Persevering in hard places

MAF continues to serve in Haiti amidst prolonged upheaval

 

By Natalie Holsten

Just over a week after a devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake rocked southwestern Haiti, MAF pilot Eric Fagerland landed in the town of Jérémie with a load of relief supplies.

As Eric prepared to unload the plane, Mark Stockeland of Haiti Bible Mission grabbed him by the shoulder and pointed to a group of injured people waiting nearby. Mark, a frequent user and close friend of MAF, was coordinating relief efforts in the area.

“They’ve been lying there for hours,” said Mark. “They just don’t have a way to get out. Can you do something about that?” Eric recalled.

MAF pilot Eric Fagerland, left, assists with the loading of injured patients for a medevac flight after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake. Photo courtesy of Haiti Bible Mission.

Eric looked at the patients, some wearing rudimentary bandages and makeshift splints. He hadn’t prepared to do a medical evacuation flight that day, but after making a call to another partner organization in Port-au-Prince that agreed to accept the patients, Eric made the necessary adjustments to transport the patients to the hospital.

“It stands out as a neat example of being there and available to get these people out,” Eric shared later.

In the midst of challenging times in the Caribbean nation, MAF continues to make a difference in Haiti with flights like these.

Mounting Challenges

The August 14 earthquake, which caused the death of over 2,200 people, came on the heels of the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, political instability, and widespread criminal gang activity. “It was like a pressure cooker,” Eric said.

Historically, Haiti has been a go-to destination for short-term mission groups. Its proximity to the U.S. and abundant need has made Haiti an ideal location for those looking to be involved in overseas ministry.

A Haitian relief team carries an injured earthquake victim to be loaded onto an MAF plane in Jérémie. Photo courtesy of Haiti Bible Mission.

MAF Haiti country director David Carwell said MAF has traditionally flown numerous short-term mission groups, but with the current instability, many of those workers aren’t coming.

“For those who do come, flying is essential for their safety. The main road connecting the capital to the southern peninsula has been very treacherous or essentially cut off at times because of kidnappings taking place in gang territory. Because of that, we have begun to fly for some ministries that in the past always went by road.”

MAF pilot Eric Fagerland prepares to fly a group from Danita’s Children, a ministry that runs a hospital and focuses on children’s education. Photo by Eric Fagerland.

Many of the mission organizations that have stayed in Haiti are able to do so only because MAF is providing flights for them now that land travel in many parts of the country is not possible due to gang activity.

This “air bridge” service is vital, and it’s not just missionaries that are using MAF, but also Haitians seeking to find a safe way over gang territory.

“We have made connections with more Haitian diaspora that are visiting Haiti to visit family, and many appreciate our service to help make their visit possible,” David said.

Even with the increased demand for flights, MAF leadership faced the ever-constant need to evaluate the security situation, which limited mobility within the capital where MAF staff live, and was compounded by a fuel crisis.

Eventually, as conditions in Haiti continued to deteriorate last fall, MAF leadership made the decision to move spouses and children back to the U.S. while a rotation of pilots, mechanics, and other staff allowed MAF to keep providing its flight services.

Serving in Hard Places

Like many MAF missionaries around the world, Eric and his wife, Lynette, have had to grapple with serving in a volatile place. To an outsider, it may seem like foolishness to send families to countries where there are external threats.

But according to MAF’s global disaster and security response director (name withheld for security reasons), a love for Jesus and desire to see others come to know Him compels the ministry to serve in difficult places. “The question, ‘Is it safe for our staff?’ is balanced with the organizational call and mission to bringing help, hope, and healing in hard places,” he said.

Eric and Lynette believe MAF equipped them well for these uncertain times, with classes on security and helping them develop a theology of risk. “MAF does an amazing job of prepping us for what we’re going into,” Lynette said. “We are well-trained, well-prepared.”

Eric and Lynette face an additional challenge of having a young adult daughter, Erika, who has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism spectrum disorder, which has made her transition to life apart from her parents difficult.

Lynette, Eric, and Erika Fagerland on their arrival day in Haiti in 2019. Photo by Eric Fagerland.

“The idea of risk is not new to us,” Eric shared. “We go into this ministry prayerfully, with open hands, and also with the situation with Erika and how she’s going to get established in the U.S. You walk forward, you pray, you keep your hands open. And we say, if we’re being stupid, God, show us, close doors.

“But for now, in our personal lives with Erika and in the program with Haiti, it doesn’t appear that God’s moving in a different direction. The need is still there and it’s something that we can still meet.”

Eric is currently in Haiti, with the hopes that this spring, Erika will be well enough established that Lynette can join him on a more permanent basis. They are hopeful about the coming months and look forward to settling into their home to Haiti again, along with the rest of their team that has been uprooted.

For Eric and Lynette, as they move forward into the uncertainty of 2022, they are excited to see how God will work. “I come up with these themes each year,” Lynette said. “Our latest theme is ‘setbacks are set-ups for God to do the miraculous.’ And that’s what I keep coming back to because in our lives, every time I say, it’s impossible, God has made a way.”

An Opportunity for Growth

David Carwell also sees that while the instability in Haiti and exit of some mission and aid groups have left numerous Haitian ministries without international support, it presents the national church with the opportunity to grow in leadership capacity.

“While many programs are suffering or not the same as before, it has given nationals the opportunity to step up and take more leadership and ownership,” David said. “I feel like we have a ton of potential, in terms of MAF specifically, but also the church in Haiti. I think that we need an increased call to prayer, committing our program to Him, and as we delight in Him, we can fully trust Him with the results.”

Would you join us in prayer for Haiti? Pray for the protection of our staff, the ministry of MAF, and the growth of the Haitian church.

 

This story appeared in the Vol. 2 2022 edition of FlightWatch. Read the entire issue here:

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