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When an earthquake hit the poverty-ridden country of Haiti last Tuesday, two workers from Compassion International, a Colorado-based child development ministry, were walking through the lobby of a hotel in the hills surrounding Port-au-Prince. One man, Dan Woolley, was rescued 65 hours after the quake; the other, David Hames, has not been found.
The photo below, taken before the quake, shows the two men sitting on a balcony at the hotel where they were staying. Compassion employee Woolley is on the left, and freelance videographer Hames is on the right. The arrows and notations on the photo were made by Hames' family and friends, who hoped the information might help rescuers locate him.
A rescue effort has been underway all week. A team of workers has maintained efforts around the clock, using pneumatic drills to poke through the concrete rubble and sustaining themselves with canned food and water. On Wednesday, the team believed they heard tapping sounds in the rubble, which renewed hope that Hames would be found.
Here's how Woolley described the seconds after the quake:
"David and I were walking through the lobby of the Hotel Montana, about three feet apart. Then the earth shook. Walls fell. The ground opened up. I could see that a tunnel or teepee formed from a wall. I was originally stuck under the wall but managed to crawl to an elevator shaft later, 20 feet away. I called for David but there were no sounds."
In a matter of a few seconds, the difference of a few feet made all the difference in the world.
During the days he was trapped in the elevator shaft, Woolley used an iPhone medical application—Jive Media Pocket First Aid and CPR—to learn how to treat his severe head wound and to make a tourniquet for his fractured leg. He also wrote notes to his wife and children in a small notebook. He hoped and prayed that he would be rescued, but he wasn’t sure. So he reminded them of his love on pages that were stained by his own blood. In one of the notes, he asked his sons not to be mad at God if he were to die. God has good things in store for you, he wrote.
On the following Tuesday, one week after the quake, there was a muted reception for one of the men when he returned to the Denver airport. Family, friends and fellow Compassion employees greeted Woolley warmly when he was wheeled out to the waiting area in his wheel chair. They stood around him and sang the Doxology: "Praise God from whom all blessings flow."
But among the people gathered in the airport were those waited to hear from Hames. Some of them held signs that said, "We're halfway home."
Renee Hames, the missing man's wife, issued this statement:
"For all the people who know and love David with me, we need to remember that God says, 'Be still and know that I am God.' He is our God who will provide beauty and joy even in the midst of devastation."
"I have been blessed with friends who have tucked me under their wings and have prayed with me, encouraged me, supported me, and cried with me. Because of the support structure they have built around me, I have felt a great peace. Please continue to pray for David's rescue and well-being."
Earlier this week, national news shows featured shots of a Haitian boy being pulled from the rubble. People called it a miracle. The boy stretched out his arms in a seeming gesture of love and thanks to his helpers, to God, and to the heavens above.
But stories about such late-stage recoveries are growing ever more rare. I am writing this on Thursday, and Hames has not been reached. His wife has stopped giving interviews.
This story has held special resonance for me because I once worked for Compassion International as an editor for their magazine. Like Hames, I used the Hotel Montana as a respite from the difficult work of serving in Port-au-Prince.
Haiti's heat, smell, squalor, poverty, desperation and sorrow could be overwhelming. But then, in the midst of the horrors, you would suddenly discover a mini-Mother Teresa working to extend God's love and mercies to the poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick.
I remember spending an hour with a saintly nurse from Switzerland who ran a health clinic for mothers and children in the heart of Port-au-Prince. I learned from others that this woman had been rejected by her parents—and written out of their sizable will—when she informed them that God had called her to Haiti, and she would follow that call.
I rested for a moment in one of hallways of her clinic. The tile on the floor was cool and immaculate. When I went back out in the bustling streets, the chaos and confusion was oppressive, disorienting.
That's part of why the Hotel Montana was so comforting. Sitting on the patio where Woolley and Hames were photographed, you could see enough of the city to recall where you were and what you were doing there. But some days I didn't want to leave the Montana. I wanted to stay on that patio, have another bite of the wonderful tropical fruits they served for breakfast, and keep my distance from the city.
There were days when I asked myself if the work was worth it. Were the results one could witness in Haiti equivalent to the resources of time, work and money that had been poured into this desperate place?
I remember feeling somewhat guilty about asking this question. But I can certainly forgive Renee Hames if she asks a similar question herself.
Kelly Williams is pastor of Vanguard Church in Colorado Springs, where the Hames family attends. Last Sunday, Williams taught on Romans 1:16-17, a famous Bible passage about how "the righteous will live by faith.
"One of the concepts I'm addressing is that faith begins when answers end," says Williams. "I think true righteousness can be seen in the kind of faith walk that says, 'I don't know what God is doing, but I am going to trust him anyway."
As Williams prepares each Sunday's sermon, he asks people to respond to questions via Facebook, and he anticipates addressing some member comments about the Haiti tragedy this Sunday. But when it comes to counseling members of his flock about how to deal with the existential questions that arise in the face of tragedies like this one, he affirms
"It's not our job to speculate about whether David is dead or alive," he says. "Our job is to support Renee and pray for a miracle, until God reveals otherwise. That's our game plan.
"Meanwhile, we must all make a choice. Are we going to trust the Lord in the face of such tragedies? And I think that's what faith in God is all about."