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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — In a place desperately in need of miracles, here’s one: Scores of children about to enter the dining room of a church were spared when dinner was late.
Other kids were saved when Seker Dorval, 17, one of the oldest boys in the Reformation Hope orphanage, thought it his responsibility to chase the little ones away from Pastor Jean Jacob Paul’s church. “Get away, dinner is not ready,” he yelled in Creole.
Some of the younger children were cranky and hungry because dinner was late. They strayed away from the larger group playing outside in the grass-and-gravel courtyard. Inside the dining room, the tables were set, but the staff was still cooking.
“Stay outside with the others,” the older boy said. Then the earth began to shake and, in seconds, with a crack and a roar and the screams of frightened children, the roof of the building housing the dining room and the church collapsed. Pancaked on what would have been more than 60 children and staff members if dinner were on time.
“We have lost everything and yet we have lost nothing,” said Paul, a former New York City cab driver who also worked in New Jersey. “It can’t be anything but a miracle.”
Paul is a tough boss, demanding high standards from his staff of 17 and a sense of discipline from the children who learn English and arithmetic at his school. He is never happy to hear dinner is late at the orphanage, or to hear that Seker put himself in charge of disciplining younger children.
“But I will not reprimand anyone,” he said. “I will not fire anyone. God wanted all of this to happen.”
None of the 56 children, ages 4 to 17, who live at the orphanage was killed. Only one, 13-year-old Woody Dorry, was injured, but he said “I am OK,” as he stood outside what looks like one long flat slab of concrete, the roof that crushed the church, the dining room and the school.
Woody was inside the orphanage residence when the building began to sway and knew he should leave quickly. He slipped and hit his head against the wall. The residence where the children sleep suffered only minor damage. “Everything was moving and swaying,” he said.
In the dusty, broken streets surrounding the church, men, women and children put out their mattresses to sleep outside. Some because their homes were destroyed, others because they fear being trapped in a shaky house when an aftershock hits.
The church is located in La Plaine, just outside Port-au-Prince. The area is jammed with people who have come to escape the horror of the capital city.
Paul, 51, came here seven years ago after he was nagged by a recurring dream. In it, someone reminded him of a promise he had made years earlier as a child when a Presbyterian missionary brought him to Brooklyn after his father died.
“I said I would go back to Haiti to help the children, but I never did,” Paul said. He studied theology but then he went to technical school and learned how to build homes. He worked as a cab driver and saved enough to start his own business after moving to Atlanta. He married his wife, Jocelyn, a nurse, and had four children.
“This man in the dream said I must go to Haiti, or he would send someone else,” Paul said.
After a near-fatal car accident, Paul decided it was time. With help from the Presbyterian Church in America, Paul bought the residence and began building his church. He was trying to raise money to build a second floor when the earthquake struck.
It’s not easy to raise money for an orphanage in Haiti. But it’s not difficult to find children for it.
“People know we are there and just leave their children with us,” Paul said.
The parents of some of the orphans were killed in the political violence that has plagued Haiti for decades. Others died of AIDS.
“Each child has a story,” said Paul, who usually returns to Atlanta for a month after staying three months in Haiti.
Paul said he will try to rebuild but he’s not sure how or whether he should even ask God to help him. He thought of that the night after the earthquake. He went outside his residence. Because there was no light anywhere, because there was no moon, the night was black and, above him, the sky shimmered with stars. He looked up and realized he received enough, the gift of his orphans’ lives.
“You will decide,” he told whatever was behind the stars.
(Bob Braun writes for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.)
Copyright 2010 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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