Dan Henry - Jacmel Haiti - 2005 March 26 - Email

From Jacmel , March 26, 2005

While Port au Prince convulsed in violence for months the Cabaret area remained calm. Local men near the convention grounds formed a 50 man vigilante brigade that is on watch day and night. In the city countless cars had been stolen, burned on the spot, windows smashed, people robbed. Trucks had been stolen, hijacked and drivers shot. For months it had been a daunting task just to go to work and return home. No one has been at peace until everyone is home safe and sound. Many didn't make it. A large area had come to be known as the "Triangle of Death." The road to Cabaret from the international airport skirts this area. The decision was made for the sisters on the FWI staff to return to Haiti for preps Nov. 29. We had wonderful days together preparing for the convention. Often the question was asked, "Will the friends be able to traverse PAP?" "How many should we really prepare for?" So we prepared for all of them to come in hope against hope. During the preps, three ladies from PAP, Ermance, Eltude and Susette were on an old yellow school bus converted to public transport coming to help us, when a large group of men blocked the road, jumped into the bus and deafened the terrified passengers, firing their guns close to their ears. And then began robbing them one by one and threatening to kill them all. Eltude had no money to give. But in the panic a 50 gourde bill fell to the floor and she gave it to the bandits when they came to her. A week earlier Guerda was going home from buying vegetables on a tap-tap when the same thing happened in the center of the city. More than once we moved through the city with fear only to learn that just behind us, again the "chimeres" had attacked, burning cars and robbing on our warm trail.

For weeks the Aristide camp had been vibrating the air, promising vengeance on Dec. 16, the anniversary of the election that brought him to power. Nineteen years ago a student uprising fueled by his rhetoric toppled the entrenched Duvalier dictatorship and helped float him into power on a massive wave of popularity. Now a new generation of students, teachers and the commercial sector had demonstrated relentlessly for his departure. The gangs that defended him warned parents to mark their children with tags Dec. 16 because no one be able to identify them by night. And Dec 16 was the day our friends needed to travel from all points to arrive for the convention. Dismay. The insecurity stood as tall as Galiath in their path. Luquel and Omanes who have a truck and a van had decided for the friends to gather at a certain point to leave together for Cabaret at 2:00 PM, when the "chimeres" normally have lounged through the heat of the day. But the night of the 15th, for the first time in two months no raffles of gunfire broke the night. The morning of 16th, UN helicopters chopped the air low over the city, and UN peace keeping forces with the Haitian police patrolled the streets. An unknown quiet possessed the capital. The road from Les Cayes was blocked by the rebels (ex-army) at Petit Guave. They took the keys to the buses and while many turned back the friends and their little children waited it out in the heat and three hours later with no explanation the keys were returned to the drivers and they traveled on. The friends from Cap Haitien traveled 7 hours south in a bus over roads cut out by hurricane Jeanne through the drowned city of Gonaives without seeing hardly anyone else on the road, the population intimidated by the threats. That evening, Dieula compared our experience to Elijah. He also prepared. He placed the stones. He prepared the altar. He laid the sacrifice there. And then he prayed. And fire came down from heaven. We had done what we could. We trusted Him for help. And help form heaven abundantly came. All of the friends made it but about 60 counting children. Four of the high school students from Jacmel had final exams on the 17th so were not free to travel with the others. That afternoon after testing, they made their way to Port au Prince. Just after crossing a busy intersection on foot to catch their last tap-tap to Cabaret, bullets began screaming over their heads and a stampede broke out. The poor kids ran as hard as they could with their convention gear weighing them down. In so many ways the convention was a haven for the battle weary. The days unfolded so richly and so soon it was over. Thirteen made their choice Saturday eve. Sunday morning before sunrise, we stood together by Caribbean sea and twelve were baptized - amongst them Gedéus and Natasha who made their choices while we were hiding in the mountains.

The news was kept from us until afterwards, but during convention we suffered the first casualty amongst our friends. A faithful mother lost a wayward son the first day of the convention. His body was seen lying in a pool of blood that day in the street near the Iron Market. About three years ago he got into bad company, bragged to his two professing younger brothers that he was in a gang. He robbed our friend’s home while they were in union meeting and was seen with other gang members in a “fouille” (armed hold up) of pedestrians. His mother woke to feel him taking her last savings from under her pillow while she was recuperating from surgery in the hospital. It started with bad company. He resented his mother’s correction and was stopped at 3:00 am from burning down the house with gas with his mother and brothers inside. He told his friends, “She can enjoy this convention, it will be her last.” It seems more than his friends were listening.

All of our visitors came and exited safely. We feel so thankful for the help they brought us. And then Mike and I were privileged to go to Jamaica and Grand Cayman for convention. Several of the friends were at the airport to see us off. Then just before we had to say goodbye Luquel and Mme Kesner came, sweating and excited. In a deadlock traffic jamb the gangs had come out of Cité Soleil and attacked the traffic, robbing anyone they could stop and looting the vehicles. Luquel and Mme Kesner had ran. But poor Kesner with one paralyzed leg was left behind. Just as we had to leave he showed up, smiling, pointing to where he had hid his money, and then quietly gave me a message that I was to carry to the friends of Jamaica…”He would be praying for them that they would have a good convention.”

We have made our rounds visiting all the churches in Haiti twice since convention. And stoking the coals of interest in these mountain areas. At Massolas the folks are set to walk the 6 hour hike to Roche-a-Bateau for the special meeting April 12. At the far western lonely point Tiburon, Valdoise (19) told us she has her meeting all alone under a tree in the yard every Sunday am and every Wednesday pm at the hour she knows the other friends are meeting. She has done this for two years now. Last year she asked us to sing, “Loose Not Thine Hold.” She hasn’t. In the mountains above Jacmel at La Montagne we had meetings in Jean Michel’s aged grandmother’s home a year ago. The days and weeks have flowed, sitting quietly in her yard, unable to read but thinking over the meetings day after day she came to a lucid and firm decision to make her choice and sent a message last week to tell us so. It is more than wonderful. At Cap Haitian, Mariette studied with the sisters until they had to leave over year ago. Dieula kept on with those studies with her. At Hinche Papoute’s sister professed. And now Glenn is back from his tour of conventions in India and in a wonderful mission at Cabaret under a little tent that overflows with neighbors and men who worked with us on the wall. This week, three of Quateley’s children professed. One I carried in my arms all day a few years ago in a Episcopalian Mission Hospital a few years ago from exam to exam, her little body already stiff from Typhoid/Malaria. It is a wonderful comfort to think of the Lord faithfully carrying them the rest of way now. Also the wife of an Adventist pastor made her choice. Moving amongst these friends must be one of the finest privileges in life.

Along the way, we’ve had to back out of trouble a few times while groups fought it out with bottles and stones…politics local style. Presidential and general elections are scheduled for this fall. Seeing the heated contention this early on we have moved our convention forward to Sept 30-Oct 2 hoping to be ahead of the worst of it. But now even our special meetings scheduled for April 4 - 17 are under a black cloud. This past week 5 UN peacekeepers have been killed in skirmishes with the ex-army rebels on our regular routes. Roads have been blocked by bandits robbing everyone. For that reason we’re hunkered down in Jacmel today instead of being with our friends at Virgile as planned.

After the deadly floods last year, now Haiti suffering drought. We met people who’d moved from home and lands just to get nearer to drinking water at Hinche. Cattle and horses are dying in the mountains to the west of Jacmel. We go three miles out of town to a spring where you have to wait in line to get water. At Lozier the lush coffee bush, white with flowers last year at this time, is almost bare of leaves. For days the city was blackout. The kids facing exams were pinched for more hours study time. Some were trying to study by the light of the moon. We loaned our young folks the Coleman. Do you know what a strangled economy is? This is an example: Therese at Les Cayes wanted to help Felix with the family expenses so opened a little business making soursop popsicles. With intermittent electricity it takes more than a day to get them frozen. And then find a market that wasn’t already saturated, she shared the business with a man who takes them on a sailboat to the populated island, l’Isle de Vache, in a cooler. When the winds aren’t favorable he returns with box of melted juice. They had to downsize their product…a two gourdes (7.4 US cents) soursop popsicle was too expensive to sell and had to make them a one gourdes (3.7 US cents) in order to market them. After all the work you can imagine the profits. Yes, one could say, “Why don’t they do something different?” Millions of Haitians are groping for that answer. “What can you do?” Papoute, our potter friend at Hinche, got a great contract to make 7000 clay bricks. When it’s all done and after over a month’s work and keeping the wood kiln fires burning all night, he’ll have about $100 US profit if all goes well. He’s smiling.

This week we went up to Desmarad without being able to send a message that we were coming. Mme Jean was leaving her home to go to a neighbors wake and something told her to go back and she found us coming in the back way. Jean was sitting with his friends in the wake and he said it was as if he saw me. He got up and came home at the same time. They were so happy. I don’t understand it but it strengthens my faith. There is strong evidence of something moving. And Jesus said it would be so of those born of the Spirit (John 3) …like the wind. After coffee Jean said, “Now tell us what you carried up that mountain to tell us.”

My departure for Europe is set from Port au Prince via Boston for April 18. I’m feeling keenly the passing hours. Last night several of the young folk came and we sat in a circle visiting for a long time. It came to mind if fellowship sweet is LIFE…then eternity is LIFE forever.

Mike is fine. He and Glenn will be together at Cabaret DV after the special meetings in the FWI. Again, we’ve been grateful for mail.

Your brother, Dan