m., Miguel and the taxi driver arrived and we began our long, long drive back to Santo Domingo. We flew back to the States overnight and into the next morning, arriving in Colorado at noon on Monday.
Miguel, Steve and Justin (left to right) look at Sainte-Anne's X-rays.
THE TRIP WAS NOTHING LESS than a blur of emotion. From Thursday, March 26 to Monday, March 30, it was hard to remember where one day ended and another began. It was an endless series of obstacles and victories for God's glory. We accomplished many of the goals identified before the team left the U.S., and the others will be accomplished in God's time.
Miguel and his family extend a hand and a home to Climbing For Christ that humbles me greatly. With as little as they have, they offered it all. Despite all efforts to reverse the trend, it always feels like they are washing our feet, instead of us washing theirs.
We can hardly wait to see our Haitian and Dominican friends again. We left part of our hearts with them. We look forward to this summer when Miguel and the children (Gilbert, Sainte-Anne and Miche) will come to the U.S. We will wash their feet, open our homes, extend our hands, and be further confident in the faith we share.
Josh Carroll, a member of Climbing For Christ since January 2008 and the Colorado Front Range Chapter coordinator, was a participant in Mission: Haiti 2008 and is on the Mission: Haiti 2009 team. He is an engineer from Denver.
Posted April 2, 2009