ESSENCE.com spoke with Joel Trimble, a missionary who founded Haiti for Christ more than three decades ago, to hear his account of the catastrophe through his eyes. This is his first-person account of Trimble walking through the streets and mountain regions affected by the 7.0 earthquake.
ESSENCE.com: You are in the midst of this disaster, this place you’ve lived for 34 years as a missionary. What is the scene like as you walk around the city?
JOEL TRIMBLE: I just got back from walking all through Delmas, which has the main road that leads to Port-Au-Prince. I saw body after body after body. Every fifteen minutes, you see another big group of bodies get pulled from the wreckage of the buildings. The further down the city you go, the more you see local people just helping one another to pull bodies from the buildings.
ESSENCE.com: Is there any sign of help at this point?
TRIMBLE: Since the quake, I have seen one single ambulance. There is no help for these people. I understand aid is coming–but it should be here. There are no commercial flights to Haiti, so unless individuals charter planes, they cannot get here quickly.
ESSENCE.com: What are the people doing after they pull out the bodies?
TRIMBLE: They stack them on the side of the road on top of each other. Stacks and stacks of people of all ages. I just passed a little pile of what I would call babies…little dead babies in a pile. Someone took time to place them together–as much of a respectful resting place as they could manage in this carnage. Near them was another pile of little boys–all dead.
ESSENCE.com: And the people in the streets that we are seeing on CNN and other news outlets?
TRIMBLE: The main thing that you see is people walking in the street, three to five thousand people roaming in the park, their houses are destroyed, they are walking out in the open–no food, no water. Some are crying, others are stunned in their grief and disbelief. The magnitude of this is beyond your imagination. It is like nothing I have ever seen–or believed I would ever see. The destruction is overwhelming, beyond words.
ESSENCE.com: What are some of the images you saw today that will stay with you forever?
TRIMBLE: Seeing a young man carefully lay out his dead wife on a broken door, then he put the door over his head and carried her body up the mountain. He wanted to take her home, to bury her in a place she loved.
There was a building we came too with liquid flowing out of it. We have no water, so I didn’t realize what the liquid was. It was blood, running down the sides of the building because there were so many human beings crushed into the layers of the building.
The local people helping one another to dig through to find their loved ones…finding them dead, comforting one another, and continuing to dig in hopes of saving someone…
ESSENCE.com: You have dedicated your entire life to helping the people of Haiti, but you are originally from Rochester, New York. How did this come to be?
TRIMBLE: I came to Haiti in September of 1975 for a two-week mission, and I fell in love with the people of this beautiful country. Thirty-four years later, I am still dedicated to helping them. I married here, raised four children and eight grandchildren. Many are back in the United States, but my wife and I and one of my sons continue to work to save this people in our mission, Haiti for Christ.
ESSENCE.com: Not every young man from Rochester ends up in Haiti on a Mission, even for two weeks, much less 34 years. What happened?
TRIMBLE: I was a troubled teen. I grew up in the hippie days, I was out of control and I felt God changed my life. He showed me I had to make a change. When I came to Haiti, I knew I would find no other greater challenge on earth. It is the poorest country on earth so I thought if I could do for people here what had been done for me–bring them hope, give them purpose–my life would be fulfilled, and I was right.
ESSENCE.com: As the poorest country, Haiti was in dire straits before this monumental quake.
TRIMBLE: Desperate conditions, but there is such a goodness to these people. Every week I travel to a different part of Haiti to show the good part of this country and its people. I’ve been able to encourage and help a lot of people, and they do the same for me. The Haitians are such a special people. Then, I put that story out through our missionary’s television show– every week I show somebody who is doing good work in any way…
ESSENCE.com: What are you doing now? And what message would you like to send us here in the United States?
TRIMBLE: I just got back from evacuating a house because of a serious tremor about 25 minutes ago. I was concerned because my wife is leading a group in prayer at a neighbor’s home nearby. But the tremor wasn’t fatal–extremely jarring–but things are quieting down now. I will try to get any rest possible–though mostly I will be up continuing to aid my beloved community.
If you can get the word out we need HELP…NOW…I am certain that we will be having a terrible epidemic within the next 72 hours if the piles of dead bodies stay as they are. Anyone left alive will be sickened by it. Water, food and medical attention are desperately overdue here…
To find out ways that you can help the people of Haiti through this catastrophe, click here.