As soon as Pastor Dan Beaudoin got off his American Airlines flight and hit the ground at earthquake-ravaged Haiti, he knew he was in a different world.
“Oh boy, it was eye-opening,” Pastor Beaudoin said. “As soon as you get off the plane, the heat really gets to you because it’s really hot and humid.
“And then the smell. Folks there, they don’t have propane or natural gas, so most of the folks cook with charcoal, and so there is just a haze over the city of Port-au-Prince. You just smell burning charcoal, burning oil, and unfortunately, sewage, also.”
Pastor Beaudoin of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Stony Ridge was there for nine days of missionary work Feb. 3-12. He and six other pastors from Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois joined pastors from Denver, Colorado as part of a project supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Churches of America.
It was the Haitian people that impressed him the most.
“These are a beautiful people with an awful lot of dignity and pride,” Pastor Beaudoin said. “That really struck me. Regardless of how they were living, these were really beautiful people. They were very proud and it was really neat for me to see that, and very, very faithful. Everybody was going to church somewhere, dressed in their finest, and that was really neat to see.”
In 2010, an earthquake with seismic magnitude of 7 left one million people homeless, killed an estimated 316,000, and another 300,000 were injured.
“When I walked through a tent city, we saw a lot of sick kids and a lot of hungry kids,” Beaudoin recalled. “They were sick with diarrhea, and our guide said probably malaria. I had to take malaria medication, and I still have to take it. I said, ‘Are these kids going to get to a doctor?’ and the guide said, ‘No, they’re not.’ There is a shortage of doctors.
”There is still a tremendous amount of damage,” Beaudoin continued. “Only probably half the area has been repaired or cleaned up. There were some side streets that were full or rubble. They would take the rubble and just sort of close off that street.
“It’s getting better for some people. The poorest of the poor — they continue to suffer greatly there. But, they are rebuilding it really like it was, unfortunately, with a lot of unsafe structures. There is no infrastructure — there are no building codes. People just put up cement blocks with cheap mortar and unfortunately, if an earthquake comes they are going to experience the same tragedy.
“One of the problems is the government is ineffective. In fact, a lot of the aid that comes in never makes it past the government.”
Pastor Beaudoin said the country is overrun with other missionaries, non-profit charity organizations, and the international community trying to help.
“They are everywhere. The church is what is holding that nation together. I saw Catholic charities, I saw the Lutherans, I saw the Mennonites, Compassionate International World Vision, the United Nations are there as peacekeepers, so that’s the police, and you see them there quite a bit. I saw very few Haitian policemen,” Beaudoin explained.
Rice and beans
If you knew Pastor Beaudoin before he left, he may look slightly slimmer since he got back.
“We ate very simply. We ate like they ate,” Beaudoin said. “I was hungry all the time. We ate a lot of rice and beans. One day we had fish — that was really the only meat we had. I think I lost about five or six pounds.”
The first place they settled was the St. Joseph Home for Boys, run by a Catholic monk, in the heavily damaged Port-au-Prince, a city of two million people.
“These are street boys that the orphanage takes in,” Beaudoin said. “Actually, they try not to call it an orphanage — they try to emphasize Home for Boys.
“They are trying to show what these kids can do living in a family. There are 24 of them — they try to keep it small because it’s hard to change the mindset of these boys. They are anywhere’s from 7-years-old to 18-years-old. They have a real kind of a strict day they have to follow — they get up at 4:30 in the morning and have Morning Prayer at 5 in the morning, but they go to bed early, too.
“We were able to kind of hear their story, and the boys led the chapel service. We took part in the chores that they had to do, too — sweeping and keeping things clean at the orphanage,” Beaudoin continued.
“A number of them had lost parents in the earthquake, or what’s interesting, when the earthquake occurred, moms were in the house preparing supper and a lot of moms were killed — all in homes. Kids were out either coming home from school still or getting water, or they were out. So a lot of the kids did not get killed. The main one happened at 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Some of them told about losing their mom. Unfortunately, a lot of these boys don’t know their fathers — they have a lot of the same problems we have here.”
Beaudoin says from there the group headed into a country plateau area.
“We met a couple farm families, including a family that is trying to raise chickens for food and to market, and that was really a neat experience,” Beaudoin said.
“They are trying to raise some peanuts for protein. We saw a lot of rice, a lot of fruit being farmed. The hard part is the people in the country may have access to food, but no jobs. So they are very poor out there.”
On the fifth day, the contingent packed into the bed of a crowded open pick-up truck, and was driven to the top of Haiti’s second highest mountain to visit a well and school built by the Lutheran church. Beaudoin said he was surprised to learn the 19-year-old driver had no license, and three of the lug nuts on one wheel were missing, but they made the trip safely.
They also visited Jacmel, a city of 100,000 south of Port-au-Prince that also was heavily damaged. He found the Lutheran church running a school there.
“They are doing some wonderful things with schools for kids that can’t afford to go to school. So the church is running a school, they are running a shelter, and they are actually trying to train these kids to run a bakery. They are getting that up and running right now so the kids will an income and learn an occupation,” Beaudoin said.
Beaudoin said during the 40 days of Lent, he plans to give presentations to his church focusing on world problems.
“We’re going to be talking about what the church is doing in Haiti, in Africa, in Asia, and South America. We’re going to give examples on how we are called by Jesus to help those who are in need. I’m even going beyond (Lutheran efforts) — there is a lot of different expression for the church — all different denominations.”