Diaspora

Here’s how an O.C. missionary survived Haiti – OCRegister

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Judy Beltis said she tended to those who were critically injured and prayed with them during the hours and days following the massive earthquake that hit Haiti. Her husband Paul Beltis is at left.

Immediately after the earthquake, the orphans were moved into the street to get them away from the building and walls that were in danger of crashing down.

Immediately after the earthquake, the orphans were moved into the street to get them away from the building and walls that were in danger of crashing down.

Susette Manassero, center, is one of the founders of the orphanage in Port-au-Prince. Here she is tending to the injured that kept arriving at the orphanage.

Daphne who is three years old is the only orphan who sustained injuries at this orphanage. She waited for two days for the proper treatment of her broken leg.

An unidentified nurse treats head wounds at the orphanage turned clinic after a massive earthquake surprised residents in Port-au-Prince.

Judy Beltis comforts 12-year-old Lulu at the orphanage turned clinic a day after the earthquake hit Port-au-Prince. The local hospitals were turning away the injured and the word spread that the orphanage had a makeshift triage/trauma center and hundreds of people came seeking help.

One of the young orphans prays during the night after the earthquake struck in Haiti on January 12. The orphans gathered in the courtyard outside of the building where they remained after the earthquake.

Judy Beltis, second from left, and Heather Taylor, Jim Duggan, Nikki Ciriza and the helicopter pilot get ready to leave Port-au-Prince for Dominican Republic four days after the earthquake struck.

On the roof of an orphanage Judy Beltis prayed aloud.
“This house isn’t going to fall!” she screamed into the sky.
Minutes earlier, she had settled onto a bench atop the guest house of the Maison de Lumiere orphanage in the hills just outside Port-au-Prince. It was sunset, a calm end to a day of caring for energetic children and, somewhere, a cook was preparing a pot of Haitian spaghetti.
The orphanage consisted of three buildings that reflected the desperation of pre-earthquake Haiti. Each building was defended by a brownish cement wall covered with broken glass and razor wire. Armed guards stood at the compound’s iron gates, keeping strangers away from the interior courtyards and a tiny cement play area the children called a soccer field.
As Beltis, 58 – a mother of six daughters – began to read an inspirational book (“The Power of The Blood”), she heard a rumble that sounded like an approaching truck. Thinking little of it, she turned back to her book.
But the rumble grew into powerful shaking, and Beltis soon was being thrown side-to-side and front-to-back. Though houses near the orphanage were buckling to the ground, Beltis says she wasn’t afraid; she believed God was with her.
After a long minute, stillness returned. First there was an eerie silence – then screams.
Beltis scrambled off the roof. Inside the guest house – where she and a group of nine other missionaries from Mission Viejo Christian Church were spending the week – she found chaos. Bookcases were flung from walls. Figurines made by children were smashed. Lights dangled from their sockets.
Still, all three buildings of the orphanage remained upright. And, Beltis noted, the spaghetti was still cooking.
Beltis gathered the orphans in the courtyard and provided the little ones with the most basic comfort – a caress, a lap to sit in, a hand to hold. As the night wore on, and the children spread out on the soccer field, Beltis began singing. One-by-one, the children joined in.
Twitter accounts from the area later would report that singing could be heard in the darkness.
Watch video of their emotional reunion with friends at LAX
•••
In the hours following the 7.0 quake, people crawled out of rubble and went to Maison de Lumiere. They came with broken bones, internal injuries, severe lacerations, and the orphanage soon became a makeshift emergency hospital.
Two young American nurses already on staff at the orphanage stepped up to help – assessing the injured, tending to those they could treat and, when necessary, offering only comfort to those they could not.
As the night dragged on, Beltis saw the crowd grow from 40 to 50 to… 100. The injured came much faster than they could possibly help.
“It was a pretty powerless feeling. But every time I thought ‘This is too much,’ I had to sidestep it and go to the next patient.”
The morning after the quake, a Haitian doctor came to Maison de Lumiere. With hospitals in the city unable to open, word soon spread that help could be found at the orphanage.
Beltis did what she could for those waiting in line, often in pain, for hours.
“I looked for those who looked hopeless and scared. I wanted them to feel loved.”
Beltis recalls Ursula, a woman whose face was covered in shards of broken concrete. She was conscious and, as Beltis cleaned gravel out of her mouth and nose and skin, she spoke with her, softly, even though she knew she wouldn’t be understood.
As Beltis washed Ursula’s wounds, the injured woman smiled and said, faintly, “Merci.”
Then there was Lulu, a girl who arrived still wearing her school uniform. Part of Lulu’s face was torn away, and she pointed to her stomach in extreme pain. Beltis prayed and spoke quietly to the girl, telling her how pretty she was. Lulu seemed to understand, nodding and closing her eyes.
But Lulu’s pain would not stop. Beltis asked for the girl to be given pain medication — the last painkiller the orphanage had. For a few hours Lulu slept but the pain came back. Eventually, doctors said there was nothing they could do.
As her father carried her away, Lulu, screaming in pain, stretched her arms reaching for Beltis – who stood by, helpless.
Two days after the quake, the orphanage closed. The medical personnel said they had run out of supplies. But, 20 minutes later, a group of interns showed up with supplies and, soon, Beltis and others were able to help the injured.
Soon after that, Beltis’ task turned gruesome. Wearing huge rubber gloves, she and other woman worked to disinfect tools – hacksaw blades, bicycle tubes, vice grips – used for emergency, life-saving amputations. Though she spent hours washing the tools, they came back again and again.
•••
On Friday, some 60 hours after the quake, Beltis and the other local missionaries made a hard choice.
They were running out of supplies themselves (they’d brought enough for only a week) and desperation was growing outside the walls of the orphanage. They heard reports of violence in the lower regions. A private security firm could get them out.
“We also knew an Israeli team was coming to transport patients,” Beltis says. “We realized there were other types of help coming.”
Beltis and others decided to leave. One missionary – a former U.S. Marine – would stay.
That night, stepping through razor wire and rubble, the missionaries, in groups of two, made their way quietly to a waiting black truck. If they had been spotted it could have meant trouble. Everyone was looking for a way out.
The closer they drove to the city, the more they saw of what the earthquake had done. Everywhere, it seemed, they saw destruction and bodies in bags. And the living, they noted, sat near the road, expressionless.
“It just punched my stomach with a sick feeling of horror,” Beltis says.
The group made it to a compound near the airport, and spent the night sleeping on office floors.
Early the next morning, at the airport, a line of armed Jamaican soldiers held back a crowd of desperate people.
“It was one of the moments when I felt the depth of heartbreak,” Beltis says.
“Then we saw all these (cargo planes) coming in from all over the world,” she adds. “Some of them had troops, some had supplies, some had search and rescue people. Seeing all that help made me feel better.”
Though they took different routes, Beltis and the other missionaries all arrived in Los Angeles together Sunday. They were greeted by cheering family, friends and fellow parishioners.
A few days later, at her home in Mission Viejo, Beltis says she’ll no longer look at international disasters as distant events.
“I won’t… step back and say ‘What good can I do?’ she says. “I’ve experienced the good I can do.”
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