Editors’ Note: Meridian’s Publisher and Editor-in-Chief have gone to Haiti with the Utah Hospital Task Force and Healing Hands for Haiti to report the earthquake and subsequent disastrous conditions there. Their coverage will center on Latter-day Saint efforts. [As we sit on the ground in Orlando waiting to leave, our amazing group leaders are currently on the phone ordering pizzas to deliver to the 82nd Airborne Division in Haiti.]
To donate to this effort please go to www.utahhospitaltaskforce.org
Just 16 days ago I was doing the most normal day-to-day chores in our home in Virginia. We were reluctant to take down the Christmas decorations-our tree was still supple and green, our 67 nativities were still set up in various places around the house. Many days in January have been colder than normal and we just couldn’t bring ourselves to take the cheeriness of the season from our home. I had no idea what was coming.
I hadn’t paid much attention to the news on Tuesday afternoon, January 12-I was just too busy. Besides, I would be putting up the news on Meridian early the next morning. At 3:45 Wednesday morning I arose to gather the news and post it on Meridian. I always begin my day with my devotions and personal prayers. I asked the Lord to direct my path in the news, to find the right stories that were most important to our readers. My first step each morning is to check the wires, see what is coming through and what I need to follow. I got on the AP wire first and all I could see was stories of the earthquake in Haiti. My heart was melted and I started to cry for the people in Haiti and for their tremendous loss. I hadn’t read through the first full story when I felt the distinct impression from the Spirit: “You need to go to Haiti. A way will be opened.” I have learned to trust those promptings.
I had been pondering President Monson’s life-long example of caring for the poor and needy and I wondered these past two weeks if this disaster in Haiti is an opportunity to follow that example. I’ve even considered the thought that this is a test for us and the world, in an already-challenging economy, to see how we will truly respond to people in great need.
My personal interactions with the Utah Hospital Task Force volunteers really began last night in a mandatory pre-flight meeting. I started asking person after person “why are you here?” I thought I would mainly hear things like: “I served a mission in Haiti and I wanted to go back and help the people,” or “I am a doctor and I would like to serve.” Of course those answers came, too, but what I heard over and over again was this: “I heard about the earthquake and I had an immediate impression that I was supposed to go there and help. I didn’t know how I would get there, but I knew a way would be opened.” Truly, I have heard that so many times I just stopped asking. This is not just a mission of mercy-this is an orchestrated mission of mercy.
I heard one of the volunteers, Dr. Ivan Flint, say this morning, with tears, that this reminded him of Brigham Young’s talk in the conference of the Church in the fall of 1856 where he essentially said this to the Saints (after he had heard of the Martin and Willie Handcart companies caught in storms hundreds of miles from the Salt Lake Valley)-“This is my message-this is the theme of this conference-go out and save our people on the plains. This is my religion.” The Saints responded to that call in amazing and wondrous ways. Even in the conference the sisters were passing their shawls and petticoats to the aisles to be used in the rescue efforts. They responded immediately to that call.
As I write this I am sitting on a charter 737 heading for Haiti-Maurine by my side, and 125 amazing, Latter-day Saint volunteers surrounding us. To my right is Lee and Yvonne Roderick’s daughter, Kim, (Lee is an old friend) a registered nurse who has already received her own mission call to serve in the Hungary Budapest Mission (she leaves in March). She was called by that same spirit that informed me. To my left is Jeff Bigelow, a fourth-year resident at Yale in neurology. He speaks fluent Creole. He has been to Haiti many times. Having to leave a pregnant wife behind, he also felt the call. Standing in the aisle about four rows back and circled in a conversation are six or seven returned missionaries who served in Haiti at the same time. They are all speaking in Creole and seeming to love every minute of their time together. They all felt the call. I feel like the spirit of that message of Brigham Young’s talk is here. And we are heading to a place where 3 million people have been displaced. I have never said in my heart, “I can’t believe this.” I do believe it. I expected it. I was told in advance.
Nearly everyone I probe more than casually tears up when they think about the people in Haiti. They can hardly talk about this place without crying. Maurine and I have never been there. We are being told by the UN mission (reports change about every 30 minutes) that the situation is rapidly deteriorating and that this may very well be the greatest human disaster in recorded history.
The spirit on this plane is one of strength, confidence and a mix of fear of the unknown. I have talked to people who have never been in the third world. I have talked to others who said, “The people of Haiti blessed my life for two years, this is a small chance for me to give back.” I loved what Steve Studdert said last night to the group, “If there is anyone here with an ego-Go home now. If you are a complainer-go home now.” The overall feeling here on this plane is humility.
I don’t think any of us, as yet, really know what the situation will be like in Port-au-Prince and environs. The logistics of even finding a place for 125 of us to camp is overwhelming. We have been moved a number of times already (without even arriving) and have just learned that one place where it appears some may be camping now has a recent infestation of snakes. I’m not Indiana Jones, and in this case, that is good. We have heard that two words describe the situation in Port-au-Prince: madness and chaos. Perhaps that is exactly what an orchestrated mission of mercy is designed to handle.
To donate to this ongoing effort, please go to www.utahhospitaltaskforce.org
Continue to follow the stories from Haiti as they come to you daily (as we can get Internet service).
All Haiti stories will be updated at www.ldsmag.com/haiti