You may not recognize Dan Woolley by name, but you almost certainly have heard his story before.
Woolley was hard to miss when turning on a television in the aftermath of the devastating Haiti earthquake, nearly a year ago on Jan. 12. He was on a wide variety of news shows telling about the 65 hours he spent buried in ruins of the Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince.
Much of the coverage focused on his recollections of the quake and how he used an iPhone app to help survive while buried alive. Yet, Woolley’s story is more complex than that. It was an unparalleled journey of faith as he relied on deepening his relationship with God while in the rubble and writing to his family to sustain himself.
Woolley, a Web-based media developer for the Christian non-profit Compassion International, was in Haiti to film women and their children who had been served by programs sponsored by the ministry.
He was written the memoir “Unshaken” about his experiences before, during and after the quake, slated to be released by Zondervan in January. He spoke with Everyday Christian about his faith, his family plus the experience of being in – and his plans to return to – Haiti.
For an excerpt from the book, click here.
EDC: Do you feel that God put you in the position you were in to be in Haiti at that point in time?
Woolley: Initially, I wasn’t even supposed to go on this trip. Compassion has a video manager who would hire a videographer and he couldn’t go because of a scheduling conflict. We had a second person who would ordinarily go, but she was pregnant and couldn’t make it. I was the third in line. In my career after college, this kind of experience would have been very rare.
I believe that since God formed me in my mother’s womb that He had plans for me. Obviously, the earthquake wasn’t for me and I don’t think anyone can fathom why the quake happened, but I do believe God wanted me there. I wouldn’t say it was as much to teach me a lesson, but more that He knew where He wanted to take me and He knew the journey He wanted me to be on. He was pursuing me in my faith journey to the bottom of that hotel where He wanted me to be.
EDC: How much do you now find yourself thinking about the earthquake during the course of a normal day?
Woolley: If you want to forget a traumatic experience and move on, don’t write a book about it. On the other hand, this was such a fork in the road experience for me and an important experience and, not to trivialize it, but a rich experience, that I wouldn’t want to forget it. It has been healthy for me to process it in as much detail. There is a balance. I want to live my life differently, not because I had a dangerous experience, but because I had an encounter with God that really impacted me and reset my priorities in much of my life. I really try to live my life with my family, my kids and even try to nurture friendships differently than I did before.
EDC: What did you learn from being in the national media spotlight?
The most significant thing that I experienced was my encounters with God. People wonder, “Where is God when we suffer?” and “If I go through a crisis will He be there for me?” There are difficult times when we don’t feel God’s presence. There was nothing in my experience that explained that to me. But in this experience, God was very present. I felt Him and heard his voice and I experienced Him in the midst of this crisis in a very personal way.
The media wants to hear what it was like to feel the ground moving, what the fear was like and how I used my iPhone. All of those make for good stories and I’m happy to oblige and tell them about that, but it’s very important for me to talk about the faith experience I had. It was just incredible to see miracles happening in front of your face.
EDC: Have you been back to Haiti since the quake?
Woolley: I’ll be going back in January. It’s with Compassion, and in a way it’s a similar trip. I’ll be going with a videographer and blogger and we’ll be capturing stories about Compassion’s work, except this time it will be a lot more focused on the earthquake.
EDC: Do you have any trepidation about going back there?
Woolley: Haiti is still hurting so much and it seems that as soon they might take a breath something new happens. I don’t know what it’s going to be like emotionally. I’m not fearful of that; I’m just curious what emotions I’m going to go through. I am somewhat fearful of sleeping in a multi-story building and I don’t know what I’m going to do about that.
I have a renewed trust in God’s sovereignty to either keep me from harm or that the harm is exactly the best plan. I may just walk in faith, and that will be OK.
EDC: Do you have a problem here in the States with staying in hotels?
Woolley: No, that’s not a problem. I’ve been asked if I’m fearful of elevators, too, and I’m not. The only issues I’ve had are that if I do an interview or give a talk about my experiences at night I’ll have really bad dreams. Secondly, I can’t watch earthquake stuff on TV. If it’s a show that starts out with an earthquake, I have to turn it off. Really, considering everything, that’s not a radical psychological price to pay.
EDC: Do you have any plans to back to the site of where the (Hotel Montana) was?
Woolley: Yes. That will definitely be part of my trip. I look forward to it in some ways just to get some closure.