On February 7th, 2019 opposition parties in Haiti called for people to take to the streets to protest the present government of President Jovenel Moise.  The underlying feeling was that this would be a day of protest and things would get back to normal quickly.  But, as is often the case here, the demonstrations quickly turned violent. The following day, Friday, February 8th, Denver veterinarian Nancy Willerton, her husband Craig Mills, their twin adopted Haitian sons Zeb and Zadie, Emmy-award winning journalist Tamara Banks and her videographer Janine Trudell were scheduled to fly on a red-eye flight to Miami and on to PAP arriving Saturday morning, the 9th.  We discussed the situation on Friday afternoon and decided to go ahead and have them fly to PAP, where they had reservations at a hotel near the airport.  None of us were anticipating the violence that the next few days brought to the entire country of Haiti.  They didn’t arrive until late Saturday afternoon, due to delays in their flight.  I had already made several calls to the hotel to check on their arrival and to be sure the hotel van was going to pick them up at the airport.  I didn’t want them to be left on their own!  The anxiety, excitement and challenges had begun!

 

Prior to their arrival, I had planned a busy week for three groups within the group.  Nancy was going to examine, vaccinate and put ear tags on all 208 goats in our new Goat Program.  Craig and the nine-year old twins were going to help with the goats, visit local Haitian schools and explore the communities.  And, Tamara and Janine were going to do interviews and videotape staff and patients in the clinic and people in the communities in order to produce some videos for us.  Every day was planned to a T.  Translators were lined up for all three groups.  The residence was clean and ready to receive them.  Menus were planned, including a Haitian meal at the home of one of our pastor friends whose community was involved in the goat program.  The plans of men (and women) were not to be!

 

Things in PAP deteriorated rapidly over the weekend.  I had intended to go to PAP with two vehicles to bring the group out here to Jérémie, but the road was blocked by barricades and violence in several towns along the way.  So, I began trying to find charter airplane flights to bring them out.  The first contact didn’t answer his texts or phone calls. In the meantime, the hotel where the group was staying didn’t have room to keep them another night.  More phone calls to other guest houses close to the airport because driving to hotels further towards the middle of town was felt to be too dangerous.  Finally, I found a guest house that was close and had room.  More emails and phone calls making sure the group was picked up and made it safely to the new guest house.  Communication was difficult because no calls were going through on the visitors’ cell phones, only email.  Still no response from the pilot.

 

Sunday afternoon I was given a lead on another pilot who had a small plane that might be able to make two trips to Jérémie to get the group out here.  “Maybe I can take them Monday”, the pilot said.  But, Monday came and went without any confirmation.  “I’ll try to bring them Tuesday”, he said. Meanwhile, on Monday the town of Jérémie erupted in violence.  Tires burned in the streets, roads were cut off, windows of cars and businesses smashed. Our friends advised us not to try to get home Monday evening so Cherlie and I stayed up at the clinic.  Tuesday was more of the same.  Tuesday morning the group made their way to the airport to wait for the pilot.  “I have to go to Cayes first,” the pilot said, “and then I’ll come back for your group.” Finally, we received an email from Nancy that said that they were coming in two planes, both at the same time. Good, that would make things easier. But, Jérémie was still unstable. We figured at least they could get to our house, which is on the outskirts of town on the way to the airport.

 

I got a call from our driver, Miller, who was supposed to be on his way to the airport to pick up the team. “There’s a roadblock and I can’t get past”, he said.   “There are tree branches all across the road and large rocks.”  I couldn’t believe it.  Who would think that there would be problems that far outside of town?  As we’re talking, the plane lands at the airport.   “Did you tell them you need to get through to the airport?” I said, thinking how stupid that would sound to a bunch of militants.  Like who cared if he got to the airport to pick up a bunch of visitors? Then, I thought, if the group is stranded at the airport and can’t get to our house, better they go back to PAP and go back home.”  I was already resigned to the fact that our plans for this week weren’t to be.  I quickly sent a text message to the pilot “Take them back!  The road to the airport is blocked.”  The pilot calls.  “I can’t take them back with me and someone here says the group can stay at his guest house which is close to the airport,” he says.  As I’m talking with the pilot, Miller pulls up at the airport in our jeep. He had paid the guys at the roadblock and they let him pass through.  Easy as pie!  I talk on the pilot’s phone to Nancy.  “We’re fine,” she says.  “Just wait,” I think to myself.

 

They got to our house safely and were able to relax, even without any running water, and enjoyed a supper made by Miller.  Meanwhile, we were still stuck up at the clinic.  The bridge leading into town was blocked by burning tires.  We made plans to have the group leave Jérémie early the next morning, hoping that the roads would be cleared of debris later that evening. Gemi’s brother, Ginet, would do a dry run on his motorcycle and let Miller know what roads were blocked and which ones were open.  Nancy and I emailed back and forth.  They were fine.

 

We got up early Wednesday morning after a sleepless night.  What would the day bring?  We awaited word from Ginet.  Miller was ready and the luggage was loaded on the roof of the jeep.  The group had coffee and was eating breakfast. Finally, Gemi called.  The roads were open and the bridge was clear.  I called Miller and told him to follow Ginet through town and bring the group up to the clinic.  Fingers were crossed and prayers went upward.  After an agonizing 45 minutes, we got word that they were past the bridge and on their way up the mountain.  Clear sailing now!  What relief.

 

In the next three days, the team accomplished everything that needed to be done that week.  The boys didn’t get to see a Haitian school in session but they made lots of friends among the Haitian children plus they did a great job helping their Mom with the goats.  Tamara and Janine didn’t interview the patients I had planned for them but they found others to interview and they got video of everything they needed. The group didn’t get their Haitian meal on Tuesday as planned but they got it on Thursday.  All the goats were examined, immunized, logged into the log sheets and tagged.  And, we were able to get down to our own house each evening and bring food up for the group, who stayed at the clinic residence.

Nancy and kids2

Nancy works on a goat with Zadie (L) and Zeb (R) behind her.  Other Haitian boys play with a soccer ball the boys brought.

Interview

Tamara conducts an interview that Janine is videotaping while translator Reginal looks on.

 

The group blessed us in other ways as well.  Tamara brought with her some small, plastic solar lamps as part of her “Be Brilliant” program.  The boys brought soccer balls for the children in each of the communities they visited, as well as lots of lollipops to give out and small toy cars for my clinic patients.

 

Tamara lights

Tamara holds up one of her portable solar lights that she left for us to give to school children to use to study in the evenings and early mornings.

Showing off car

Zeb and Zadie brought down some beautiful new cars that I gave out to boys in the clinic like this one.

 

Through the whole week, we saw evidence of the grace of the Lord and the goodness of His people. From the pastor who offered to house the group at the airport to Ginet who acted as Miller’s scout, to the communities that welcomed the group with open arms and hearts, to neighbors who visited us and brought us food when we were stranded at the clinic, to friends in the US and patients at the clinic who prayed for us, we felt the Lord’s hand upon us and our visitors.  But, the week wasn’t quite over.

 

We had made plans long before their visit for an MAF charter plane to come get them in Jérémie on Saturday, take them back to PAP where they would get their flight back to the US and home.  I knew that the plane was undergoing routine maintenance that week and I also knew that things were very “hot” in PAP.  So, I wasn’t surprised when I got an email on Wednesday stating that MAF wasn’t sure if the plane would be ready by Saturday for the flight.  Their staff were unable to get to work in PAP due to the unrest, so the plane’s repairs were delayed.  “OK,” I thought.  “Here we go again.  More uncertainty.”  It’s become a way of life.  Each day brought emails back and forth.  Things were unstable.  Mechanics couldn’t get to the airport.  Things were more calm.  Plane was being worked on.  Finally, on Friday afternoon, MAF wrote and said that they were going to try to make the flight to Jérémie around noon on Saturday.  The end was in sight.

 

Saturday, just before noon, we loaded the jeep and headed to the airport.  Luggage was weighed, log sheet filled out, and, after an hour’s delay, the plane appeared in the sky above the trees.  Praise the Lord!  Soon the intrepid group was back in PAP and, after that, on their way to Miami and Denver. It was an incredible week with incredibly flexible, adaptable and unflappable people.  You all were troopers!  We give our thanks to the team and to those who stood in prayer behind them. Bless you all.

IMG_1064Denver group on their last day in Haiti  From left:  Zadie, Craig, Zeb, Nancy, Janine, Tamara