Trapped In The Aftermath Of The Haiti Earthquake

Ready to Die

Tuesday Evening

Hotel Montana, Port-au-Prince

In Haiti, with the poverty and lack of preparation for a tragedy the magnitude of this earthquake, being rescued would take a miracle. Surviving my injuries would take another one. Though they were the outcomes I desperately wanted, as time passed, I knew the chances of both happening were slim. I had lost a lot of blood; there was no food or water; and the aftershocks continued. I tried to postpone my death in every way I could, but I knew very little was up to me.

Am I ready to die?

The answer was no.

I thought of my family —​ Christy and the boys. I didn’t feel my life with them was finished. I didn’t believe that my work, my purpose, and other relationships in my life were complete.

My faith as a Chris­tian is an important part of who I am, of my essence. Though outwardly most who knew me would probably have thought of me as a strong Chris­tian, I knew that I had allowed my heart to cool toward God in recent years. In the face of death and eternity, I could not lie to myself. Something in my soul, in the core of my being, was off-kilter, and I knew it.

God is the creator of the universe — of stars, of giraffes, of the Rocky Mountains that I see on my way to work every morning. Yet it had been a long time since I had sincerely worshiped him or expressed wonder at his amazing works.

I believed he had created me with a specific purpose in mind, and I called him the Lord of my life, yet for how long had I made my own plans and managed the details of my life without involving him? How often did I seek his guidance and direction—​really ask, and then wait for an answer? Who was in the driver’s seat of my life? When was the last time I had spent any significant time—​more than a few minutes—​in prayer, in reading Scripture, in talking with others about God’s work in our lives? Did I even miss it?

And if I was truly a Christ-follower, why did I so often make choices that didn’t honor him? How much of the energy of my life—​my time, my effort, my thoughts, my relationships—​was dedicated to God’s purposes? I was living a pretty standard, mediocre Chris­tian life. My heart was lukewarm—neither hot nor cold toward God.

I wondered if God embraced and welcomed into heaven ­people like me, ­people who give lip ser­vice to their Chris­tian faith without full-heart devotion. How could God say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” when for some time I had lived as if he weren’t really important? If I really believed that the Creator God loved me, shouldn’t my life be more than this?

I didn’t know the answers to those questions, but I knew I didn’t want to be that kind of Chris­tian—​a follower of Christ in name but barely in reality. I had never wanted to be that kind of person. I wanted to be someone whose heart was fully aligned with God’s heart, with his purposes. A person whose natural response to the Creator God was worship, obedience, and a deep hunger for his presence. Someone who was motivated by ­Jesus’ death on a cross to fight sin in my life and to serve others sacrificially. I longed to live my life in a consistent posture of devotion and surrender to God that bears fruit in my life.

How far I had come from who I used to be! Yes, I still believed—but why was there so little evidence in my heart and in my day-to-day existence? Why had I walked away from God in so many ways after all he had done for me through the years? And why had it taken an earthquake and a staring contest with death to see the problem?

So I prayed. I prayed an intense prayer, sincere to the core of my heart. I confessed sins, chief of all that I had abandoned the love and devotion that had once been the foundation of my spiritual life.

I surrendered my will and the plans I had for my life, and I asked God to make me his person again, no matter what came next. If that meant death, I asked him to accept me into heaven.

I expressed my love and gratitude to God for creating me, for sending ­Jesus to die for my sins, for accepting me as his child, and for all of the blessings he had given me in my life.

And then I let my tears flow. I worshiped and praised the God who understood the vastness of the universe yet does not fail to notice the falling of a sparrow. The God who knew about this moment in my life even before I was born.

And while I worshiped and prayed, I heard a voice in my head say:

You are mine!

In that moment, I realized that God had been pursuing me. He had pursued me to the bottom of this collapsed hotel because he wanted a deeper love relationship with me—​he wanted all of me. Peace flooded over me, peace like I hadn’t experienced for a long, long time. I knew that God held my future in his hands, whether that future was on earth or in heaven.

Sitting in one place for any length of time became unbearable. But every time I shifted positions, I stirred up dust and created new bits of gravel that clung to me and dropped into the area I had just cleared.

I heard others calling for help and decided to join in. I sucked in a deep breath and let it out. “Help! Helllllp! I’m injured!” I could really scream when I wanted to.

“We’re over here. Can you help us?” It sounded as though his voice was coming from behind the fallen ceiling in front of the elevator.

“No, I’m trapped too.”

“Where are you?” he asked.

“I’m in the elevator. Where are you?”

“We’re trapped …” I listened hard, but I couldn’t make out every word he said. “… lobby … next to the front desk.”

“How many of you are there?”

“Five of us … trapped in a pocket that’s only three feet tall … worried we might run out of air. Is anyone else with you?”

“No, I’m all alone.” I wondered if I had enough air. It sounded like I was trapped in a much larger space than they were, but I didn’t know how quickly air could be used up. The thought of suffocating, or hearing them suffocate, really scared me.

“Can you move around?” the voice asked.

“Uh, there’s a bit of room in the lobby, but it’s not really safe for me to leave the elevator.”

“Don’t do anything that isn’t safe, but we were hoping you could come help us.”

“I’m sorry. I can’t get to you. I’m completely closed in by concrete walls.”

“Oh.” There was a pause as he relayed my answers to other survivors near him. “Can you see any light?”

“No, it’s totally black.”

I could hear him telling the others what I said. I listened as they got quiet. I knew it wasn’t what they wanted to hear. From the sounds of things, they seemed to be in a more desperate situation than I was.

After a long pause, I returned to my thoughts. Describing my situation out loud to another person caused the peace from my prayer time to wear off and the fear to return. Though I knew I had gotten my heart right with God, I still didn’t feel ready for my life on earth to be finished. I didn’t want this to be my time to go, and I wondered how God would take care of my family if I didn’t make it.

As my anxiety increased, I realized how vulnerable my thoughts were to severe swings toward despair. This was a big problem since I knew that my mental and emotional state could make a difference in my chances for survival. Panic often led to flawed judgment and mistakes. Despair could weaken my health. On the positive side, hope and the will to fight would keep my mind sharp and give me strength. I would have to keep a close watch on my thoughts and intentionally work to keep my hope alive.

I sang softly to try to calm my nerves.

“What’s your name?”

It was the man’s voice again. I wasn’t sure if he could hear me singing or if he was just continuing the conversation. “I’m Dan. Daniel Woolley.” I could hear him repeat the name to some of the ­people who were with him, but it sounded like he said “Dan Healy.”

“My name’s Jim. Jim Gulley. Are you injured, Dan? I’m keeping a list of names and injuries.”

“I have a large cut on my leg, and I think it’s broken. I also have a cut on my head, but it doesn’t seem too bad. What about you?”

“There are five of us together. Myself, Rick, Ann, Clint, and Sam. Three of us have minor injuries, but Clint and Sam have their legs pinned. They’re in a lot of pain.” Jim explained that they were all Americans working for two different relief agencies—​Interchurch Medical Assistance and the United Methodist Committee on Relief. They had met at the hotel for a dinner meeting. “And there’s Sarla,” said Jim. “She’s not in the same space, but she’s near us. She can move around some. We’re hoping she can make contact with the outside world.”

The concrete walls dampened his voice and at times muted the conversation. It was hard to catch everything he was saying, but it was heartening to not be completely alone. I hoped that having more ­people near me would increase the chances of us being rescued.

I could barely hear the others with Jim when they talked. Their voices didn’t travel as well as his deep voice, and some of them sounded weakened by their injuries. But at least I could hear Jim; he seemed to be leading most of the conversations anyway. He’d repeat what I told him and then repeat back to me what they said.

“Describe to me where you are.”

I told Jim about the lobby and how the ceiling and walls had fallen, creating the pocket outside of the elevator. I described the elevator and how the shaft had twisted away from the car. “I might be able to crawl up the elevator shaft and follow that to wherever it goes.”

I could hear Jim talking excitedly to the others, telling them of the possibility. I tried to recall what I had seen when I had flashed the light from the camera up the shaft.

“Can you be safe doing it? What about your leg?”

“I’m not sure. I need to think about it some more.”

Our conversation was interrupted by another aftershock. Though it wasn’t as strong as the initial aftershocks, I still had to brace myself against the elevator wall to keep from falling over. With the jerking, chunks of debris from the elevator floor bumped against my injured leg, causing shooting pains. I hung on, gritting my teeth until the shaking stopped.

When things settled down, I thought again about climbing up the elevator shaft. While it might be possible, it would be very dangerous, especially with my injuries and the pain. Jim was right to raise concerns. For the time being, I shelved my Spiderman fantasy of scaling the shaft; even so, I wouldn’t give up on the idea of finding a way out of this black abyss.

“Taken from Unshaken by Dan Woolley. Copyright © 2010. Used by permission of Zondervan.


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