Serving Haiti

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  • May 14, 2010

Two weeks ago, we prayerfully sent Jon & Shelley George to Haiti for medical missions. Read here and be encouraged as they reflect on their trip.

The decision to go to Haiti for us in a sense was relatively easy…in fact we really had no excuse not to go.  We have been blessed with careers in medicine, which makes it very easy to serve people in need, especially after natural disasters.  Although we had slight trepidation, we had faith that this was what the Lord was leading us to do.  With the support and prayers of our family, church, and friends, we prepared to go to Haiti.  We were made aware that clean water and food were hard to come by and started preparing ourselves both mentally and physically.  We flew from Philadelphia to Miami and from Miami to Port au Prince via a charter aircraft arranged by University of Miami and Project Medishare.  We met many individuals who were going on their second and third trips because they truly felt their service was needed in this city.  While we were happy to hear this, we were also slightly embarrassed that we were having difficulty giving up just one week of our vacation to volunteer on this mission.  Before we left, we prayed for safety, health, and the use of our services for His glory.  With a confident and trusting attitude, we headed on the plane ready to face the devastating conditions upon landing.

At first glance on arrival, it was like landing in any other city of a third world country.  It was hot and humid without air conditioning and the stagnant air around us was mildly suffocating.  Immediately outside the gates of the airport could’ve been hundreds of people waiting to catch a glimpse of volunteers coming in and perhaps to accost them for money or food.  We were transported by bus to the Project Medishare Tents, five minutes from the airport, where we were quickly debriefed about living quarters and work expectations.  We then heard the announcement that several pieces of luggage had not arrived from Miami and would not come in for another 3 days—and of course, we were part of this unfortunate group.  Despite strategically planning and packing for all foreseeable needs in Haiti, we now had nothing except the clothes on our bodies and our passports.  Thankfully at the camp, we found a set of new scrubs, and some extra toiletries and food that the last group had left behind.  Within the first few hours of walking on the gravel and rocks, Jon’s sandals broke.  Although he tried to manage by stitching them with surgical sutures, someone noticed his difficulty and offered Jon a new pair of socks and shoes.  Sure we hadn’t prayed specifically that our luggage would arrive on time, but from the start, the Lord was teaching us to lean on Him and depend on His provisions.

There were four large tents at the camp.  The first one was our living quarters with 150 cots lined sided by side–each person took a cot, found a mosquito net, and made it home for the next week.  Outside there were four shower stalls with each person allotted one minute of running water and a row of portable toilets.  The second large tent was for adult medicine and rehab patients.  Next to that was a tent with the operating room, intensive care unit, and pediatric unit.   The fourth tent was for supplies, which various individuals and organizations had generously donated.

Once we were acquainted with our quarters and the facilities, we were off to work within an hour of arrival.  Patients were lined up and ready to be evaluated in the make shift triage area under a mango tree and the emergency room under a tarp extending from one of the tents.  The operating room where Shelley was assigned had a full schedule and the adult medicine tent where Jon was assigned had 78 patients.  We weren’t sure what we were going to see in the aftermath of a natural disaster:  we may have expected traumatic spine and crush injuries related to the earthquake; we may even have expected the abundance of tropical epidemics like malaria, tuberculosis, and elephantiasis; but there was so much more.

People, even within families, were turning against each other for the limited resources that were available (machete injuries and gun shot wounds); chaos and overpopulation leading to motor vehicle accidents (cars, trucks, and pedestrians); burn victims from raging fires in tent cities (triggered by oil lamps or candles due to lack of electricity); mothers abandoning babies after their delivery (exponentially increasing numbers of orphans).  We were seeing a population in need of general healthcare—children in need of antibiotics, adults in need of blood pressure and diabetes medications, recently discharged patients in need of follow up, and injured victims in need of rehabilitation.

Port au Prince is now a tent city.  The city looks like a third world city under rubble.  Only a few construction crews were seen working on the rubble, while the unemployment line stretched a mile long outside a few remaining functioning factories.  We saw a lot of organizations that were stationed in various parts of the city performing numerous charitable duties to segments of the population but despite all these efforts, they seemed to be minuscule in the large scheme of devastation and need.

Yet through all of this grief and despair, the Haitians are still smiling and trying to move on with their lives:  mothers walk their children to schools; little girls wear their hair in ponytails; clean pressed uniforms still adorn the school children despite their living conditions; fathers appear busy doing odd jobs trying to make a living.  In the pediatric unit, you will find beautiful happy children, who have no idea that they have an illness that will kill them in Haiti due to lack of resources, where a simple surgery in any developed country could save their lives.

Each morning and night at our makeshift hospital, a Haitian pastor would come to give a sermon, sing hymns and pray over the patients.  It is this faith that helps so many in such a time of despair.  For us, it was also comforting and uplifting to hear the familiar hymns of home sung in Creole, and we thanked the Lord that he had put us in Haiti.  We quickly realized that we were there to help them regain some sense of normalcy and working all day in 110-degree weather without air conditioning or cold water became totally worthwhile.

Our Lord is an omniscient and all transcending God, and at times, we forget that and place Him in a box.  Our faith at times is so small and we wonder if we truly believe He can do all things.  Then it is at times like these, that we recognize our lack of faith, His knowledge of every hair on every head, His watchful eye over all His people, and our small part in His large work.  We are thankful that He allowed us to be a part of this awesome experience; for the lesson of truly relying on Him for all things; for the reminder that we live not for our own lives, desires and comfort, but for His glory.

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About Ajay Thomas

Ajay lives in Philadelphia with his wife Shainu and their kids Hannah and Micah. He is responsible for preaching and vision as a pastor at Seven Mile Road. He loves God, family, food, and football - in that order.

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