Written By: Dr. Steve Whitaker, Head of School
Five years ago this week, The First Academy watched television footage of a massive earthquake in Haiti. Each of us had seen similar tragedies before, but this time it was different. A group of 25 students and teachers were there on a mission trip, and our hearts were heavy as we waited for news regarding their whereabouts.
During the next 48 hours my office became the “war room” where we prayed, planned, and pleaded for help in our rescue efforts. Parents came forward to offer their assistance in amazing ways. One parent became a key negotiator with state and federal authorities. Another parent used his influence to assemble a team of retired special operations warriors who would lead our rescue efforts. A board member joined the rescue team to serve as our liaison. One parent provided his private jet to deliver the rescue team to Haiti and another parent chartered a 737 that would return our students, rescue team, and many others home safely. Amazingly, only one of those mentioned above had a child on the mission trip. Thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours were spent on a cause that was greater than their own self-interest.
Without adequate water and security, the safety of the students was paramount. Communication was intermittent and we were getting conflicting reports about damage in and around the mission facility. As the first night fell, we had grave concerns about the conditions on the ground. Reports of looting and violence were quickly escalating. The rescue efforts from the US Military seemed too slow and political officials in Florida seemed to only pay lip service to our plight.
It was an agonizing 48 hours. We continued to pray, plan, and work our contacts in order to execute the rescue of our students. We were told that by the third day conditions would likely deteriorate to such an extent that our efforts would be in vain. In spite of what seemed like insurmountable odds, we pressed on.
The lessons learned from the miracles surrounding the Haiti earthquake live on in my life. This week I have chosen to share a few of them with you.
What I learned about God . . .
He provides the courage when called upon. The team of parents and volunteers who gathered in my office to discuss the problem and create a plan didn’t have a stockpile of courage waiting to be expended – we were ordinary people.
He gives us extraordinary courage, not in bucket loads but in teaspoons. Throughout the ordeal we made one decision at a time without the benefit of a crystal ball that guaranteed success. We wanted the answers immediately. His message was wait and watch Him work.
He provides resources to fulfill His vision. No matter the size of the vision or the scope of the need, His resources are never lacking. He expects us to ask Him first and then sometimes others.
He is not looking for perfect vessels – just available ones. We weren’t the most skilled negotiators, the most seasoned crisis managers, or the bravest of the brave. We just made ourselves available and asked Him to use our “five loaves and two fishes” to perform a miracle.
What I learned about God’s children . . .
God’s children long to be challenged with a big vision. Proverbs 29:18 says that without a vision, people languish. God has equipped His children with wonderful gifts that are perfectly designed for Kingdom purposes.
God’s children will never be the same once they witness a miracle. Ask anyone involved in the Haiti rescue. They would tell you the event powerfully impacted their walk with Christ and their relationship with others. Reflecting on the experience, several of the parents involved said . . . “I never used to listen to anyone – even God” . . . “nothing in business ever brought me this much satisfaction.”
Great teams produce great teamwork. We all learned to rely on one another. We realized that our only hope of seeing our students return home safely was if we prayed together, worked together, and listened to one another.
The Rest of the Story
At 11:00 a.m. on January, 15, 2010 the first helicopter landed at the mission compound. Our Special Forces operators jumped to the ground and began the rescue operation that we thought was impossible. God had been watching out for us and the government officials that we thought were just paying lip service became vital partners. The students and teachers were flown to a remote airstrip in the Dominican Republic and driven by bus to a larger airport. There on the tarmac was a charted 737 that flew them home. At 10:00 p.m. on the 15th, we stood in the Orlando International Airport and watched the rescued students reunite with their families.
Since then, several students raised $40,000 to build a Christian school in Haiti. Another group of students wrote an award winning play entitled “Dear Haiti” that received Superior at Districts and an Excellent at the State Thespian Festival. Finally, TFA developed a lasting ministry partnership with New Missions that continues to serve the families of Haiti in remarkable ways.
On this 5th anniversary, we are tremendously thankful for God’s mercy and for the faithfulness of those whom he used to rescue our students from Haiti. To God by the Glory, great things he has done!
Steve D. Whitaker, Ph. D
Head of School