Sadness and joy in Haiti

Published 6:39 am Monday, February 1, 2010

I cried often as we watched the tragedy of the Haiti earthquake, but eventually I was able to weep with joy. We need good stories with happy endings and bright prospects to relieve the agony of the great number that remain hopelessly tragic.

Chris Rolling, 35, is an evangelical missionary from Bellingham, Wash., who has lived and ministered in Haiti for eight years with Clean Water for Haiti. After several demanding days of helping pull people out of collapsed structures, he retreated home for a rest. On the way and while alone, he came upon a school reduced to rubble. He discovered a girl trapped, and no one was there to rescue her. He tried desperately to extricate the suffering girl, but lacked equipment and had only a simple hammer. Recognizing help was needed, he urged the girl to be calm and pray. She said her name is Jacqueline; he promised to return with help.

The young man headed off to enlist help, even as darkness was setting in. Everyone was busy at other sites. Stopping by his house for water and something to eat, he fell asleep exhausted.

The young man returned to the ruins and Jacqueline early the next morning. Jacqueline was dead.

Rolling wrote in his blog: “The bodies stopped bothering me after a while, but I think what I will always carry with me is the conversation I had with Jacqueline before I left her.”

He later searched his soul: “How could I leave someone who was dying, trapped in a building!…She seemed so brave when I left! I told her I was going to get help, but I didn’t tell her I would be gone until morning. I think this is going to trouble me for a long time.”

This was Jacqueline, but there is Farica. A 4-year-old girl, she had been surrendered by her mother to one of the many orphanages. Although living and marginally well, the mother was simply unable to care adequately for her daughter.

A Chicago area family was adopting Farica and had visited the orphanage several times while the process slowly ground its way through governmental bureaucracy. The family was only too familiar with the delays from their experience in having adopted 9-year-old Jenna a year earlier from the same orphanage. I was in their home a month ago and met Jenna. Her adoptive mother was recovering from cancer, and I took a supper to them Ann had prepared for these friends of our daughter.

Final approval for the adoption had been granted, and the family had obtained airline reservations for last week. All that had remained was to fly down and retrieve their new daughter.

Then the earthquake. It totally destroyed the government building and, with it, the necessary legal papers. Even under normal conditions, it takes months to obtain them, but they couldn’t imagine how long it would take to reconstruct them under these conditions.

Yet another concern was Jenna’s birth mother. What had happened to her? Jenna was distraught with worry.

Watching television news, as the Chicago family did every waking moment, they heard their orphanage would be shown. Despite their several visits for Jenna and then Farica, they could no longer recognize anything, but the site was positively identified. Whatever blame various people have attempted for the earthquake, what they saw next was, surely, an act of God’s grace. There was Farica! She was already in their hearts, and they couldn’t mistake her now.

But how to retrieve her? How just to get her out of Haiti? Then that wonderful Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, took things in hand. He pounced on the Haiti ambassador to the United States after a television interview: “We’ve got to do something!” He chartered a plane and went down and brought back 53 children from this orphanage.

The governor entrusted them to the children’s hospital in Pittsburg. Our family flew out, hoping to reach Farica. While the medical in-processing was underway, they were kept waiting in a nearby hotel. They did so gratefully but with much anxiety.

The day arrived when they were allowed to meet their new Haitian daughter. She had suffered many fitful nights from the horror of the earthquake and now all this unsettling strangeness. As her new father lifted her into his arms, Farica fell fast asleep.

Eventually, she was cleared to spend nights with them in their hotel room. The Haitian government began to consider “humanitarian parole,” which would allow the children to live with their adopting parents while the legal issues are being untangled.

Sunday morning Farica was in church with her new family. They fit well and are very much at home.