Hope Rising

In the wake of Haiti's devastating earthquake, the Pepperdine Community helps heal a bleeding nation.

April 16, 2010  | 7 min read

It was the morning of January 12, and the weather was dismal. Kenny Gumpel (’88), pilot for Missionary Flights International, was stuck in Haiti during a routine flight with 16 missionaries on board. “We were going to have to spend the night, and so I asked everyone to pray that we make it safely out of there,” Gumpel recalls.

At 1 PM, Gumpel was surprised to get clearance to depart the Cap-Haïtien International Airport, about 70 miles north of Port-au-Prince. He was cruising safely over the Caribbean when a catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the island nation they had just departed.

“We had no idea,” Gumpel marvels. “When we landed in Ft. Pierce, Florida, where our organization is based, and walked into customs, it was all over the TVs there. We were shocked.”

Most people would be relieved that they were able to get out just in time, but Gumpel was overcome by a different emotion: He could not wait to get back.

“I’ve been going back and forth to Haiti since 1998. It’s considered one of the poorest countries in the world, and so it’s bad as it is. I just felt so much compassion for the people and so much hurt for them . . . what they went through and what they’re going to go through.”

The next day, donations poured in and Gumpel and his fellow pilots went into high gear on the relief effort. While gaining access to the country’s obliterated airport in Port-au-Prince posed a challenge for many, MFI was able to use its 47 years of contacts to land safely the next day.

“Usually we do four flights a week. Since the earthquake we’ve been doing as many as eight flights a day,” Gumpel reported via phone between questions from volunteers in Ft. Pierce, where he was loading up to depart on his ninth trip in as many days.

His first impressions of post-quake Haiti were difficult to articulate. “It looked like an atomic bomb went off,” he said. “Flattened buildings, bodies everywhere. People were dragging bodies out of the buildings and putting them on the sidewalk. Seeing all the suffering has been horrible. But that’s also what keeps us going—knowing that we can make a difference.”

Gumpel is just one of the many members of the Pepperdine community all over the world who have stepped up to answer the call of service for the people of Haiti since the poverty-stricken city of Port-au-Prince collapsed under the earthquake’s vicious grip, leaving widespread destruction and an estimated death toll of more than 200,000 people.

When volunteer firefighter Bartlett McCartin (’95) heard news of the disaster, he immediately called other volunteers with whom he worked as an emergency responder after Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 tragedy. Within two days, he was on a flight to Haiti with a search and rescue crew and a medical team of trauma and orthopedic surgeons, ER doctors, and crash nurses.

“Within an hour and a half of being on the ground, we had our first search-and-rescue mission,” he says. Meanwhile, the medical team found a hospital near the epicenter, converted the emergency rooms into operating rooms, and utilized the parking lot as a treatment center.

At that early stage in the recovery, the only source of information was a radio station operating out of a minivan with a gas generator, which would broadcast locations where people were reported alive under rubble. “We moved from collapsed structure to collapsed structure, back to the hospital to assist the nurses and doctors with anything they needed,” he says.

With McCartin’s help, the medical team treated more than 630 patients, performed over 70 field amputations, and 187 surgeries inside the first two and a half days they were there. Still, he says, “you found moments of hopelessness because of the magnitude of it. I’m just hoping that we gave the people we encountered some sense of hope that it could be better, that it could be okay. Even if it was a short period of time.”

Former firefighter Scott Mortensen, a graduate student in learning technologies at the Graduate School of Education and Psychology, decided to put his studies on hold and forgo paid work to lend his paramedic and videography skills to a team of 40 doctors, nurses, EMTs, and humanitarians in Port-au-Prince. “As soon as I arrived here I felt like I stepped off a whirlwind and landed in a tornado,” he says of the chartered plane he took, donated by NFL football coach Joe Gibbs.

The team arrived in Haiti on January 24, and wasted no time setting up makeshift medical clinics in the tent cities crafted from bed sheets and wooden sticks. They performed urgent medical procedures on patients suffering from spinal cord injuries, pelvic and skull fractures, hunger, stomach illnesses, and dehydration.

“As a firefighter, I’ve worked calls that involved train collisions, explosions, building collapses, and multiple casualties. Haiti looked like every call I had ever worked on rolled up into one,” he says. “The images on television and in print are not comparable to having the stenches, the sights, and the cries for help saturate your senses.”

On the second day, the team set up a clinic near Christian Light Ministry’s “Broken House” orphanage. Mortensen’s main objective was to share compassion and give love wherever needed. “I tested the theory that laughter is really the best medicine by break dancing at the clinic with a group of kids on an old piece of carpet.”

One of Mortensen’s most memorable patients was baby Jerry, who was suffering from a life-threatening skull fracture that was detected by one of the ER doctors. His survival was hanging in the balance, but Mortensen’s team did not give up. They performed numerous lifesaving interventions and they were able to nurse him back to health. “We were a group of individuals working together for a common goal,” Mortensen says. “Baby Jerry was the tangible vision of what that goal looked like. His smile reminded us to keep working and keep hoping.”

With the destruction of Haiti’s infrastructure, a big question mark surrounds the fate of Haitian orphans who were in the final stages of being adopted by American families. Many of these families have gone through years of paperwork and multiple visits to the country. Five such orphans were able to unite with their new families thanks to Phillip North (JD ’75), who is a pilot when he’s not in court defending physicians as a civil trial attorney in Nashville, Tennessee.

“It was really flying by the seat of your pants,” North recalls. He and his friend, Don Bruce, who owns his own plane, teamed up with Agape Flights in Florida to fly a group of doctors and supplies over to Haiti. After several setbacks with fuel issues, they eventually made it into Port-au-Prince. Agape connected them with an orphanage that needed transportation for five Haitian orphans who had already been adopted by families in the U.S. “There was Big Eli and Little Eli, Shayla and Kayla, who both have cerebral palsy, and Owen, who was born HIV-positive,” explains North.

Despite government clearance, it wasn’t easy getting out of the country. “We had to make some well-placed cash donations to some of the people at the airports,” he says. And once they finally took off, the noisy plane and unfamiliar surroundings frightened the children, who are all under 5 years old.

North recounts his personal anguish as tears streamed down the children’s faces. “We really felt bad that about the children feeling so scared, but we took some comfort in the fact that we hope they were going to a better life,” he says. The only thing he could think to do was sing a bit of gospel music. “This Little Light of Mine” had no effect. “Jesus Loves Me” was met with similar disinterest. “I started singing ‘Amazing Grace,’ and one by one, they stopped crying.”

Upon landing in Sarasota, Florida, North watched in awe as the children united with their families. “It was so emotional. These parents had been waiting for these children for so long. They were just beside themselves to finally get them home.”

Many questions remain as to the future of Haiti. Mortensen says these questions keep him up at night. “There is always more we can do and the question, ‘What next?’ will not leave me alone,” he says. “Thomas Fuller has a saying: ‘You don’t appreciate water until the well runs dry.’ Globally, our well is running dry.”

Donations are keeping Haiti afloat, however, and Gumpel and his colleagues at Missionary Flights International continue loading up planes and flying supplies and medical teams daily. “I decided I wanted to become a missionary during a service trip to Haiti in high school,” he recounts. “And here I am flying back and forth to Haiti, the place I got the call to serve Christ back in 1984.”

Gumpel says he believes his service to Haiti is all a part of God’s plan, and despite the inherent danger of this work, has no intention of slowing down. “It’s overwhelming what has happened, but I’m completely blessed that I have the privilege and opportunity to help. This is the time for believers to step up and live their faith and to show the people of Haiti that God is good in all things including this.

Map vini an Ayiti anko!” (“I will return to Haiti,” in Creole.)


HELPING HANDS AT HOME

THE UNIVERSITY CHURCH OF CHRIST raised $11,285.10 for Healing Hands International, a Church of Christ disaster relief organization based out of Nashville, Tennessee.

INTERNATIONAL PROGRAMS put out a call for every student on the Malibu campus to donate $1, and created prayer cards to encourage students to pray. The student group Hugs For Haiti helped the cause by offering a hug to anyone who gave at least $1 for Haiti. At press time, the effort had raised $2,429.15. Students in the Heidelberg, Lausanne, London, and Florence programs all held fundraisers as well.

SODEXO, Pepperdine’s dining service, allowed any student with cafeteria points to donate up to 50 points, each worth one dollar, to the Haiti relief effort.

THE PEPPERDINE SCHOOL OF LAW has converted annual events, Share the Love, and the dodgeball tournament to serve as fundraisers for World Vision’s Haiti relief. At press time, the effort has raised more than $700.

PEPPERDINE’S INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY (IT) DEPARTMENT organized a division-wide donation drive, collecting $1,221, which was donated to the West Los Angeles American Red Cross chapter for the Haiti Relief Effort.

This is a sampling of Pepperdine’s Haiti relief efforts at press time. For a full list of updated news, resources, and information, visit www.pepperdine.edu/haiti-response.