(BWA) – The day after Haiti was rocked by a devastating earthquake in January, Edrice Romelus, superintendant for evangelism and former general secretary for Baptist Haiti Mission, tried to travel to downtown Port-au-Prince, but the damage to the shattered city was too great.
“Houses had fallen. People were in the streets suffering. We felt lots of emotions,” Romelus said. “We saw a 4-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl wandering. We did not know what to do. We took them to the hospital, even though it was already full.”
A few days later, Romelus and his team made another trip into the beleaguered capital. “We saw the scale of the destruction. There were huge amounts of dead people lying around, even at the university and the state house,” he recalled. “There was a foul smell. Things got worse day by day.”
Romelus and Eugene Gedeon, vice president of the Baptist Convention of Haiti, recently described the devastation to their country following a roundtable meeting called by Baptist World Aid to work out details of assistance that the agency and Baptists, mainly from North America, will provide to the Caribbean nation following the Jan. 12 quake.
“People are trying to lead a normal life, but they do not have homes,” Gedeon said. “People are living under tents. People are sad. I can see the sadness in their faces.”
“I was in my office when the earthquake struck,” Romelus said. “I saw the building swaying. Things started falling, such as the printer. Other employees inside the building fled outside.
“I did not know how grave the earthquake was. We have a hospital on the same compound as our headquarters, and vehicles started arriving with the injured. In a short time, the hospital was filled up. There was no place to put people. People came from all over. We even put them in the dining room of the hospital. I did not know that this thing was so big.”
Gedeon, whose church headquarters are close to Cap-Haïtien, the second largest city in Haiti, did not feel much of the quake. Cap-Haïtien is about 155 miles from Port-au-Prince. But Baptists belonging to the Baptist Convention of Haiti who live in or close to Port-au-Prince suffered badly. Two pastors, Biene Lamerique and Venel Deciain, died in the temblor. One pastor lost four children, another lost three, yet another lost two, and still another lost one child. At least 80 members belonging to the Baptist Haiti Mission died, and at least 29 from the Baptist Convention of Haiti.
It is still not certain how many churches were damaged or destroyed because some are difficult to reach. Baptist Haiti Mission had accounted for about eight churches that were destroyed and approximately 24 damaged. Many Baptists lost homes and many schools experienced destruction.
Despite the level of suffering and the extent of the disaster, Gedeon and Romelus believe that the church has been handed an opportunity. “Churches are almost full of people,” said Romelus. “Churches in other provinces have received new members who have left the capital.”
Gedeon stated that “churches are encouraging people. This earthquake is an opportunity for the churches. Witch doctors have come to Christ.”
It is also an opportunity for the country to join in solidarity and rebuild a solid infrastructure, both Baptist leaders contend. Proper roads, good electricity systems, sound universities, strong public structures and the enforcement of building codes can now be put in place during the rebuilding process, Romelus and Gedeon agreed.
But the need remains great. Hospitals are still full. There is an urgent need to reopen schools and for children to return to school. The two Baptist groups are offering scholarships to children so that they may resume their education.
Homes need to be rebuilt. Both Baptists leaders said a good, solid structure for a house can be built for $3,000. BWAid, the relief and development arm of the BWA has pledged to provide 10 houses that are earthquake and hurricane resistant. BWAid will also contribute to constructing a multipurpose building in Port-au-Prince that can be used for a school, an orphanage and a chapel. A center is to be secured that can be used for multiple purposes, such as providing office space for Baptist groups along with living quarters.
In the meantime, relief efforts continue as providing food, clean water, sanitation and medical help remain a priority.