Monday, January 14, 2013

The Road Less Traveled

I got a call from a friend of mine whose little girl is very sick.   I'd just seen her a few days before at a wedding as she was dancing and twirling in the aisle during the ceremony.  Four days later she was in the Les Cayes hospital, and now they were telling her father there was nothing more they could do.  She'd have to go to the pediatric hospital in Port-au-Prince.

Her father's voice was shaking and rushed when he called me.   "I have to take her to Port and I can't find a ride.  Can you take us?" 

Going would mean leaving my wife and daughter alone.  Something I would never choose under the circumstances of our current living situation.  And then, I've never been to Port in my car. She isn't exactly a well-oiled machine these days.  In fact, I'm absolutely positive that God is holding our vehicle together.  By all rights, with the places I've taken that car, she should be piled up on the side of the national road in pieces.   

Fear rushed in the window along with a gentle breeze, and for a moment I hesitated, just long enough to put myself in his shoes, and then the answer came back resoundingly clear. 

"I'm coming."

I quickly called my brother Patchouko, who'd just returned from visiting his family in Port the day before.

"Are you home?"  I asked.
"Yes, I'm here." He said.
"Ready to go back?"  I said. 
"Uhhhh....What did you say?"
"Antoine's baby is sick and has to go to Port.  Can you come?"
There was another familiar hesitation, and then that clear response.

"I'm coming."  

Within half an hour we were picking up the family and the little girl, and before we knew it we were barreling down the road to Port.   It was late in the day already.   There was loud praying and shouts to Jezi as the little girl Melonitha lay limp in her momma's arms.  I was looking at her in my rear view mirror and hit a speed bump at about 30 mph.   The car leapt over with a crash, and we all left our seats for a split second.   All praying had stopped. All eyes were upon me.   I could feel Mom's stark eyes burrowing into the back of my head, and I'm pretty sure someone asked Patchouko in Creole if I was fit to drive.   My friend cast his vote of confidence in my favor, and the car became much quieter. 

We were flying down the road, praying for God's safety.  My son was in the very back of the car.  He was certain that Kari would kill me if she knew how fast we were driving.

We did finally arrive at Port as darkness began to fall, and eventually we worked our way through the catacomb of back streets and alleys until we came to the hospital.   Little Melonitha was delivered safely and checked in, and we began our wait outside for any news.  Time ticked on, and eventually the security guards with shotguns started to buzz around the car.  Then, when my son opened up the back hatch to rearrange his blanket and bags, they assumed we were camping out for the night, and told us in no uncertain terms that it was time to go.  Their shotguns proved to be an intimidating factor as we all piled into the car.  

It was 10:30 at night.  We were in the street under a single light.  The Haitians with me thought it would give security.  I thought it would act more like a spotlight, advertising to everyone passing by that there's a Blanc here.  They thought maybe the hospital security would come to our assistance should we have trouble.  I was pretty sure the hotel security would probably just keep the gates locked up tight and take bets on who would be the last man standing. 
So, we started the car and began to drive.  At first we thought we'd stay at the home of an in-law to the baby girl, but when that didn't work out, we began our trek across the capital of Haiti to find a place to stay.   We'd entered one plush hotel right next to the airport to ask for a room, but when they opened the gate, a guard inside literally saluted me....
"Yeah. I can tell you right now we can't afford this place..."
Sure enough, the price was ridiculously high, so we left in high hopes of finding another room.    

11 o'clock swept by, and miles of driving.   Then midnight came, and the streets were even darker.  The people on the streets had more and more attitude.  Some were looking for trouble, and some were worse...they were desperate. 

The car was almost out of gas, and we were all getting jumpy about driving so deep into the back alleys that we wouldn't have enough gas to get back in the morning.   We had no idea where we were, and we hadn't seen another hotel for over an hour.   A verse came into my mind that we'd just read as a family, "The Lord watches over the sojourners."
Lord, If ever there was a foreigner in the land...
That's when we came to a place that looked like maybe 20 years ago it was a hotel.   We took our chances and Patchouko came back with the price,  
"1000 gourdes."  He said.
"Ok." I said, half asleep as I got out of the car and started to grab bags.
The men running the place saw me, and they began to talk with Patchouko, who looked at me helplessly,
"Now it's 2000 gourdes." He said with a frown.
In my spirit I growled, maybe even a little out loud.   Really, the moment they see the color of my skin the price doubles?  
We walked into the lobby and waited while they 'cleaned a room'.   
Music was blaring so loud we couldn't even talk.   People were staring at us.  My son was falling asleep in his chair.  That's when it dawned on me that it wasn't really a hotel anymore, at all.   
It was a nightclub.
1 a.m. came, and we finally were allowed to go to our room.  There was no lock on the door, and so I whipped out my knife and whacked off the strap to my backpack.   I quickly tied the door closed, and fell onto the bed exhausted.  Their idea of cleaning the room was to blanket everything in a very, very potent perfume.    Tonight, even fresh air is going to come at a price.  
I placed my machete right next to my hand, even practiced grabbing it a few times, and then I closed my eyes.   My son was sitting next to me, absorbing everything like a sponge, watching my every move.  Did his Dad really just check them into a nightclub in a very bad part of town, in the middle of the night, in a city that's just issued travel warnings to all Americans....Yes, son...I'm sorry.  I did, and your Mother would be soooooo mad.
He laid something on my chest and I opened my eyes.  It was my Bible.
"Here, Dad.  In case you need your double-edged sword in the night."  He smiled.
I thanked God for that boy.

Throughout the night we were bit by mosquitos, and once it sounded like someone tried to open our door, but couldn't.   Patchouko reached quickly for his phone and dropped it onto the tile floor with a loud crash.  All fiddling with the door ceased, and after that there were no other noises....just the night club raging below us.   

We greeted the dawn and all of us were up and ready to go before daylight ever hit the window.  Only a few moments after they'd opened the gate we were pulling out.   I waved to one of the locals as we were driving away.  Goodbye..Thanks God.

We stopped quickly at the embassy in hopes of renewing my son's expiring passport, but it was Saturday, and they'd only let me enter in the event of an emergency.
"How do you define an emergency?" I asked.
"You know, if someone is attacking you."  I was told.
"OK.......Patchouko, brother, hit me!"   He laughed. 

The hospital allowed us to see Melonitha before we left.  We prayed for her, sang for her, and read the Bible to her, then I drove home while everyone nodded off in the car.  Heads bobbed left and right, forward and backward as I bounced along the road.   

After awhile Melonitha's Dad woke and began to chat with Patchouko.  I watched him, as a Dad, from the mirror.  He was smiling and even laughed a few times.  
How can you possibly smile, or have any peace whatsoever in this time?!   My heart would be ripping out.  I'd be throwing up.  But then I was reminded... "

'Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.'

We hopped over the mountains and settled down into our little valley of Cayes, and then there came the church next door to the nightclub, the welder on the corner making a gate, the momma selling snacks, the water flowing from the well...we were back to our little village.  Tikilene had food waiting, the girls were safe, and we all breathed easier.

I called a missionary friend a few days later and told him about our experience. 
"Nobody goes out in the capital after 4 pm, especially with all of the kidnappings and violence there right now. 
OK.  Well, moving on.  Let's put that behind you now."  He said. "Just don't ever do that again."

Visions of driving the alleys and the side roads swept through my mind.  The many, many faces in the night.  
Prayers are still needed for Melonitha.  She's 1.5 years old. 
There hasn't been much change.  She isn't very responsive, and she's currently being treated for meningitis.   

We are all sojourners.  Even this little one.  None of us are home yet.   The verse came again, softer with the confidence of tested and tried experience, "The Lord watches over the sojourners" and then that still, small voice, "... I keep My promises."

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