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  • Jerry Riggin

Escape From Haiti

Updated: Jun 15, 2019

I have arrived safely home from an amazing adventure in Haiti. Here’s what I was escaping from:

I went to Haiti 6/6 to make some fund raising videos for the website, see the well and water system we had built at the school/orphanage at Zamar Ministries in Haiti, make sketches and a plan to build bathrooms for the kids and teach at the Pentecost church service.

Haiti is the poorest country in the world with the most corrupt government in the world. Croix de Bouquets is a poor community on the outskirts of just outside the capital, Port au Prince. When I say “poor” I mean even by Hattian standards. Calling it “3rd world” would be very generous. But I have children there. Long story – check the home page for more info.

I was planning to stay from Thursday to Tuesday and was really looking forward to teaching at the Sunday Pentecost service at the church. There was going to be a service at 9:00 AM, then a church lunch celebration. Then we were going to drive to another branch of the school in the mountains.

Well, when I want to hear God chuckle, I just tell Him about my plans.

A funny thing happened Saturday morning.

We got a call for Pastor Guerry’s brother, who is somehow involved in politics and has contacts, and he told me to leave the country immediately! Like today. He said there was going to be riots starting tomorrow, Sunday morning.

Here is some news video from Sunday morning just after I got out:

I understood the implications because there were preview riots in February and the government locked down the city. Now the protest movement thought they could prevent that. Here's an article about the February demonstrations:

I cancelled my reservations for Tuesday and looked for immediate flights and couldn’t find any.

So, I did what I always do in an emergency: I called my wife and told her the following:

There was going to be riots Sunday and the airport would likely be closed for an indefinite time, possibly weeks, or until the president resigned. I googled it and got the state department report that said there was going to be “demonstrations” and there was already a shooting. I didn’t know the demonstration was starting at 9:00 AM at the Port au Prince airport.

It was Saturday morning at 11:00 AM when I found this out, and Mary said she would get me tickets to get out ASAP. (She is a wiz with air travel, having 6 grandchildren scattered all over the country.)

ASAP turned out to be a 10:00 AM fight Sunday. I told her to book it and forgot to mention I had found out the starting time and location of the “demonstration.” I knew with certainty that God had my back, so I was not afraid in one sense. But in another sense, I knew that God also had St. Paul’s back when he was getting 39 lashes from the Sanhedrin. I confess I was a little … stressed. I have no urge at all to be a martyr.

Most people who know me know that I have seen every action movie ever made by any star in The Expendables. That movie has Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas and on and on… and Bruce Willis who I love because he launched a police car into the air and took out the bad guys helicopter. (Also, he looks older than me.) Judge me if you will, I confess to being an action movie junkie.

So, in my uncontrolled mind I’m imagining action movie scenarios with me in the middle. Especially when we are driving in an SUV through absolutely insane traffic in a 4th world barrio district. Imagine 6 lanes of traffic and no rules and very anxious drivers. All lanes go both directions depending only on the sanity of the driver. Dusty roads, people with colorful packages on their heads, market stands, etc. Could be a movie scene prelude to a kidnapping of a rich American, right? Well, I’m by no means rich but I saw that scene in a movie, and it kept running through my head.

The plan was to get a hotel near the airport so we could be there without incident when the gates open at 6:00 AM. After packing up, and getting ready to head for the airport, we stopped at one of the orphanages to make the videos I had come for. (Those are the ones I posted with the “Sally Fields” comment.) Probably not one of my more clever decisions. By time we completed what turned out to be a 90-minute drive to the Port au Prince airport, there we no vacancies in the 4 closest hotels. They had been refusing pone reservations and said just show up – no promises. The last hotel we checked seemed more dangerous to me than getting caught in the riot, so we just went back to Gary’s brother’s house – which took the next 3 hours. Imagine the traffic situation getting even worse.

On the way back we were stuck in one spot for over an hour. (This is not a one-way street normally.)

I was imagining what would happen if the cars blocking the road could not be moved. Would we be stuck here overnight? Could I call the US embassy and get airlifted? I didn’t actually try because most of my calls were currently being answered by a voice in creole saying the number was not in service. This did not make me more peaceful. But I also assumed the US Embassy for emergency evacuation they would say “please hold” then use the “ignore” button all government agencies have on their phones. So, my fantasy of a helicopter rescue was out of the question.

But eventually the traffic moved and I saw the first policemen I’ve ever seen in Croix de Bouquets. A group of 5, well-armed police officers with dust masks were directing traffic. I thanked God for them because I know it is likely they have not been paid. About a billion bumps later, we got across the choke point bridge.

On the way back, we stopped at the grocery store. (Oh, BTW: we always traveled with an armed bodyguard, and there were 2 armed guards with shotguns outside the grocery store and 2 armed with shotguns inside the grocery store. Seems shotguns are the weapon of choice in Haiti. I don’t think they can afford assault rifles.) I gave Gary most of the cash I had left so he could get siege provisions.

“Coincidentally” we were the last customers. As we left, the metal shutter clanged shut over the door and the grocery store closed. People started shouting and banging on the doors for them to open again. This did not make me more peaceful. The clang kept ringing in my head as we drove off into the dusty chaos of random traffic. As the SUV bounces down the road, I’m holding on to the hand strap praying and running action movie scenarios in my head at the same time. I could not help thinking of all the things that could go wrong in the current situation. All they have to do to completely cut off traffic in the area is block the 2 bridges and 2 paved roads. Everything else is an alley and they often gridlock for a while in normal traffic. The drivers are paid to know their way around the rabbit warren of unmarked dirt roads bordered tightly by 8’ high cinderblock walls, usually with razor wire on top. Everyone has these walls around their property line. If it is not a “highway” (and there are few), 8’ cinderblock walls tightly line the streets with room for 2 very tight dirt lanes, most of the time. Sometimes barely 1 lane.

After bouncing through this maze with motorcycles whizzing by us each way on each side of the car (not a typo) we arrived back at the Guerry’s brother’s gated house with guarded metal gates and 8’ cinder block walls topped with razor wire. We beep for the guard to open the gate and I’m noticing the similarity to Osama Bin Laden’s compound. A girl in uniform with shotgun opens the gate, we drive through and we are “home.” What on earth had I gotten myself into?

I was not at peace. I was tense. I felt like I had ace bandages wrapped tightly around me. I was not really worried (much) about physical danger. If I got stuck in Haiti for 2 weeks I would lose my clients and probably my industry reputation because my server could fail if I could not connect to them and I could even get sued. And we would run out of food in about 4 days and gas for the generator long before that. (The city electric grid is on for 2-3 hours per day in good times.) In February the city was locked down over 10 days. I tried not to imagine being trapped in the middle of thousands of desperate, angry, starving Hattians, or even revolutionaries, kidnappers – I could go on. “Lions and tigers and bears, Oh, my!” I have an active imagination, but you get the idea. Trying not to imagine things was not working out for me.

But then clang of the gate shutting behind us reminds me of the clang of the grocery store shutting right after we left.

Suddenly it felt like the Holy Spirit was telling me I was provisioned and protected. I felt the ace bandages fall off and a wave of peace wash over me. Then I really felt I was in God’s hands. I also felt at peace that I would make it back to the airport in time for the plane and get safely back home. But I also felt peace if that did not work out. My brain quit making up movie scenes and I just relaxed. I felt peace with either option, knowing only God had control. I didn’t know then how many people were praying for me. But I knew God gave me peace. It felt really good.

After we got settled, I finally got through to Mary and updated her on all that had happened. She told me of the texts and Facebook posts asking for prayer for me. I knew then that my peace was a direct result of those prayers. I now fully believe my safe arrival home was also the direct result of those prayers.

Sunday morning, we got up at 5:00 AM and made it to the airport without incident in 30 minutes. My flight was at 10:30 so I had a bit of a wait. There were people there who were not leaving until 4:00 PM. We could not see what was going on outside from the safe side of security and immigration, but that didn't stop people from telling each other what was going on. Not speaking French or Creole, I couldn't really tell what the staff were saying to each other, but I knew something was happening. I was told no one could get into the airport.

I got on the plane and it took off without any incident except very long lines. As my plane flew out of Haiti, I couldn't help but think about the grocery store that closed just after we got food and the airport closed soon after I got inside and I could see God's hand in my life.

So, I thank you for your prayers with the deepest sincerity, and I ask now that you pray for God to provide to the children at Zamar ministries the same protection and provision He graciously gave me.

I know your prayers work.

I know your donations work, too. Please help by clicking the Donate link and doing what you can. I know you will be blessed as much as the kids your bless.



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