God's Presence in the Collapsing Screams of the Haiti Earthquake
By Stuart Rankin, MACH, MATH '06
When the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, I was near the epicenter.
Our team, sent by Sturbridge (MA) Worship Center, where I serve, had just returned from a day of ministry in the mountains. I didn’t realize it at the time, but God had protected us in a major way.
The road we had driven across a few minutes prior to the quake had been torn open and covered by truck-size boulders from the landslides. If we had left later, our story would be different. Instead, we were at the Mission of Hope office in Grand Goave, the headquarters for a Haitian ministry with which our church mission teams regularly work.
Unlike so many buildings that collapsed under the violent shaking, including a number at the Mission of Hope school and orphanage, we remained unscathed. We would soon discover that our sleeping accommodations had been totally destroyed, and washed over by a mini tsunami. In that moment, surrounded by danger on all sides, God powerfully protected us.
Standing outside, we began to grasp the sheer magnitude of the moment. Structures were visibly damaged. With each successive aftershock, the eerie sound of buildings collapsing left an uncomfortable void of unease and anxiety, offset only by the screams that would reverberate through the city.
A woman running helplessly up and down the street approached us in desperation, carrying her beautiful little granddaughter. The three-year-old was already unconscious. A concrete slab had fallen and split open her head. This precious child had simply been standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. We tried in vain to get her to a hospital, and prayed in earnest for her life, but ultimately committed her to the Lord.
What could be done? We all felt so helpless. Everyone felt helpless. “Are the orphans okay? Please, God, protect them! How about Pastor Lex? He’s been away since morning!” The phones were down. We just determined to pray constantly and encourage one another. Night was coming quickly.
During those initial night hours, it was difficult to overcome an encompassing sense of dread and uncertainty. As we huddled under the stars with so many whose homes had been lost, we saw desperation and fear grip the people every time a tremor would strike—a relentless reminder that the earthquake seemed to be in charge.
Yet, with all of Haiti vulnerable to this spirit of fear, there arose a more powerful voice: unceasing cries to Jesus to save and have mercy. For the five nights we were there before being evacuated, we could hear people praying and worshipping until dawn across the whole city. As many have quipped, that first night, “All of Haiti became Christian.” During the ensuing days, God’s presence continued to be apparent. Just a few blocks from where we were during the earthquake, St. Francois, the local Catholic church, and behind it the priest’s home, had crumbled to the ground, burying alive the priest, a nun and 17 church members. Having feared the worst, we joyfully received word two days later that all had been pulled out alive some 23 hours after the earthquake.
I had an opportunity to talk with the priest a day later. From his mattress on the dirt ground where he lay paralyzed from his waist down, he recalled how “The Lord told me we would all be rescued.” That one word from the Lord made all the difference. Despite being trapped under rubble, he fought to keep his group from sinking into despair. As I listened to him, his strength seemingly returning, I could see the depth of faith and gratitude in his eyes. God was certainly at work.
After the earthquake, our team, which included current GCTS student William Coley, extended help by being a presence: encouraging, praying and walking alongside our Haitian brothers and sisters as they experienced this catastrophe. We sent out teams to search for survivors with relatives in the U.S. Thankfully, all the individuals we searched for were found alive. We also conducted interviews with survivors (such as the priest), and analyzed and documented the damage of many of those in the Mission of Hope community who had lost their homes.
Since the earthquake, we have sent six international relief teams to Haiti, and will continue sending teams throughout the year. In my first return visit in February, I helped coordinate on-the-ground work, including rubble removal and construction at the destroyed beach property, and construction of a wood and tarp structure which serves as a temporary church and school. I also helped distribute tents to the mountain area before the rainy season, and worked with Samaritan’s Purse to secure installation of latrines, washhouses and water filtration systems which are providing pure water for the first time to many Haitians.
Besides all the incredible reconstruction work that is happening, God is visibly at work in the hearts of ordinary Haitians. Church services are packed. The already vibrant worship is now overflowing with jubilation and thanksgiving to the God who saves. Most people have lost so much, yet they seem to have so much more: an undeniable joy.
One early morning, I was privileged to assist in baptizing 28 new believers. They had all come to know Christ through this earthquake experience. In fact, they all came from the mountainous area where, on the day of the earthquake, our mission team was distributing supplies and praying for people. I remember one lady in particular who refused our prayer. “I won’t die today,” she said. “I don’t need Jesus now.” But that night, her life flashed before her eyes, and she ran to the local pastor to give her life to Christ. She was among those baptized.
In that same area, we had, prior to the earthquake, met a voodoo priest who confessed he practiced voodoo for the money. However, he allowed us to pray for him and his family. We prayed that he would come to know Christ, and, if not, that God would remove the voodoo influence from the region. And that is exactly what happened. With the earthquake disrupting the voodoo dance he was preparing as an offering to one of his gods, all the people were praising God, even this priest. We don’t know what has become of him, other than that he lost his customers and left for Port- au-Prince. It reminded me of the Book of Acts.
Haiti faces monumental challenges over the next decade. Yet God is at work. And he can take what is meant for evil and use it for good. With the church leading the way through embodied praise, the powers of darkness that have kept Haiti in generational bondage will be silenced, and Jesus will be exalted (cf. Ps. 8:2; Mt 21:16). Having seen him at work already, that is my prayer for Haiti.
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