This being my ‘maiden voyage’ as a blogger has a deep sense of purpose; to talk about my recent trip to Haiti as a volunteer relief mission worker. After having numerous people ask me on either my Facebook page, discussion with co-workers, or emails with friends and family – I figured that I finally have a legitimate and justifiable reason to get busy on putting my blog together.
First thing I had to do as I ventured into the literary world of blogging was to come up with a name for my blog page. Well, I went with a Biblical title, not necessarily to convey my theological knowhow or spiritual interest, but rather something that really describes my personality and passion in life. Proverbs 11:25 is quite appropriate in defining what really makes me ‘tick,’ as this passage says:
“A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself beFor those who know me, can probably concur with acceptance of my reasoning for picking this particular Biblical verse as my personal literary and intellectual description of my personality.
Enough with the justification on “why the blog….” I think you get the message.
Haiti. Several days after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, I received a call from Bill Scheer a dear friend and close colleague of mine who has been actively involved in a number of ‘Project Haiti’ nongovernment organization (NGO) initiatives. Of late, Bill was working with the International Rescue Committee (wwwtheirc.org) on facilitating volunteer relief workers with nonspecific skills to go to Haiti to assist in helping in any capacity for recovery and rebuilding work. In essence, Bill was looking for able willing bodies who are healthy with a ’98.6’ temp and a good pulse. As Bill put it, “I need people with two hands, one hand, no hands, one leg or none, sight or blind, hearing or not, it doesn’t matter. Willingness and ability to do anything we need is all that I need.” That was a tall order of course, and Bill soon adjusted his expectations a bit in hope to get willing volunteers to help. This is where I came in.
Bill knew that I have been actively involved with the Unitarian Universalist Trauma Response Ministry Team (UUTRM), which is a team of clergy and spiritual leaders within my denomination that operate like a ‘first responder’ spiritual fire and rescue team to assist in providing critical incident stress debriefing and grief counseling whenever and wherever. However, the need in this case was different. As I said earlier Bill was looking for warm healthy bodies to do whatever was needed down there.
Let me back up a little bit further, as I need to explain about my own personal history and experiences in the country of Haiti.
First off, I found myself being actively involved with the country and its citizens through my military deployment to Haiti as part of “Operation Uphold (Restore) Democracy” in 1994-95. At the time I served as the senior enlisted advisor to the U.S. Atlantic Command’s Joint Task Force 160, which was ordered by President Clinton to provide troops in the region to assist in restoring the democracy of Haiti and installing the rightful winner of the presidential election at the time, Jean Bertrand Aristide. This military operation turned into a six-plus month deployment for me where I was primarily working out of Port-Au-Prince.
The whole event during this time is another story, but I’ll make the connection of why I’m bringing this up to tell you about my history with Haiti. I had never seen such poverty, despair and desperate need from people in my life. While I visited the numerous Coast Guard cutters that were deployed in the region at the time picking up thousands of Haitians who were fleeing from the country, mostly because of economic reasons, it just blew me away to see just how desperate people can get to want to find a better life for themselves elsewhere..I recall talking to hundreds of Coast Guardsmen at the time on the cutters who took it very hard as they were bringing the Haitians aboard their ships after finding them floating in all kinds of unsafe makeshift vessels. I remember seeing for myself five people clinging to a very large wooden door from a church that they were using as a raft, having traveled 30 or so miles just drifting in the Windward Pass which is the waterway between Cuba to the west and Haiti to the east.
The Haitians and scores of dissenting Cubans wanting to escape from Cuba also took to the sea in quest for voyage to America with the hope of a new and better life during this period. It was quite a psychological effect on all of us ‘Coasties’ during that time seeing thousands of people with nothing more than the clothes on their back and a small bagful of their personal valuable possessions, many of them with young children in tow. Unfortunately a sizeable number of them drowned when their unsafe, unseaworthy vessels either broke up, capsized from being overloaded. This is where the Coast Guard took a herculean effort to stop the flow of migrants, mostly because of safety concerns. When they were picked up, they were brought to the U.S. Naval installation at Guantanamo Bay Cuba (yes the same one that is in the news today about the terrorist detainees being held there). ‘Gitmo’ was a staging point to handle the mass repatriation efforts sending the migrants back to their respective countries.
The key point of bringing all this up at this time is to mention that this had a profound effect on me at the time, as I just looked in shock and amazement at thousands of fleeing migrants who took great risks to try to reach the US, which was well over 120 or so miles to the north. I was just amazed at just witnessing how desperate people were, willing to risk their lives and their families in just a glimmer of hope that they could make it. Many of them had no idea how far the U.S. mainland was, nor did they care. They just looked on a map, and knew they had to point in a northwesterly direction for a long time and soon they would reach the freedom shores of America.
My interest then began to focus on just what can I do to help in getting these people to channel their adventurous energies to be more creative and work to build their land. Now granted that was one tall order for me to make such an assessment that what can “I” do. But, I knew that there had to be others that had similar thoughts. This is where my involvement with doing relief mission work in Haiti began.
After I left Haiti in March 1995, I soon went back there a number of times while visiting underway deployed Coast Guard cutters that were conducting drug and alien interdiction operations in the region, as part of my role and responsibility as the command master chief for the Coast Guard’s Atlantic Area command. Even later after I moved on to become Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard in 1998, I was able to get at least a visit or two each year for the next four years of my tenure. When I retired from the Coast Guard in 2002, I decided while attending the Graduate Theological Union seminary that I wanted to focus on some type of mission support ministry. So for the summers of 2002, ’03, ’04 and ’05, I would spend extended periods of time, working in a variety of roles, managing the food distribution center for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, better known as ‘UNESCO,’ and with Project CARE. All of these relief mission support assignments were facilitated by the International Rescue Committee – thus my introduction to Bill.
After I finished divinity school in 2004, with the exception of a summer visit to Haiti in 2005. I became engrossed into my job with Military.com/Monster, that I didn’t go back to do my summer relief mission work afterwards. It wasn’t that they were out of sight – out of mind, in fact, I’m paid well that I was able to provide more in my financial contributions to Project Haiti causes. But, I never forgot about those very people I had seen during my deployments and volunteer work there, and kept saying to myself that I need to make some time to go back for a visit.
Then the earthquake in January 2010 happened. Having forged a number of friendships with the people down there, and I stayed in touch with many of them either through email or letters, I felt that they were part of my family. So hearing the tragic news of the number of deaths that occurred (which by the way no one really knows what the real answer is, but it is upwards of 300,000), my heart and mind weighed heavily, and I knew I had to get back down there. I didn’t care if it was just for a day, I had to get down there.
I feel another Biblical verse coming on here that pretty much sums up my calling to go back to Haiti which can be found in the Book of Isaiah 6:8: “Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying:
“ Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”
So, I answered the call. I’ve created my blog to talk about it … and to give you my first assessment from what I saw and dealt with.
Part two of ‘Proverbs 11:25’ is forthcoming… I promise!