I’ve tried to write a blog about Haiti every day for a week. Each time I sit down, I stare blankly at the computer screen, having no idea where to begin. I still don’t know where to begin but, am hoping that somehow this post will come together.
Part of me thinks that the world doesn’t need another blog about Haiti written by someone who wasn’t there for the earthquake and who, for that matter, didn’t know much about Haiti before the disaster.
But, this story is about my family and it has a happy ending. So, here goes.
On January 12th, Michael was home working on that week’s sermon, and I was working on a writing project. Michael yelled up to me that there had been a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti. At first, I didn’t understand the urgency and strain in his voice. It took me a full sixty seconds to connect that our sister-in-law, Kristen was IN HAITI, with her nine-month old infant, Karis. They were there visiting a little boy named Kembert, whom Kristen and her husband Mark had been trying to adopt for a solid two and a half years. They’ve visited him dozens of times at Heartline Haiti’s orphanage.
Even once I realized that Kristen was in Haiti, I still didn’t immediately understand the gravity of the catastrophe. There weren’t many photos of the devastation up on CNN yet. I grew up in Southern California where earthquakes were very commonplace, expected occurrences. So, I didn’t feel very afraid.
Until I started thinking about building codes in Haiti. Until I started realizing that 7.0 is a huge, huge number when used to describe earthquakes.
Then panic set in. I started scouring the news for information. Mike called his brother in Southern California to see if he had heard from Kristen. Thankfully, she had been able to leave him a voicemail just after the quake to let him know that she, Karis, and all the kids at the orphanage had all survived. We were relieved, to say the very least. You can read Kristen's account of the events here. The next day, we were unable to contact Kristen. For twelve hours we heard absolutely nothing from her. The home in which she was staying had no power and phone services were not working. I was so afraid.
Long story short, Mark and I and many other friends called and e-mailed the State Department, commercial airlines, and anyone we knew in Haiti, just in case they could get a message to her. It was amazing to witness Mark’s tenacious efforts to save his wife and daughter. He organized a small army to advocate on their behalf. There were plenty of horrifying, grotesque, tragic images on all the news channels at this point and we were panicking. We sent out e-mail requests, Facebook posts, and tweets, asking for prayer. And, people prayed. They prayed hard. Not just for Kristen and Karis and Kembert, but for the entire country of Haiti.
On Day 3, the US government evacuated Kristen and Karis to safety. Without Kembert. Because his adoption was still in progress, and hadn’t been finalized, Kristen had to leave him at Heartline. The State Department responded to Mark and I’s phone calls and e-mails within 24 hours. I am feeling incredibly patriotic these days. We are very lucky to live in a country that comes to get you, in the heart of a catastrophe, when you’re in trouble.
As soon as Kristen was on the plane, Mark started project “Bring Kembert Home.” Turns out that the small army he had organized had more work to do. We began advocating for humanitarian parole for orphans in Haiti who were in the middle of being adopted when the quake struck.
Within 24 hours of being home, Kristen was wanted for interviews on 3 local TV stations, CNN, and MSNBC. She told her story and advocated for humanitarian parole. The campaign for humanitarian parole for Haitian orphans went viral. People all over the world were writing letters, signing petitions and praying. Senators got involved, Governors responded. Even the White House stepped in to both approve and speed up the process.
All that to say, Kembert is home. HOME.
I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that our campaign influenced our leaders. Democracy worked this time, and I want to thank ALL of you out there who helped us. So many of you took up the cause and fought with us. So many of you hit your knees and prayed with us. I can’t thank you enough.
You can view Kembert’s homecoming here.
The Howerton Family is incredibly blessed today. Incredibly thankful. And still cognizant of the millions of desperate, hurting people in Haiti. If you haven't done so yet, please give. See my previous post for some reputable organizations to give to.
It's a strange thing to simultaneously celebrate and grieve.
You should also start reading this blog. The Livesays are a missionary family that has lived in Haiti for 5 years. Their home has been converted into a hospital. The stories they are telling beat anything I've seen on the news. Please commit to praying for them as they attempt to be the hands and feet of Jesus in haiti.
More on Haiti tomorrow. I have all sorts of opinions to share about news media, missionaries, and what helping Haiti really looks like….