The earth shook, walls fell, the very foundations of the earth seemed to be falling from its axis. The only rock that didn’t move was the Rock of Jesus Christ. On that memorable day, Tuesday, January 10, 2010, shortly before 5:00pm, our lives changed forever. The earthquake hit Haiti. My husband, Patrick, and I were on the second story of the mission compound, also our home, in Port au Prince, Haiti, when the earthquake hit. (We had been working as missionaries for over 25 years.) When Patrick heard a roar come out of the south, he stood to see what was causing the noise. He saw half of our house fall, and then darkness engulfed him. The cement roof came down on him, pinning his arm under rods of iron. He was trapped under the rubble for 18 hours.
I was exercising on the second story porch. Everything beneath me was swaying and rumbling, the elliptical machine went out from under me, and I was falling and being tossed over the cement coming down around me. Immediately the air was filled with darkness, which I learned later was cement dust from all the falling buildings. I cried out to Patrick to help me. He answered, “I can’t come to you. I am pinned and can’t move.” He was in intense pain. During the hours of darkness, he sang God is so Good over and over again. He sang it in English, then in Creole. He prayed for God to take his life, but as he says, “God never listened to that prayer.” I wondered if we would ever see each other again.
I was in the rubble but not trapped under the rubble. As one of the slabs of cement from the roof came down, I felt my foot was either severed or partially severed from my leg. When I saw blood everywhere, I knew I needed help, but for the moment, all I could do was remove my shirt and make a tourniquet. One of our workers helped me get out of the rubble after about 20 minutes. My foot was dangling from my leg. Everywhere I went I left a trail of blood.
I was taken to a hospital and laid on the hospital parking lot. There was no medical help. There was a crowd of approximately 1500 people crying and screaming, also needing help, but to no avail. I spent the night on the ground. I should not have lived through the night, with all the blood I was losing. God had other plans.
Friends came to try to get Patrick out, but soon it was too dark to work. The next morning the work began again. They chiseled away at the cement to get a hole big enough to pull him out. Amazingly, Patrick was conscious and was able to guide the work from the inside so that he would not be hurt. They found a way to sprinkle water to settle the dust from time to time. They were able to hand small bags of water to him to drink. We learned later that this may have been what saved his life.
The next day we were reunited at another mission compound. One of the girls that lived with us had stayed with me during the night. The next morning she found a driver who agreed to take me to the mission compound. After Patrick was released, his friends brought him to the hospital to find me, but I was gone. They tried to get medical help for him, but there was none.
Quite miraculously we were taken out of Haiti, 48 hours after the quake, to Jackson Memorial Trauma Center in Miami, Florida. Had it not been for the Canadian military plane, we would probably not be alive today. I had been hemorrhaging for two days, and Patrick was feeling life slowly ebbing away. We spent 2 1/2 weeks in the hospital. Patrick was in intensive care in a morphine-induced coma for 2 weeks. The doctors did not expect him to live. Our children, 23 and 24 years old, stayed in the hospital. The doctors told them their dad will die. They didn’t tell me the severity of his condition. I was in and out of surgery every other day during that first week. Our children had their hands full with Mom and Dad . . . but they didn’t give up. God used this time to draw them closer to Him.
Several weeks before the quake, I was reading 1 Peter 4 in my personal daily devotional time.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
I Peter 4:12 (English Stand version)
It seemed contradictory that I shouldn’t be surprised when fiery trials happen, and I shouldn’t consider them as strange. In other words, it should seem a normal process. But I couldn’t process this to make much sense; I put it away “on the back burner” of my spirit. While lying in the hospital bed, I remembered the verse. If I could have jumped out of bed, I probably would have, as I was quite excited to realize that God was giving me a prelude to what was coming.
We soon realized that we would be living a new normal. Patrick lost his right arm and I lost my right leg. The only answer for us was to share our amputations. When he needed an arm I would share mine, and when I needed a leg he would share his. God in His mercy knew what we needed. Patrick is the teacher/pastor. He needed his legs to stand to teach, to walk the paths in the villages. He needed his legs to drive the vehicle. But I, on the other hand, work in the office. I need my hands to type and write.
We have learned so much through this experience. We know that God is always Right and always Good. God makes no mistakes. Patrick is working more intensely than he did before. He knows there is much work to do before Jesus returns. There are many who have never heard the Gospel.
Our time in the hospital was not only for our healing. We were able to share God’s love with so many people. One day a nurse came into my room, all happy. “We love to come to your room.”
I asked, “Why?” She replied, “Your room is filled with hope and joy.”
God was doing something, and I didn’t even know. My kids say I was a bit kooky during those days. (Smiling) A psychologist came to my room every day to help me deal with the trauma. Every day I would tell her the same thing, “God and I are doing just fine.” Finally after hearing this for ten days, she said, “Can you tell me how you became a missionary?” I think I became the psychologist. Yes, God!
When Patrick “woke up” from the coma and his conditioned stabilized, he was transferred to my room. Before leaving he was thanking the nurses and his doctors for their services. He was telling them how God had used them to save his life. After a bit, one of the nurses said, “Please tell him to stop. We aren’t accustomed to this.” God can use His children even when we aren’t aware of it.
God was preparing us for many years for this experience. Each experience in our life built upon another. Life in Haiti wasn’t easy. Actually I didn’t know how hard it really was until I left Haiti and now look back. If God had told me that I would suffer an earthquake in Haiti, I would never have left my country. God is so gracious to hold back knowledge of future experiences.
My husband and I have chosen to be thankful for all things.
“But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:13
We really do have so many things to be thankful for. We tend to see suffering as negative, but this verse says it quite differently. Suffering is for our good. Suffering molds us to the image of God. It prepares us for eternity.
We look at life much differently now. We lost everything in the quake . . . family photos, journals, wedding gifts, furniture, everything. But God saved what we really needed: They found our passports, bank cards, Patrick’s green card, and our laptop computers! Yes, these came from under the rubble, working! God is so Good. God proved Himself faithful in the darkest of hours.
Barbara & Patrick Latailade
I have written our quake story in detail in my book Under the Rubble. The book also is a compilation of short stories of my life in Haiti. It is available in eBook, Kindle, and also on our website: www.livingwordhaiti.org.
Check out the recent video update from the celebrated band Maroon 5 – Haiti is Not Forgotten