Dr. Robert Whittaker spent Tuesday afternoon rummaging through boxes of medical instruments in the Nashville, Tenn., offices of Healing Hands International.
The British-born physician left most of his tools back in Africa, where he served for nearly 25 years at a mission hospital. He leaves Wednesday tomorrow for Haiti — five months after he suffered a gunshot wound to the arm during a 48-hour kidnapping ordeal in Nigeria.
Whittaker and Dr. Mark Pearson, a former missionary in Haiti, will arrive in the Dominican Republic and join a convoy of supplies headed across the border into Haiti.
Whittaker, still recovering from a nerve graft back in November, said he and Pearson plan to work in a suburb of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.
Church members traveling to Hispaniola — the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic — face a herculean task. Estimates of the death toll in Haiti after the Jan. 12 earthquake have reached 200,000, according to news reports. Hundreds of thousands more are injured. Many have received no medical attention since the 7.0 quake struck near Port-au-Prince.
Dr. David Vanderpool, a physician and member of the Harpeth Hills Church of Christ in Brentwood, Tenn., is lending his skills to a hospital in Jimani, a city in the Dominican Republic near the Haitian border. Vanderpool, who oversees Mobile Medical Disaster Relief, makes regular trips into Haiti and brings backs truckloads of patients for treatment, said Randy Steger, chairman and president of Healing Hands International.
Several ministries, including Healing Hands and Louisiana-based White’s Ferry Road Relief Ministries, are using the northern Haitian city of Cap Haitien, undamaged by the quake, as a command center for funneling supplies to the south, Steger said. The ministries are distributing filters that will provide clean water for 12,000 people, and hope to provide additional filters for to help at least 200,000, Steger said.
“Without help, contaminated water will cause more deaths in the long term than the earthquake,” Steger said. ‘WE JUST REJOICE AND KEEP ON WORKING’
In Florida, Christians from Haiti continue to wait for news of their families and friends near the quake zone, said Pierre Etienne, minister for the Church of Christ of Sunrise, Fla.
Before he moved to the U.S. about 16 years ago, Etienne was a minister for the Delmas Church of Christ, a congregation of nearly 2,000 members in Port-au-Prince. The church’s building was damaged badly in the quake, and its members met outside for worship on Sunday, Etienne said. At least nine members died in the quake. The Sunrise church, a congregation of about 80 Haitian immigrants and their children, is collecting funds to help the Delmas church.
“At this point in time it is very painful to even think about asking for financial help,” Etienne said. “But, as Christians, we cannot close our eyes on this huge catastrophic disaster that hit Haiti.”
Roberta Edwards, who oversees an orphanage and feeding program near Port-au-Prince, returned to Haiti recently. She was in the U.S. visiting relatives just before the earthquake. A wall of the Son Light Children’s Home and Nutrition Center collapsed, killing Nicky, a 15-year-old boy who lived at the home.
“I was able to get some cement so we could properly bury Nicky,” Edwards said in a recent e-mail to friends and supporters. She also has started making trips to the Dominican border, meeting workers with groups including Manna Global Ministries and loading food and supplies on a truck to take back home.
Thomas Edwards, the oldest of the children living at the home, accompanied Roberta Edwards on one of the supply trips, As they approached Port-au-Prince, a bag of dog food fell off the truck.
“Some men came by, picked up the dog food off the ground and ate it in front of us,” Thomas Edwards said. “So that can show you how hungry people are.”
Roberta Edwards said she’s also trying to help treat her neighbors’ wounds. Many Haitians sustained cuts during the quake that have become infected. Hospitals are open, but have little or no medications and supplies.
“We are doing what we can do,” Roberta Edwards said. “I continue to praise God as I look around at the destruction and disaster. … I know it is hectic and crazy, but things are coming together — and for that reason we just rejoice and keep on working.” ONE DOCTOR’S STORY
Back in Nashville, Whittaker said he’s eager to “clean up wounds and start healing.”
The physician has seen — and lived — his fair share of trauma in a quarter-century at Nigerian Christian Hospital. Car wrecks are common along the busy road that runs past the medical mission in the West African nation.
The doctor himself was a patient at the hospital in August, after enduring two days in captivity at the hands of kidnappers who held him for ransom. As he was abducted from his home, a bullet damaged a nerve in his arm.
He spoke to his own doctor recently about the proposed trip. “I told him, ‘Is there any reason to forbid me to go?’” Whittaker said. His doctor gave him the green light.
Whittaker said he’s still unsure whether or not he will return to Nigeria full time to work in medical missions. Right now, he’s concentrating on the task at hand.
“We’re going over there to save lives and take care of suffering people,” he said. Whatever happens in the future, “that’s good enough for me.”