Mark McDermott

King’s Harbor church team visits Haiti

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Pastor Chris Cannon visiting the Maison de Lumiere orphanage last week. Photo by Josh Newton

The mother arrived at the orphanage carrying a baby in each arm.

Long lines stretch outside Maison de Lumiere every time the orphanage opens its doors three times each week for its feeding program. Hundreds of street kids and families living in makeshift dwellings in a nearby ravine have depended on the orphanage for meals ever since the program – which is run by the orphans themselves – was launched a few years ago. That need has only intensified since the January earthquake ravaged Haiti.

One day last week, amidst the crowd, Ariana Manassero took special note of one of the babies. They were twins, a girl and a boy. The girl looked healthy; the boy was skeletal.

Ariana is an 18-year-old whose dream of opening an orphanage in Haiti when she was 9 resulted in her entire family moving from Redondo Beach to Haiti. The Manasseros, including parents Bill and Susette and Ariana’s siblings, Vienna and Elijah, founded Maison de Lumiere five years ago and currently house and educate 50 orphans.

Ariana knew the twins’ two older siblings from the feeding program and had been monitoring the health of the little boy since visiting their home two months ago. Last week, she decided to act. She took her mother and members of a visiting team from King’s Harbor Church to the children’s home in the nearby ravine.

Pastor Chris Cannon, of Redondo Beach’s King’s Harbor Church, was shocked at what they found.

“They were squatting in a house with no roof, no floor, just dirt and walls,” Cannon said.

The mother, it turned out, had left after a fight with the children’s father. Dr. Eduardo Anorga, a Redondo Beach-based physician who was part of the team, examined the little boy. The child weighed about six pounds.

He turned to Cannon and spoke softly. “This boy is going to die,” he said.

Ariana spoke to the man in Creole and asked how they could help.

“Take the babies,” the father said.

The children had no names. The father told Ariana to name them after herself. They took the twins back to the little medical clinic at Maison de Lumiere. Anorga determined that the boy suffered from severe malnutrition.

“He would define wasting away,” said Anorga, who has visited Haiti five times since the earthquake in order to provide medical assistance. “He is probably as wasted away as you can get and still be alive. He looked like a skeleton.”

Susette Rodriguez Manassero with Adriano, a baby suffering from malnourishment Maison de Lumiere took in last week. Photo by Josh Newton

The little boy’s life was saved. The nurses at the orphanage began the slow process of increasing his caloric intake and within 24 hours he’d already shown remarkable improvement.

“There is hope for this kid,” Anorga said. “Especially now.”

Hope from Redondo

The 16-member King’s Harbor team left for Haiti Feb. 21 and returned Monday. Their goal was to help, heal, and provide hope.

The most tangible help they intended to provide was the rebuilding of the wall of the girl’s quarters at the orphanage that had been destroyed by the earthquake. The team arrived a week ago Sunday with two cargo planes full of supplies and immediately encountered an obstacle. Customs officials refused to release their supplies, which included a cement mixer and everything needed to rebuild the wall.

“Walls equal security and protection in Haiti,” Cannon said.

A three day bureaucratic standoff ensued that only ended when CNN’s Soledad O’Brien caught wind of the problem and arrived at the Port-au-Prince airport with cameras. Customs officials quickly relented and released the supplies.

“It was a miracle,” Cannon said. “She was there to do a story on two of the kids in the orphanage, and she took a camera right down there to the airport and said, ‘Who is in charge?’ I think it was a combination of Soledad and prayer that got us there.”

As they waited for the supplies, Cannon and the team worked on their other two goals. Anorga had arrived with $50,000 worth of medicine that had been donated by a local donor. The team set up temporary medical clinics in three of the surrounding ravines, treating hundreds of patients for ailments including wound infections, diarrhea, meningitis, scabies and severe anxiety.

Anorga said the need for medical care was overwhelming.

“We were out in one of the little tent villages and people are clustered together living in tents made out of sheets, or maybe a regular tent or a plastic tarp…And as they all kind of lined everybody up, I told [Pastor] Dave Beck, ‘We better start praying,” Anorga said.

If helping was difficult and the need for healing was overwhelming, providing hope proved to be the biggest challenge of the King’s Harbor mission. Cannon said the utter magnitude of the nation’s despair was apparent the moment the team left the airport. Hundreds of people flocked around the Americans. The pastor had to avert his eyes so as not to engage those who could not realistically be helped. If one person in a crowd of hundreds is helped, Cannon said, the situation can easily escalate into a riot.

“It breaks your heart to have to stare off in distance and not engage them,” Cannon said. “To look in their eyes and see the pain was equally unbearable. It was a Catch-22 – we came on this mission to help people, but you can’t help everyone…Anyone who goes, you’ve got to go with a specific group in mind to help. The whole nation is broken, and if you go thinking you can help everyone, you are going to cause more problems than good.”

Despair is also quite literally in the air. Cannon realized this his very first morning.

“I woke to tremors and the smell of death and women with their arms open begging for food,” Cannon said. “That was morning in Haiti.”

Preaching hope

That very morning, Cannon was asked to go to one of the ravines and preach at the tent city. More than 800 people lived there. “I’ve done my share of street preaching,” he said. “But this was daunting.”

The only thing he could think to preach was a gospel story about hope amidst hopelessness – the story of a leper approached who Jesus and asked to be healed.

“Jesus says, ‘If you are willing to be cleansed, heal,’” Cannon said. “The man says, ‘I am willing to be cleansed.’ And he heals the man…’”

“The hope I was trying to instill in people is that there is a future in Haiti and that the answer isn’t leaving Haiti,” Cannon said. “Of course, we believe the answer is faith in Jesus, and that Jesus cares about Haiti….But also that we came from California, and we care about them. They are not forgotten by the American people.”

On Thursday, customs released the team’s supplies, and 20 Haitian men were hired to rebuild the orphanage walls. The men attacked the task with joy, singing work songs and songs of praise as the wall went back up. It was a quality that struck the entire team, Cannon said – the special capacity for joy that so many Haitians seemed to possess.

“One of my enduring images, as we left, was this older man on the job, wearing no shoes, standing in eight inches of cement, mixing with a shovel…He was probably 5-foot-4 and about 90 pounds of just lean muscle, with just the biggest grin on his face, waving at us, singing this Haitian praise song with joy you can’t find anywhere, just genuine joy deep from his heart, from his soul,” Cannon said.

Denuite and Chabine at Maison de Lumiere. Photo by Josh Newton

He also noticed the utter unselfishness that so characterized even the neediest of children in Haiti. Children who come to the feeding program will take food off their plates to give to their younger siblings, who in turn are careful to only eat what they need, returning portions to their brothers and sisters.

“They know how to provide for each other,” Cannon said.

Earthquake Olympics

One of the orphans, a boy named Marcoral, caught wind of the Olympics taking place in Vancouver and decided that the orphanage needed its own Olympics. He dubbed it the “Earthquake Olympics” and last Sunday all the kids participated in matches of soccer, basketball, ping-pong, and Bible trivia. Early the next morning, just before dawn, one of the adults saw Marcoral awake early. He didn’t realize anyone was watching. He was out on the playground by himself, reliving and savoring everything that had taken place the previous day at the Earthquake Olympics, which came complete with American spectators. A little smile of joy spread across his face.

“I think about the phrase ‘God bless America,’” Cannon said. “I’ve been rethinking what it means, because I think God blessed Haiti in ways we can’t really fathom. There is a quality the Haitian people have you can’t buy, you can’t acquire, you can’t teach. It is something I think only adversity teaches.”

Cannon believes that in the long run the earthquake may have helped Haiti by making the rest of the world more aware of its plight. The Manasseros, he said, brought the reality of Haiti to the King’s Harbor congregation, all of whom have been brought closer together in their mission to help the community the family has created at Maison de Lumiere.

“I think we all have to adopt a village,” Cannon said. “We can all be that little part of the puzzle that helps rebuilt Haiti.”

The mother of the two twins that Ariana had helped rescue arrived at the orphanage last weekend. She took her daughter back, but left the little boy, who was growing a little stronger every day, in the care of Maison de Lumiere. In accordance with their father’s wishes, the babies were named Adriano and Adriana.

Ariana Manassero comforts one of the orphans she and her family care for at Maison de Lumiere, the orphanage the family founded in Haiti five years ago. Photo by Josh Newton

Ariana turned 18 on Tuesday. Reached via Facebook chat, her concern was with young Adriano.

“He is doing better every day,” she said. “We are praying he’ll be all fat and healthy really soon!”

The little boy, it turns out, also has a heart ailment. But Adriana was undaunted.

“We have faith,” she said. “I really think he’ll be okay.”

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