Emergencies were nothing new for me as a critical care nurse. But the text message I got on my way out of the hospital that January afternoon shocked me more than anything I’d seen inside the ICU: Did you hear about the earthquake in Haiti?
I rushed home to my husband, Mark. We watched the televised reports. Hundreds of thousands of people were dead, injured or homeless. Port-au-Prince was destroyed. But I could only think one thing: Where are our children?
I’d first met Tiken, seven, and Ebby, five, when my daughter, Shelby, and I went to Haiti on a mission trip in November 2008. My church in Oklahoma had supported All God’s Children orphanage in the mountains near Fedja in Haiti for years. I knew my nursing skills would be a help in the clinic, but I wasn’t prepared for how the children would affect me. Especially Tiken and Ebby. I felt a connection to them the minute I saw them. They seemed to feel the same way about my daughter and me.
“I feel like God wants us to adopt those boys,” Shelby said one night inside our tent.
“He’s been working on my heart too,” I confessed. Shelby was about to graduate high school. I was 51. Hardly the age of a new mother. I didn’t even know how I’d bring up the topic with my husband. But I knew in my heart that I’d have to.
Mark met us at the airport. He kissed me hello, then looked at my face as if he could read something there. “Are we adopting a Haitian child?” he asked.
“No,” said Shelby. “Two!”
I returned to the orphanage five times over the next year. Tiken and Ebby were growing up under circumstances I could barely imagine. They slept on the floor, had no hot water and spoke Haitian Creole. All of it so foreign compared to the upbringing of my own children. But when the boys dissolved into giggles or climbed into my lap I felt the most natural and familiar feeling in the world, what could only be called a mother’s love.
International adoption is a long, hard process. It would be months—maybe years—before we could bring the boys to Oklahoma. But that was before the earthquake. Now it might never happen!
Mark called the orphanage. No answer. I e-mailed the director, Yves Prophete. Then we waited. When the phone finally rang I jumped up to answer. It was one of the mission workers at the orphanage.
“We’re still getting aftershocks, but we’re safe in the mountains for now,” she reported. “The villages in the valley are in ruins. Soon people will climb up here for the supplies. I’m afraid there’s not enough food or shelter to go around.”
“Tiken and Ebby?” I said.
“When the ground trembles Tiken cries, ‘I want Maman!’”
The telephone lines were working only intermittently. I didn’t know when we’d be in touch again.
I squeezed Mark’s hand. Was there anything worse than knowing your child was scared and you couldn’t get to him? If I had any doubts before that I was the boys’ mother, those doubts were long gone. There was only one option left. “I’m going to Haiti,” I said.
It made sense for me to go. I didn’t have to rely on commercial airlines whose flights in and out of Haiti were shut down. I found a medical mission flight leaving Oklahoma and arriving in Haiti early Sunday morning. The clinic in Port-au-Prince looked like a scene from a war movie: open wounds, deep lacerations, broken limbs. In seconds the team was bandaging, stitching and setting bones.
In between patients I called Yves Prophete. I couldn’t get through. How would I get to the orphanage 40 miles into the mountains? Even if I could find a willing driver with a working vehicle, the roads were impassable in many places, and looters made any travel dangerous, especially after dark. I’d made it to Haiti, but now what? I was basically stuck in Port-au-Prince.
When I realized the internet connection was still working on the clinic laptop I logged on to Facebook and found hundreds of messages. “I heard you were going to Haiti to get your children,” a stranger wrote on my wall. “Can you find the children I’m adopting?”
That wasn’t the only plea for help. Four other families contacted me. The American Embassy announced it would expedite adoptions, but for how long? I had no idea how to get to Tiken and Ebby, much less anyone else’s children. It would take a miracle to get them home.
Another day went by with me working at the clinic. I was too exhausted to log on to the computer before falling into bed. The next morning there was a message waiting for me from Mark on Facebook. “Our senator says you must get to the American Embassy and speak to the person handling emergency visas.” Lord, I wondered, is this your miracle?
Someone at the clinic offered me a ride to the embassy. Traffic was bumper to bumper. Debris littered the streets. I climbed over the yellow caution tape around the building and made my way through the crowds of dirty, tired people all needing assistance. It would take days if I waited with them. I didn’t have that kind of time. I didn’t know how long emergency visas would be granted, or how long the boys would be safe at the orphanage once looters made their way into the mountains for supplies. I might never find them.
I held up my passport to a soldier guarding the building. “Who handles emergency visas?”
“Go to window 23,” she said. Thank you, God, I whispered. I wondered if the soldier was a mother too, and knew what I was there for.
The inside of the embassy was no less chaotic. Rubble covered the floor. Dust filled the air. But there was still some order: A tired-looking woman met me at window 23 and introduced herself. “I’ve been waiting for you,” she said, sounding relieved. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“I know five other children in the process of being adopted at the same orphanage,” I said. “I want to bring them home too.”
“I’ll need birth certificates and adoption forms from the orphanage. Have the adoptive parents e-mail me to grant you temporary guardianship. I need to see the documents and children back here before I can grant them visas.”
Back here? I thought as I made my way to the street. How was I going to get to them? My ride took me back to the clinic, but couldn’t drive the treacherous trip into the mountains. I would just have to find a suitable vehicle and driver—or walk every step of the way!
The next morning I woke with a start: Check Facebook. I dressed and ran to the clinic laptop. I’d received a message from another adoptive parent. “The orphans are at the American Embassy!” she wrote. “Go there now!” Someone volunteered to drive me back there. But what about the paperwork, the e-mails?
The throngs of people outside the embassy seemed to have doubled since the day before. The children could be anywhere. I wiped sweat and dust out of my eyes and scanned the crowd. A splash of red caught my eye. It was a man in a plaid shirt, coming closer… “Yves Prophete!”
I threw my arms around him. “I’m getting emergency visas for seven children to come to the United States,” I told him.
Yves led me into the embassy, where not seven but 12 children waited! “Adoptive parents have been contacting me too,” he explained. “I’ve got all the documentation.”
“Maman! Maman!” The voices I’d been longing to hear cut through the air as Tiken and Ebby came running. I swept them up into my arms. “Maman’s here,” I whispered. “And we’re going home.”
By 10:00 P.M. that night the children and I were on a plane bound for Florida. Tiken and Ebby slept soundly in my arms. There were many more children in need of help. The angels of Haiti certainly had their hands full. I would not stop praying for each and every child.
And I knew God heard my prayers, and prayers from around the world for all the people of Haiti. His angels are watching over them right now, just as they had been watching over my sons all along.
Watch Tiken and Ebby as they arrive in their new home!