Thursday, January 19, 2017

Cholera Day 0: 10 babies and 11 days In Port Au Prince

Cholera Evacuation of 10 babies to Port-au-Prince
In my "Year in Review" post, I made the comment that someday, I would have the courage to begin to tell some of the stories of the things that I went through. My first attempt at this is to tell the story of when I was sent in January of 2013 to Port au Prince with 10 babies who got cholera. Today is the 4-year anniversary of the beginning of that experience, so I believe it's a fitting time to post the story. This was the most difficult experience of my life for many reasons, as you'll understand when you read it.

This account is mostly taken from my journal that I recorded at the time. I have added some clarifying details, removed some names, and supplemented the account with some emails sent at the time. It's a story of human mismanagement, but of God's intervention and grace. It's a story with sad, heart-wrenching things, but nevertheless it has the fingerprints of sovereignty all over it. It's a story that, looking back from the perspective of four years later, I see so many incredible evidences of God's grace and truth, and yet, still so many unanswered questions to grapple with. 

This was the child we're talking about.
Important Note: In this story, I mention a child named Jackson. The actual name of this child was Josiah, but at the very beginning, I was told his name was Jackson, so in person and in my journal during this time, I called him Jackson and referred to him as Jackson. This created some confusion later (after the cholera episode), until it got cleared up that the child I had been calling Jackson was actually named Josiah, so Jackson didn’t get cholera, Josiah did—but I have retained my original wording from my handwritten journal. As you read, remember that Jackson is not really Jackson, he is Josiah.

Day 0: Saturday, January 19, 2013

The day started innocently enough. It was a Saturday, and I spent a lazy morning at the pool with one of the missionary families and their kids. At 1:00, we got ready to go to the store, and it seemed like it was going to be a pretty routine trip. We had a working vehicle, and all we had to do was make 2 stops in Saint Marc and then come home.

We were standing outside Club Indigo waiting for everyone to arrive, when one of my coworkers asked me, "Have you seen the emails from Heather?"

"No, what emails?" I asked.

She showed me her phone, and I read through the conversation, entitled, “Creche Evacuation Plan.” Heather was asking everyone different questions, and she was volunteering me for various roles in the whole evacuation plan. Cholera was in the creche, and the infants were the most vulnerable to dying if they came down with it. We had been advised by the cholera team to evacuate the babies, so now the question was, where would they go and who would take care of them? Lots of suggestions were being tossed out, none of them definitive.

We went on to Saint Marc, went to the first store, and came back out to find that our vehicle wouldn’t start. We tried various things, but nothing worked, so we walked to the other store, which was just around the corner. We did our shopping, came back, put our groceries that we could spare in the trunk, and took a tap-tap home.

I was thinking of the possibility that the window could be broken and all our food stolen by the time we got back. But in that moment, I experienced a sense of wider perspective: Losing my groceries is a minor issue compared to, say, losing a leg or losing a child or losing your health or losing your life. And my second thought was, "Let me lose what I may lose--none of it matters because I am kept by my God, and He will never lose me. Let the flesh be stripped of all its props and indulgences. Any loss that comes in to strip me of more of the flesh is a welcome blessing. So come, loss and trial and suffering! Do your work thoroughly."

Little did I know how soon God would take me up on that invitation.

I think it was 4:30 when we got back home. I checked email and received the whole conversation my coworker had showed me, as well as an urgent message from Heather, sent 40 minutes earlier, asking for my phone number because she hadn’t been able to get ahold of me, and she hadn’t heard from me. I was a key person in the workability of the plans, because I was single and didn’t have any kids, making me more mobile.

I wrote to Heather and said she could volunteer me for anything, that I would move, take in babies, or do whatever.

She wrote back and said that I should pack, because I would be taking 8-10 babies to Port-au-Prince, spend two weeks there, and then spend a month in Cap Haitien with the Justice Rescue Project kids.

I wrote back and asked what day I would be leaving, thinking, “Monday?” but also thinking, “She might say tomorrow, so I’d better get packing.”

I started packing, all in a somewhat conflicted tizzy. It was all so fast! Moving to Port-au-Prince! With 10 babies! Staying with someone named Joanne, who I don’t even know! What in the world??? I don’t even like babies! I worked in a sort of nervous frenzy, packing as light as possible and also putting away everything that I had just spent the whole day to unpack and organize, two days earlier, in case other people needed to move into my room.

A knock came at the door. I opened it and one of my good missionary friends stood there. “Is there anything I can do for you?” she asked. I almost wanted to burst into tears, but I asked her for a hug instead. “I can do that,” she said. After a brief hug, I felt more collected emotionally, and she asked me if she could help with packing or anything. I started her on the shelves while I dealt with the clothes.

I hadn’t checked my email to see if the answer came to what day I was leaving, but Ryan F, one of the missionary guys, came down and informed me: “You’re leaving in 30 minutes. Well, actually, that was 20 minutes ago, so you’re leaving in more like 10 minutes,” he said.

“What?” I exclaimed. “I’m not going to be ready to leave in 30 minutes, much less 10!”

My friend and I packed like crazy while he explained the plan. Ryan and I would go to the creche, break down cribs, gather up the kids, and go down to Port, then re-assemble the cribs. He would leave, and I would stay. Wesmin (the creche director), he said, was trying to get a paper from the judge in Montrouis so that we would have legal documentation on transporting the kids to Port. 

Mismanagement #1: Insufficient personnel. I should have been sent with at least one of the Haitian nannies from Montrouis who knew the kids, worked with them regularly, and knew their routine. 
Lesson #1: I should not have been so quick to volunteer for "anything and everything" in the spirit of flexibility and servanthood. I should have stood my ground, demanded that someone be sent with me, and looked into whether this was being done decently and in order. At the time, though, I didn't have the mentality that there could be other resources available to pull in for use. I assumed that if I was the only one being sent, there weren't any other resources. Because of who Heather was, I was also under extreme pressure not to question anything, so I didn't. 

Later it turned out that Wesmin couldn’t get that paper until 10:00 pm, so we decided to leave in the morning. 5:00 am would be our departure time. Interestingly, even though I was the only person responsible for the welfare and well-being of the children, I was never given any of this paperwork and have no reason to believe that they ever actually obtained it from the judge.

Mismanagement #2: Sketchy paperwork. 
Lesson #2: Take necessary steps to inform yourself of the legalities, and don't trust others to inform you of them. The next day, I went off with these children in total ignorance, believing that everything was legit. Only months later did many other details surface that things in general were not being done correctly. I was being told things like "this is the most ethical creche in Haiti" while all the while, it wasn't. 

It was a relief to at least have the night time to let this new step sink in. It gave me time to email my family and finish my conversation with my missionary friend and just basically calm down. She and I talked until 9:00, and it was another one of those inspiring, significant conversations that we always have. Then I emailed my family and went to bed.

Keep reading: Cholera Day 1


  1. Thank you for sharing. My son was one of the kiddos that had cholera. His Haitian name was Bruno. He has been home for 2 months.

    1. Ah! You got him home! What rejoicing!

  2. So my Jackson (Alex) did not have cholera? Could you clarify if the 10 kids you took to PAP had cholera or were just moved there because of the risk of cholera? You know on our end the families were told that cholera was sweeping the creche, everyone was in danger of death basically, money was needed, but we were told we could say nothing to anybody, not even discuss it amongst ourselves. And then after that we got information whatsoever. I think the cholera situation was the last thing I ever heard about Alex until the day we went to find him in February four years ago. I am really interested to learn more. thanks. Amanda

    1. Dear Amanda, I am so sorry for what happened to you and your family and all the others who were affected by the situation. What you were being told (don't mention this to anyone) was exactly the same thing the missionaries were being told, so I didn't even tell my own family anything about what was going on. I am so glad that you took action the way you did, though, as you know, I was still in the dark at the time you came in February.

      Please stay tuned on my blog for the next 10 days, as I will be posting my journal entries from the rest of the cholera experience.


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