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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Expect the Unexpected

By Kirk Noonan
Nov. 14, 2010

In the distance, Kevin Rose could hear the faint blaring of horns and the low hum of traffic on Delmas Road, a major thoroughfare through Port-au-Prince. Even though Kevin was only a mile away from the busy road, he felt as if he was a world away as he stood on the expansive second-floor balcony of the home where he was staying.

His workday had started early and included several hours of traversing from one school to the next where Convoy of Hope fed children each day. As the organization’s country director to Haiti, Kevin had become accustomed to negotiating pockmarked roads and driving in the capital city’s chaotic traffic.

He had also learned to embrace the heat and humidity that regularly blanketed the city. Yet one of the most important lessons he had learned since being assigned to the country was to embrace one of Haiti’s most basic rules of life — always expect the unexpected.

The evening of Jan. 12 would put this rule to the test.

As Kevin soaked up the calm reverie on the balcony, he watched as a worker tended to the plants in the courtyard. On the road, just beyond the security wall that surrounded the house, he could see men, women and children making their way back to their homes.

“Are you going to join us for dinner?” asked Dorothy Smith as she stepped out onto the balcony. Dorothy and her husband, Bill, career missionaries with the Assemblies of God, lived in the house where Kevin was staying.

“I’d love to,” said Kevin, turning his attention to her. “Any chance you’re making your famous pizza?”

“Not tonight,” said Dorothy, “but maybe later this week.”

Kevin had become fast friends with Bill and Dorothy. They had not only opened their home to Kevin and his wife, Aimee, they had also lent their know-how to the couple on several occasions and had become dependable partners of Convoy of Hope. 

Three years earlier, Convoy of Hope personnel had started feeding schoolchildren every day in Haiti through its international children’s feeding initiative. The program expanded quickly, and by 2009, more than 11,000 Haitian children were being fed each day in and around Port-au-Prince. A warehouse and several vehicles had been acquired, and strong partnerships with organizations and people like the Smiths had been established.

“Will you be staying here tomorrow night?”

“I think I’m going to Mission of Hope tomorrow morning,” said Kevin, referring to one of Convoy of Hope’s key partners in Haiti. “I have a lot of things I need to do out there the next couple of days.”

Dorothy stepped back into the house and headed for the kitchen. Kevin turned his attention back to the panoramic view of Port-au-Prince. Serenity was broken with what sounded like dozens of misguided freight trains bearing down on him. Almost instantly the balcony lurched and dropped and the house started rocking violently from side to side.

“Earthquake!” he heard someone yell.

Drawing on training he had received as a child, Kevin raced to an open doorframe that led into the house. After only a few seconds, he abandoned the doorframe and scrambled over to an exterior pillar on the balcony.

From his vantage point he could see and hear china cabinets and other furniture crashing to the floor inside the house. Plates, glassware and precious mementoes smashed into thousands of pieces. Over the cacophony of noise he could hear Bill yelling simple instructions to Dorothy. 

“Get out of the house! Run! We’ve got to get out of here.”

The instant the earth stopped shaking — nearly 40 seconds later — Kevin dashed into the house and down the stairs. He didn’t want to be anywhere near the house — especially on the balcony — if it collapsed. He met up with the Smiths in the courtyard that had seemed so peaceful only minutes before.

“Everyone was shocked and not sure what to make of what had just happened,” said Kevin, recounting the experience. “It was not hard to imagine that the damage would be so catastrophic and widespread.”

In Port-au-Prince, building standards are poor, population is dense, and many homes are seemingly built one right on top of another. Add to that a country with an emaciated infrastructure, few hospitals and a majority of the population living below the poverty line, and you have the makings of a catastrophic event. 

“Is everyone OK?” asked Bill. “This is bad.”

Kevin nodded, and the three of them began speculating as to the magnitude of the earthquake.

“I’ve never felt one like that,” said Kevin as he looked up at the balcony where he had survived his first full-fledged earthquake. “It felt like it lasted forever.”

Suddenly a chorus of cries began to ring through the air. Kevin and Bill pulled open the steel security gate on the driveway and began walking toward Delmas Road.

They could hardly believe what they were seeing. Once seemingly impenetrable walls, homes and buildings had collapsed like houses of cards.

As they rounded a corner they saw people frantically digging through piles of rubble to extricate family members, neighbors and friends. Some women were so overtaken with grief that they collapsed on heaps of jagged ruins and wailed in despair. 

Where a house once stood, several men pulled the lifeless body of a little girl from what was left of her home. Blood from open wounds coalesced with the thin layer of dust that covered her body. Her mother rushed to her side as the would-be rescue workers carried her to a small truck.

“My baby, my baby!” cried the mother. “No!”

Kevin and Bill walked farther up the road. It was glaringly apparent that the devastation was indiscriminate. Everything from lean-tos to massive apartments had been decimated. The limbs of victims protruded from piles of rubble. Bloodied and dazed survivors stumbled into the streets in search of medical help.

The tragic reality of what had just happened sank like barbed daggers into the souls of those who had survived. Though time felt as if it were standing still, the sun stayed on course with its descent. As the light of day slowly began to slip away, an already desperate situation was about to get worse.


News of the massive quake traveled fast. Networks in the United States eagerly reported that a 7.0 magnitude earthquake had struck Haiti at 4:53 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. The epicenter was 16 miles west of Port-au-Prince in Léogâne. Haiti, many news anchors noted, was the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. They said the unconfirmed casualties would be at least in the hundreds, if not thousands.

Just around dinnertime in Springfield, Mo., the phone rang at Kevin and Aimee’s house where Aimee had remained during this Haiti trip. When Aimee answered she was surprised to hear Greg Venturella’s voice.

“Aimee, did you hear what happened in Haiti?” asked Greg, who serves as senior director of International Operations for Convoy of Hope.

“No, what’s going on?”

“There’s been a major earthquake in Haiti. We haven’t heard from Kevin yet, and we don’t know what the situation is,” said Greg. “I’ll let you know as soon as I know anything. But if you hear from Kevin first, please let us know. I’m sorry I don’t have any more information for you.”

After Aimee hung up the phone she dialed Kevin’s cell phone number, but couldn’t get through. Then she tried calling Bill and Dorothy’s house, but once again, her call failed. Thinking she might be able to “Skype” Kevin, she drove to a local restaurant where she could get Wi-Fi. But it also failed to connect her with Kevin.

Aimee returned to their house and began calling family members and friends asking them to pray for Kevin. On television she saw some of the first images coming out of Haiti and immediately knew the situation was far worse than she had imagined.

“God, please be with Kevin,” she prayed. “Take care of him and keep him safe.”


In Port-au-Prince, it was a life-or-death situation for countless people trapped beneath the rubble of homes, schools and businesses.

Gamáélla, a 10-year-old girl, had just finished her homework and had sat down to take a break when the earthquake hit. Doing the wisest thing, she bolted from her family’s house as it crumbled to the ground. But as soon as she got outside, a wall from a neighboring house collapsed on top of her.

No one knows if she was knocked unconscious, but when her father, Gary, first began calling her name she did not answer. He thought she had died, but after many tense minutes he finally heard her faint cry.

“I’m here! I’m alive, help!”

Gary gathered his neighbors and began pulling heavy chunks of stone off the pile that entombed Gamáélla. A little more than 45 minutes later they were able to pull her to safety. Gamáélla’s body was covered with lacerations and bruises. Already her eyes were black and swollen, and her leg was broken in at least two places. But she was alive — for Gary that was all that mattered.

In another part of the city, Rubin, a young college student, was struggling to get free after the concrete roof of his school collapsed on top of him and 67 other students. Many of his classmates died instantly. Others were clinging to life, pinned under tons of concrete, bleeding profusely and laboring for their last breaths. Rubin was only alive because a dead classmate, who was on top of him, had absorbed much of the impact from the falling roof.

For four hours one of Rubin’s classmates, who had managed to escape the building unscathed, painstakingly used a small hammer to break away the rubble so that Rubin could break free.      

Back at the Smiths’ house, Kevin and Bill set up a primitive and very limited medical clinic. Not having anything but hand sanitizer and some bandages, they treated everyone they could. Dozens sought their help and gave eyewitness reports describing massive death and destruction throughout the city. 

“The Caribbean Market went down,” said one man solemnly. “Hundreds are dead there.”

“The Montana Hotel is gone,” said another man. “Probably no survivors.”

Each report seemed worse than the last. It was as if Kevin and Bill were unfolding a newspaper with nothing but tragic headlines. The bad news only intensified Kevin’s resolve to get in contact with Aimee. He continued to try to send texts and make calls to her, but his phone would not allow it. When he was just about to give up, he saw a man on the road talking on a cell phone.

“Sorry to interrupt you, but are you talking to someone here or in the States?” Kevin asked the man. 

“It’s my mother,” said the man. “She is here in Port-au-Prince, but she has access to a phone that can call the States.”

“Could you relay a message to my wife in Missouri? She’s very worried.”

“No problem,” said the man. “Here, talk to my mother and give her the number you want her to call.”


 The soccer field at Quisqueya Christian School in Port-au-Prince was filled beyond capacity. Families — some newly homeless, others too afraid to return to their homes — had sought refuge there. Among them were dozens of severely injured people who had no place to go but the street.

Kevin parked his truck on the fringes of the field. Night had fallen, the sky was dark, and strong aftershocks kept rattling the city and peoples’ nerves. From his seat in the truck, Kevin could hear mothers sobbing over the loss of children and men yelling in anguish as they scrambled to save the lives of severely injured countrymen.

“God, give me wisdom to know how best to help these people,” prayed Kevin. “Give them peace and comfort. Please use Convoy of Hope to make a difference in their lives.”

Several hours later Kevin finally fell asleep and was able to escape —  at least temporarily — the nightmare that was just beginning for the people of Haiti.

From 7.0 — Inside Convoy of Hope’s Response to the Haiti Earthquake by Kirk Noonan (Springfield, Mo.: Onward Books, 2010). Excerpted with permission.

KIRK NOONAN serves as communications director for Convoy of Hope.

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