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Photo: Missionaries of Our Lady of Divine Mercy
By Kellie Ross (Feb 26, 2010)
My stomach was rumbling with hunger as we loaded the truck up to begin our journey to a tent camp in Haiti, a country still in shock in the aftermath of a catastrophic earthquake on Jan. 12. The sun beat down on my face, and the smell of concrete filled the air as we got moving. Today would be a day of suffering — and for a moment, I was glad.
All of my life I have wanted to serve the poor and to suffer what they suffer. I wanted to experience hunger first hand, see what it is like not to have shelter and depend totally on God to provide. Now, God was giving me the chance. What I didn't realize at the time was how this experience would profoundly change me — particularly, my perceptions regarding how to serve the poor.
We drove for about an hour into the suburbs of Port au Prince. Along the way, I passed long lines of people seeking food or water. Some carried buckets, while others had just small pails, each one hoping that the food or water wouldn't run out before they got their turn.
An Unexpected Stop
Before long we had to stop. The truck needed oil. Under any other circumstance this wouldn't have been a problem, but for us, carrying a load of aid, including food and medical supplies, made us stand out from the crowd. Almost as soon as the truck had stopped, people began to surround us asking for food. My bodyguard quickly locked the doors and told me not to get out of the car.
"These people are desperate," he said firmly. "Wait until we get to the feeding center where we will be more organized." I obeyed, but my heart broke looking at the sea of faces that surrounded the car. One by one, they walked away empty handed. Seeing my obvious distress at the situation, my bodyguard tried to comfort me. "If you had given out the food here, without coordination, there would have been a riot," he said. "These people are very hungry."
I waited a few more minutes for the driver to finish putting a quart of oil in the truck. Just then, a little boy walked up to the car. His face was covered in dirt. He could not have been more than 4-years old. The dirt on his face revealed the streaks of tears. He gestured to me for food and looked inside the window. He knew that we had bread. When, Lord, did I ever see You hungry, I thought to myself. I knew I was faced with a choice. I paused a few seconds for the crowds to walk away and then prayed that God would guide my actions. I then rolled down my window and gave a small piece of bread to the child as we drove away.
The child immediately smiled and ate the bread immediately. As the truck drove away, I looked out the rear window. He continued to wave at me until we disappeared from sight. I knew that he wasn't the only person we would meet like that today.
We finally reached our destination and were greeted by the mayor, police, and a group of Haitian Boy Scouts. Wow, Boy Scouts in Haiti — great idea!
Feeding the Masses
The mayor had already set up our feeding center and brought extra security. Food tickets had been distributed, and it seemed like it was going to be a routine food distribution. "Routine" hardly describes it.
Almost immediately, people began shouting for food. "Please help my baby!" a woman pleaded. Another man said, "We have no food, either. Please help us!" I knew we didn't have enough food for everyone. My stomach felt sick — not from hunger this time, but because I didn't have enough resources to feed them.
One by one, mothers came with their children. We distributed diapers and baby formula. Soon children came on their own, and we distributed cereal and applesauce. But it wasn't enough. How can I describe what "enough" is when there are hundreds of people pushing and shoving just to have a cup of applesauce? One child, probably 8-years old, approached as the truck was nearly empty. He said, "Please let me have the formula for the babies. I need to eat something." Looking at him, I saw my own children in his eyes. This could be my son pleading with a stranger for food. How desperate and hungry do you have to be to beg for formula as a child!
Then, a woman in her 80s approached me — or at least she tried to. Pressed by the crowd, she lifted up her hands to me for help. I, standing on boxes on top of the truck, looked down and caught her eyes. She was pleading for mercy. I couldn't move. She was one of the weakest members of the hundreds of people there, and the crowds were crushing her. I started to cry, and she did, too. I reached down and kissed her hands and face and told her that I loved her. The food was gone, but I knew there was still a piece of bread inside the truck — the food for the missionaries. God had answered my prayer to suffer, and I knew it was a test to trust in Him.
I told the woman to walk up the street and wait for me to leave. I would find her and give her the last piece of bread I had. She smiled and made her way through the crowds. It still wasn't over for me yet. People were pulling on me and pleading for food. "I am pregnant," shouted one woman who looked as though she was ready to give birth at any moment. Another shouted, "Please don't forget about us." It was more than I could take. I sat down on an empty box, placed my hands over my face, and began to pray, "Lord, why did You give me a heart if you didn't want me to use it? Help me to feed Your people." I pleaded.
A Final Prayer
Gathering more grace, I made the sign of the cross on a group of children who wanted me to bless them. Just a simple gesture of faith from a missionary to a child brought smiles to all of the children, even those who did not get food. We passed out hundreds of holy cards of Jesus, The Divine Mercy. The kids clamored for them almost as much as for the food. I couldn't believe it! It inspired me to go further.
Exhausted and hungry, we got back into the truck. I found my little lady waiting patiently for me at the end of the street. "This is all I have," I said sadly. She could not speak through her tears, but she hugged me and smiled. I knew God would take care of her.
From this first trip to Haiti, I have learned the following: In future trips to Haiti, we will provide prepackaged healthy meals to families and in a way that's more organized and equitable; we need to supply them with water purifiers that can make even stagnant waters drinkable; the need for shelter is critical, and we have already brought over 300 tents, and we need to bring more; they are living in rags, and we will transport 15 tons of clothes to be distributed throughout the affected regions; and they need medical equipment, especially wheelchairs, crutches and dressings.
The Haitians are beautiful people full of love and dignity. They understood we were there to help, and they were overwhelmed with gratitude. They want to get back to work and resume their lives as soon as possible.
As a former ICU nurse, I have seen critically ill patients. Never have I seen so many amputees as I had during this visit. Sadly, most of them are being discharged to the street once they are stable. There simply aren't enough wheelchairs to accommodate the tremendous demand.
I write this article with passion, because I have witnessed passion first hand. I have seen a mother passionate as she handed me her baby hoping I could feed her. I have seen passion in a child who had pressed his face up the window of my car looking for food. And I have seen passion on the Boy Scouts as they tearfully took me to the open pit where 87 members of their small village were buried in a mass grave.
These people aren't strangers to us. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Please pray for them. Please sacrificially help us in our campaign to end hunger in Haiti. God bless and keep you.
Kellie Ross is executive director of international missions for the Missionaries of Our Lady of Divine Mercy, based in Manassas, Va. She was one of the presenters at the North American Congress on Mercy last November. The Missionaries may be reached at 703-659-1636, or by email, DivinemercyNow@gmail.com.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception have set up a means by which people can send financial support to the Haitian relief efforts. Please visit our special Haiti relief page. One-hundred percent of all donations will be sent to Catholic Relief Services, the international relief agency based in Baltimore, Md., that has mobilized an immediate aid response to Haiti in the form of food and supplies.