Five days after an earthquake struck Haiti's southern coast, the death toll has risen to more than 2,100 and the number of people injured has surged to over 12,000. With an estimated 684,000 people in need of immediate assistance, several Christian charities are providing basic provisions and medical care for those devastated by the recent disasters.
Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency said late Wednesday that dozens of people are still missing and confirmed that 2,189 have been found dead, while those wounded had risen to 12,268.
Just two days after Saturday's 7.2 magnitude earthquake near Les Cayes, the country was hit with heavy rains from Tropical Storm Grace that brought flooding and hindered search and rescue efforts.
Among the tragedies to befall the nation is the two-day closure of a hospital in the nation's capital of Port-au-Prince, where some of the injured were transported. It was shut down Thursday to protest the kidnapping of two doctors, The Associated Press reported.
Several Christian organizations are assessing the damages and providing disaster relief. Those include Samaritan's Purse, which sent medical teams and water filtration units, and the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, which was among the first to reach Saint-Louis de Sud. On Thursday, the group Free Wheelchair Mission announced its plans to send 2,500 wheelchairs to Haiti.
LiveBeyond, a Christian nonprofit organization that's been operating in Haiti for over a decade, said in a post on Twitter Monday that its operations in the Thomazeau region were not affected and urged people worldwide to pray for Haitians mourning the loss of loved ones and for the nation's recovery. The nonprofit is providing medical care for many who suffered injuries from the earthquake near Les Cayes.
Dr. David Vanderpool, the founder of LiveBeyond, said he's working to get back to Haiti, as LiveBeyond has opened its hospital to receive the injured by helicopter as part of a disaster relief group working under the Haitian Ministry of Health. They anticipate expenses nearing $200,000 to provide medical care and disaster relief assistance to those in need.
Saturday's earthquake is the deadliest to hit the Caribbean nation since January 2010, when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake claimed 316,000 lives and left more than 1.5 million homeless.
The impoverished nation was already struggling in the social and political aftermath of the assassination of President Jouvenal Moïse last month.
Haiti has also seen an increase in crime since last year. The United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti stated in a February report that there were 234 kidnappings in the previous 12 months, an increase of 200% from the previous year.
In a recent interview with The Christian Post, Vanderpool, who launched LiveBeyond in 2005 to provide disaster relief in response to Hurricane Katrina and then went to Haiti in 2010 to help relief efforts after that earthquake, said many Haitians of faith "have turned to God more now than ever."
Vanderpool, a trauma surgeon, and his wife, Laurie Vanderpool, were already short-term missionaries working around the world for LiveBeyond when they followed God's call to expand the organization to Haiti, where they provide healthcare, nutrition and educational resources for women and children.
After the couple moved to Haiti, Vanderpool said he and his wife bought 63 acres of land where they built The Scott & Tracie Hamilton Guest House and a medical clinic.
Since 2010, LiveBeyond has provided medical care to thousands of residents in the Thomazeau area of Haiti who had no access to healthcare, and drilled 97 water wells to provide safer drinking water. These wells provide over 200,000 gallons of water to area residents each day.
Along with spiritual support through Scripture, prayer and discipleship training, LiveBeyond serves thousands of meals daily to children and families. It also estimates that 300 lives have been saved through its maternal health program.
Community healthcare worker programs are also offered, where workers go out in the community daily and care for the sick. LiveBeyond also provides educational programs for children in first through the 11th grade, including for students with special needs.
Through their organization, the Vanderpools have increased nutritional support from 6,400 children per day to nearly 7,500. Vanderpool said he estimates that his organization would need to expand to feeding roughly 10,000 children each day to fully provide for all the hungry children in Thomazeau.
Although LiveBeyond is fulfilling its mission in Haiti, it has also come with risks.
Five years after the Vanderpools moved to the Caribbean island, five armed gang members attempted to kidnap Laurie Vanderpool while she was standing outside the couple's home.
Both David and Laurie Vanderpool ran to escape. Laurie, however, was severely injured by the attackers who dragged and beat her. As a trauma surgeon, Vanderpool said he had no choice but to perform multiple surgeries on his wife on-site at the medical clinic on their property. She was later transported to the U.S.for further medical treatment.
Although Laurie Vanderpool didn't require any long-term hospitalization and she has no permanent injuries, it took nearly a month for her to fully recover.
Following his wife’s attack, Vanderpool said they had no hesitation in their minds about continuing God's mission for them in Haiti.
Vanderpool said he has seen violence firsthand, particularly gang-related violence, which has escalated since the assassination of Moïse on July 7, he added. Yet, the increase in crime and facing natural disasters has led to a rise in spiritual hunger and growth among Haitians.
“Even though I’m not currently there now, our base is operating completely normal, and our staff have reported that we are feeding more people because marketplaces and ports have been shut down in Haiti, so food is scarce,” he said. “Typically, persecution increases faith for those who have faith."
“Introducing people to the Christian faith is a real challenging situation because many people respond differently. But many Haitians with faith have turned to God more now than ever,” he said.
Even with the rising number of Haitians turning to God, Vanderpool said thatduring the decade he's been doing missions work in Haiti, he has learned and seen firsthandthat many Haitians practice Voodoo as a religion.
Haiti's former minister of tourism, Colombe Emilie Jessy Menos, who now serves as minister delegate to the prime minister, described the stronghold Voodoo has in many Haitians lives.
In an interview with "This Is America & The World" host Dennis Wholey in 2018, two years after the country was recovering from Hurricane Matthew, Menos described Voodoo as the center of Haitian culture. She asserted at the time that even many Catholic and Protestant Haitians incorporate Voodoo practices in their daily lives.
Vanderpool told CP that there are many Voodoo priests who have influence over people because they are known for "casting spells and asserting their power in Haiti’s villages," and "they often are well-off."
“Many people in Haiti worship the devil through Voodoo and they understand there are bad spiritual forces in the world, and that when bad things are happening it’s due to the evil that Satan brings about,” Vanderpool said. “Many Haitians have a clear picture of the spiritual realm and they know God is a God of love.
"But on the one hand, Satan has power in this world because he can do things in this world and God doesn’t necessarily stop him. And the Haitians that worship Satan tap into the power that Satan has, and that is the attraction.”
"It's a complex issue, and our goal is to continue to preach about the truth that can be found in God only, while doing the work we were called by God to do for the purpose of aiding in humanitarian development to improve people's physical and spiritual lives," Vanderpool added.
Even with the increased levels of violence in Haiti, Vanderpool said he and his wife plan to return to advance the mission work of their nonprofit.
But he cautioned church missions groups against traveling to Haiti at this time and instead give to organizations that are already operating on the ground.
Before the earthquake, the U.S. State Department had already raised its travel advisory to a level four "due to kidnapping, crime and civil unrest."
“I would discourage any short-term mission trips to Haiti at this time because of the increased danger," Vanderpool said of the gang violence. "The way people can help is to find a good organization that is feeding children and support it."
Another way Vanderpool said people can help Haiti is by praying for the country.
“We are asking people to pray that the peace of God will permeate Haiti, that God will allow His peace to reign in Haiti, and godly leaders will be raised up in the country,” he said. “Pray that the corruption that exists in Haiti will be eliminated and that godliness will then reign. Our hopes and dreams are to continue to expand our mission and to be able to take care of more people and that more Haitians will follow a godly path.”
“Our message as we go out into the communities has always been to preach that God is a God of peace and justice and we hope to keep taking care of Haiti’s physical needs because we were called to go to Haiti and that calling supersedes danger,” he said, adding that more than 100 LiveBeyond employees are keeping their operations going in Haiti.
Vanderpool's book, Live Beyond: A Radical Call to Surrender and Serve details the couple's work in Christian missions.