Lessons from LeCaye


In February 2010, an earthquake imploded the city of Port au Prince, Haiti, killing nearly 300,000 and

injuring more than a million. The devastation washed many of the wounded and homeless into the countryside where they flooded surrounding communities, overwhelming existing facilities and spawning new cases of old diseases including dysentery and cholera.

As I watched the early reporting it was clear that massive aid would be required and, as it was with Katrina, much of it would be targeted at the epicenter leaving the other towns and villages to make the best of it. Knowing there would be a need for volunteers to help move critical supplies into remote regions by light aircraft and strangely and strongly compelled to apply what skills and equipment I could offer, I broached the subject with my wife.

“I’d like to go, but it will be challenging.”

“Will it be dangerous?” she asked, already knowing.

“Possibly so, and expensive, probably very expensive.”

“How will we afford it?” I asked.

“By faith” she answered. “Somehow it will all work out.” “Just promise me you’ll be careful.”

“I promise and know I couldn’t do this without your blessing.”

I recruited Curt, a young private pilot and former student to accompany me and help with the radio and paperwork. With final plans complete, we launched the Beechcraft Bonanza from central Texas, heading for Florida then Nassau, Bahamas to join a small cadre of doctors, nurses, pilots, and aid workers. People of faith, agnostics and atheists united in an ad hoc effort to do something beyond simply writing a check. At the FBO, we lived in a donated warehouse, sleeping on the floor, rising early each day to find our airplanes staged and loaded. Eight hours round-trip, across three countries through uncertain weather, mindless bureaucracy, operating without clearances, making it up as we went along.

A typical load would be bone splints and surgical gloves for the medical teams doing the terrible triage

of those who might yet be saved. X-ray developing fluid, crutches and medications delivered quickly to the aid stations, clinics, and tiny hospitals along the eastern coast.

I often wondered as we taxied into the chaos of the small airport of LeCaye, “Was this doing any good?” “Is any of it getting where it is needed, or is it instead, being stolen and sold on some blackest of markets?”

One day we flew a surgeon out to Nassau who told us of amputating limbs from an orphaned child. The photo he carried showed a young boy, six or seven, heavily bandaged, smiling at the camera with a gap-toothed grin. What thoughts might prompt that joyous expression on the face of such tragedy, I wondered.

Another showed an exhausted nurse consoling a teenaged girl who, living in a country that was a train wreck before, could well be facing a death sentence since there could not be work available for a one-armed young woman. Thousands homeless, no food, no shelter, no clean water…desperation mixed with dysentery.

After nine days, we had done all we could. With fuel bills maxing out our credit cards, physically exhausted, carrying the burdens of so much agony and still wondering if any of our efforts really mattered, surrounded by so much destruction, it was time to leave.

One last load, one more run into LeCaye. As we taxied in on that beautiful Sunday morning, a crowd of children lined the boundary fence begging for food. This seemed the ultimate futility, but we had nothing more to give, guilt riding with us, knowing that in a few hours we would leave this misery behind. We were met by a young Haitian aid worker dressed in her pure white habit, who knowing this was our last trip, thanked us for our efforts. This from a woman who would continue to carry the burden long after we returned to the first world. As we stood together on that quiet morning, still wracked by doubt, not wanting to leave with so much yet undone, but knowing we had given all we could, I asked “Sister, how will this play out? How will these poor people ever recover? It all seems so hopeless.”

She paused, thinking of how to respond. From a distance came the sound of hymns. In a grassy opening beside a crumpled church, a small congregation of refugees who, having lost everything and facing not just an uncertain future, but rather the promise of continued misery, and who by rights might have been cursing the god who delivered them into this particular version of hell, instead were singing songs of hope and giving prayers of thanksgiving that lingered in the morning stillness.

Returning my attention to the young Haitian nun, she smiled and whispered…

“By faith…. only by faith.”




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