Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Haiti in Retrospect: Introduction

Exactly four years ago, on January 17, 2013, I was unpacking my stuff after returning to Haiti for the second time. I had spent three months (Sept - Dec) teaching school in an orphanage, and I had gotten malaria in December and returned to the US for a month to recover. Then I went back to Haiti to finish out my time until May.

This second time in Haiti kicked off one of the most difficult, bewildering, disorienting seasons of life that I've ever walked through. It has taken me these 4 years just to gain a semblance of perspective, begin to evaluate what exactly happened, and to have the courage to share it publicly.


In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, there was a dramatic rise in the instances of cholera in the country. Fox news reported that there were more than 3000 confirmed cases by the end of October, and the disease continued to spread, until by January, it reached our creche. If it was just a disease outbreak, it would have been one thing. Yes, it would have been an emergency, and people would have worked hard and gotten less sleep and gone through an intense period of effort to bring about recovery, but that would have been all. For me and for the others around me, there was much, much more to it than that. The cholera outbreak was just a medical emergency. But something worse than cholera was infecting the way things were being run as a whole. Over the next few months, I would witness spiritual abuse, hypocrisy, and deception at the highest level, and it was being so skillfully done that we didn't see it until it was too late to prevent the damage.

In December of 2012 when I went home from Haiti, I was walking on clouds. I remember thinking, "I've found the thing that is worth living for above all other things. There is nothing higher or better that I could pursue. I don't need to experiment, guess, or or try other career paths. I am already enjoying the most satisfying life of all." And yet, only a few months later, I had been caught up into a web of so many lies, such clever deception, and such blatant deceit, that I would find myself asking in my journal if it was possible that the whole Christianity thing was just a fraud, too.

The reason for all of this confusion was that the founder of the orphanage where I was working was a fraud, and I didn't yet know it.

Heather Elyse Savage (who now goes by the name of Heather Matranga) was the founder and director of Giving Hope Rescue Mission. I worked for Giving Hope as a schoolteacher at the orphanage from September through May (2012-2013). I considered Heather a friend, even if I didn't think she considered me as an equal. I admired the work she was doing and thought it was legitimate. And then I saw her wreak havoc and leave a trail of carnage in her wake. None of the lives that her life touched were unaffected. Some were hurt worse than others (and I think I somehow escaped the most unscathed of anyone), but everyone was wounded. The spiritual abuse and hypocrisy that I was exposed to in being part of her organization left an indelible mark on me.

In the intervening time, I have come to see that some of the things that I walked through are also consistent with a larger pattern. Other people also operate in a similar way, and there are vocabulary words for the actions that form part of that pattern.

When you read the upcoming journal entries about the cholera experience, keep in mind that these journal entries were written at the time I was going through it. I didn't yet see the pattern. I didn't yet know the extent of what I was involved with. I still trusted Heather and thought that she was acting in everyone's best interest. The only thing that has been edited in after the fact are the handful of interspersed comments on the lessons I learned, that, looking back, I can see as mismanagement (or worse) all along.

Ultimately, while there is little in the way of redemption that is visible to me so far, I hope to trace the story of God's hand through it all. In little ways, I can see glimpses of what God was doing, though I cannot yet see the fuller picture of how He will finally work all things for good.

The journey starts in two days, when I tell the story of my experience with the babies that had cholera in Port-Au-Prince.


  1. I am so proud of you for speaking out! I look forward to reading your prospective in this horrible journey! I, too, was discouraged with Christianity for a long time after what happened at the hands of Heather Elyse. It has taken a long time to regain trust in people again, although, I am still skeptical. Praying for you, Rebecca! Love, Kimberly Williams

    1. Thank you so much for your encouragement, Kimberly! I appreciate your kind words. YES, it has left me skeptical, too, as I had never before encountered such a depth of deception and wouldn't have believed it was possible if I hadn't lived through it. I am so sorry for what you experienced and the pain that you went through.

  2. Wow, thanks for finally speaking about this. As you know, we were impacted by Heather's lies during the cholera situation - first being told our son, Alex/Jackson, had cholera, then told he did not and was fine, told he had HIV, then told that he did not, and on and on went the web. It would be really good to know the truth about his life and health during that time frame that you were at Giving Hope. At age 5 he is so thirsty, always desperate to get his hands on something to drink, never able to stop drinking. It is not a health issue and so I believe it is from deeply embedded trauma and desperation for water during some of that time. I know that when we arrived with the judge and police at the orphanage and finally took him out of their custody you were still fairly deeply entrenched and were not able to tell us what was going on. Anything you can share now would be helpful. It is our child's early life, a story he has a right to know but that is shrouded in mystery and confusion. Thanks in advance and good luck revisiting a hard time. Amanda

    1. Dear Amanda, I am so sorry to hear about Alex's desperation to get something to drink, and for all the difficulty and sadness that he went through in his early years. The confusion over the fact that you were told he had cholera and then being told that he did not is partly my fault. I did not know the names of the babies. The day I left, I asked Nurse Pierreline and Jasmine what all their names were. I wrote their names down on a piece of paper, and one of the names was Jackson. So when I told Heather who was sick, I included mention of Jackson. However, only much later did I find out that that child's name was actually Josiah. The nannies had up to 3 names for some of the children, and this was a constant source of confusion to the missionaries. This was only one of the many bewildering layers of the whole trip, which I haven't been able to completely sort out to this day. Perhaps I never will.

  3. Hi Rebecca, You probably don't remember my wife and I, but I certainly remember you, and Ryan. I wanted you to know that I know this must have been some of the most difficult times in your life. We were adopting from GHRM, and we too found out about the lies and cheats as we went through the process with this woman. I do appreciate your love for Him, and love for His children there.

    We never were able to adopt the two we were hoping to, but God did show graces to us in the midst of it all.

    I just wanted to share, and let you know something you probably already do....that you were a gift from God in a crazy place, crazy time, unstable lives. The children needed you. You went through the gauntlet to serve these children. Thank you.

    In His Love,
    Tim (and Brigit) Hull

    1. Dear Tim & Brigit,
      Thank you for your encouraging words. Although this was a difficult time in my life, I feel that what I went through was minuscule compared to what I saw others around me suffer. The adoptive parents who never got their kids. The ones who finally did (only after incredible amounts of money and time were lost). The ones who were matched and gave their hearts to these children, only to find out that they were given false promises and nothing was ever done to progress their adoption. The children themselves. I can not even begin to imagine the hurt and pain in the hearts of the people Heather damaged.

      I'm glad that God showed you His grace in the midst of it all. May He continue to be with you and guide you.

      Kindest regards,


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