Deliverance. It often comes from nowhere, just about the time you have given up hope. Deliverance is finding a couple 1,000 goudes - forgotten in an envelope on the nightstand - when the propane bottle is empty and your stove is out of gas. It’s the first drop of rain after days of dusty heat and parched plants. It’s a baby in your arms after years of adoption paperwork, or a positive pregnancy test after months of waiting. It’s the call from the embassy about your visa. It’s the doctor saying that you’re cancer free. It’s an airplane taking off from the Miami airport – setting you free from months of quarantine.
Deliverance comes suddenly. After a long period of waiting on God, the answer ends up being almost simple. Like twelve people walking away from a house guarded by eight men with automatic weapons, disappearing into the night, and walking ten miles without seeing one other person.
I listened to Sam Stoltzfus tell about his experience with the 400 Mawozo until I fell asleep the day I received it, and then finished it before I did anything else the next morning.
I felt connected to the story because those were “my orphanage children” that they went to visit that day. I traveled that road between Ganthier and Port au Prince in the back of a tap-tap at least once a week the whole year of 2015 without a care in the world. There’s a little hot spring right in the area where they were kidnapped, and one afternoon we girls walked down to see it. We didn’t know that even then it was a bad area, and some young kid snatched a phone and wallet from us. The orphanage board of directors was highly unimpressed by our stupidity.
And now, since I’ve been married, I’ve driven roads marked with smoldering tires or other signs of recent gangster activity and wondered, “Should we turn around or blast through?” I’ve made the odd comment before a trip to Oriani about being kidnapped, while thinking that surely everything will be ok. That robbery and kidnapping only happens to “other people.”
Last May, we broke down on the way home from Oriani and ended up in the papaya zone (the name of the 400 Mawozo Gang's territory between Ganthier and Kwa de Bouke) after dark. Every time Zèzè went past a slow third gear, the steering wobbled so much that he almost lost control, so we couldn’t even careen through the area at high speed as is our usual habit. It was raining lightly, and there were a few policemen at the checkpoint, and a semi-truck behind us. I was sitting on the edge of my seat, peering into the darkness, looking at the few pedestrians with extreme suspicion. When I saw the gas station at the edge of Kwa de Bouke, I wanted to cry with relief. My husband demonstrated his supreme power over humanity by going the wrong way up a one-way and laughing a bit hysterically.
You just never know.
Some days it doesn’t work out so well. In February, when we were taking my friends to the beach, we came across a semi-truck parked horizontally right across the road. We hesitated – and they were everywhere – yelling and waving their guns – all with long dreadlocks and half-crazed expressions on their faces. That day we were still lucky tho, because we got the girls’ passports back and ended up just losing a bunch of cash.
(If you need another post to read, here's the story.)
Some parts of Sam’s story seem so strange. Any Haitian kidnapping victims would have been tied up. They would have not been given Igloos full of cold drinks, even on the first day, or generators to run fans at night to keep the mosquitos away. It seemed like the 400 Mawozo was almost as surprised as the missionaries by the whole situation. Why else did they let them keep their smartphones for a couple hours or how did that little bit of cash to make the phone call not get discovered?
It was such a collision of two worlds. The gangs are a symbol of the absolute worst parts of life in Haiti – driven by political corruption, exploitation by other more powerful countries, poverty, and devil worship. It seemed like this atmosphere of utter wickedness could have been one of hardest things about the very hard ordeal.
Well, the boils caused by infected mosquito bites didn't seem all that pleasant either.
Americans shrink away from even really believing that people would actually worship the devil, and I have wanted to label certain things in Haiti as “superstitious” when there is actually a much darker power behind them. And I can’t imagine being in such a helpless situation, where more than ever you needed to cry out to God and feel him beside you. And all around you there is rap music, smoking, your baby has an unexplainable illness, and then there is a sinister bottle of red liquid that you are dared not to touch. What a test of faith, and what a witness that God is stronger than the devil.
When he told about pushing away the rock to escape – how the guards were nervous and jittery that night, but the man just looked at the door and seemed to not even notice the rock had been pushed away, I almost wondered if those guards were actually getting tired of the whole deal. What did that guard feel? Was God blinding his eyes? Was he choosing not to see? And is he alive anymore? We have never heard on the news that the leader, Lamò San Jou, did anything to them, and because of that, many Haitians believe the "escape" was actually planned, or sanctioned by the gangs. How much were they relying on their voodoo rituals to keep those prisoners there? Maybe the guards believed that the devil would keep their captives secure.
Naturally, I wondered what I would do if I was kidnapped by the 400 Mawozo. It almost seemed like those people’s very “innocence” is what saved them. Somehow they were “as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves,” and the gangs must have either felt confident that they wouldn’t try to escape, or else felt almost overwhelmed by their foreign Christian ways and half wished they would escape so they could get back to their normal gangster business. So many times we feel like our human knowledge of the situation can “help God out” and that we can play a key role in the process of deliverance. This story was not like that. It was waiting and praying for sixty days, staying helpless and harmless, then on the night that God chose - simply walking away. So many things were out of their control. So many things could have gone wrong. But it was the day God had planned for their deliverance, and he worked out the details.
I told a friend later that while I was so thankful that the missionaries were safe, really this story wasn’t completely fair. Why couldn’t all the Haitian captives have the same story of deliverance? And she said, “They do, Quiara!”
She’s right of course. At any solo and testimony meeting, you hear stories of deliverance. They may not be as dramatic and complete, but they are very real. I think I can say most Haitians have had a gun pointed at them at some point in their lives, and when they tell their stories, it’s at least as dramatic as Sam Stoltzfus.
Haitians are wily and street smart. They don’t give off the same aura of calm, innocent trust of a crowd of foreigners. They know how the system works. They were born here. So God sometimes delivers them through quick thinking, like dropping a moto in the street and running to hide in a little shop at the first sound of gunfire. (This actually happened to someone borrowing our motorcycle and praise God it was still there when the firefight ended and he brought it home to us.) He gives them a few choice words to say to the gangster that make them think twice, or he closes a thief’s eye to a bit of money hidden in a bra or a sock. My husband had a narrow escape before we were married because he got the bright idea to follow some police out on a road where he knew the gangs had been shooting. He was soon in the middle of a gunfight, but he turned around fast – and God delivered him.
A few Sundays ago, we listened to the testimony of a man who had been caught in a web of lies – cheating on his wife with a young lady. He was out checking some trees for his boss one day, and he found a nest of birds. The thought popped into his head that he should take them home for his daughter to play with and he yielded to temptation, even though the mother bird followed him, squawking and begging him to release her family. He got stuck in a traffic jam and started thinking about that mama bird. God spoke to him, telling him that it had been wrong to take the birds, and he ended up turning around and taking them clear back to their nest.
When he got home, he was horrified to see his girlfriend, whom he hoped would never step foot on his yard, explaining all his sins to his wife and children. That night, on the roof of his house, he said the thought crossed his mind that maybe he should just end it all. How would he face the church? He had ruined his life. And he thought of the little birds. God had cared about those baby birds – enough to make him go and return them to their nest. He had to believe that God cared enough to save his life too.
His story was long and dramatic. The climax took place at the girl’s house. She had asked him to meet with her one last time to discuss some things, and he was so ready to be finished with her and try to find peace with God again. But he was not prepared for what happened. There were several men who always played cards outside her house, and she had enlisted their services in case he tried to escape. She proceeded to lock the door, and as he looked around the room, he was appalled to see a machete and half a dozen razor blades. She picked up a razor blade and said, “I am going to disfigure your face and teach you how to respect young women!” But God saved him, no one was killed or disfigured, and he was able to find his way back to God and the church after several years.
Sometimes we think that to ask for deliverance, we must be innocent missionaries kidnapped by a gang after offering years of our lives to serve in a third world country. That somehow it’s only those kind of people who deserve deliverance. But God also delivers us from situations that are completely our own fault. He delivers us from besetting sins, from poor financial decisions, and he even heals relationships with people we thought would never give us another chance. He offers deliverance for the innocent and the guilty alike.
Also, sometimes we probably don’t recognize God’s deliverance. I have been tempted many times during these last months after our tap-tap was stolen to doubt. I look at everyone else whose vehicles didn’t get stolen. I look at the people in need and just wish for that little bit of money coming in every day so that we could help them. But I don’t see the big picture. It could be that in God’s eyes, we were delivered. We all know that it could have been worse if Eliezer had been driving that night. He probably wouldn’t have given the vehicle up so easily, and many many times the 400 Mawozo kills or kidnaps drivers when they steal vehicles. Maybe we were saved from a sinkhole of expensive repairs and not really making any money.
And maybe we were simply delivered from our belief that we controlled our lives. We aren’t making a lot of big dreams and plans right now. We truly have no idea what will happen for us during this next year. For me especially, this is so hard. But I hope I have grown through the experience, and I hope I am gaining a better understanding of the truly poor people in this world. God has taken care of us. I really have no reason to complain. But it’s been a new experience for this innocent, privileged American. An experience that has really tested my faith in God’s deliverance.