Chris and I spent some time talking the other night about where things were at with our current situation. We’ve been in this thing for a month exactly as of today. It has been a long, exhausting process. The mission has felt the strain of everything going on. Our marriage has felt the strain. Our family has felt the strain.
The investigation is continuing. As we shared last week an arrest was made. We didn’t share a lot of details at that time but feel we can share more about that now. It’s actually an interesting story.
Last Tuesday we handed out employee information forms so we could have background info on each worker on file. We were upfront about telling them that part of the reason we wanted the info was so that if we had theft issues in the future we could just copy the sheet and take it to the police. All of our workers, so it seemed, were more than happy to fill out the form and understood our reasoning.
Chris had to go to town that day, like many in the last month, to meet with the police and our lawyer. 30 minutes after he left one of our workers left without telling me or Jean, something that’s not normal around here and would normally meet a serious reprimand. The thing is, the employee that did it was already skating on thin ice for various reasons and we had already decided the day before that his chances had run out and the next incident would result in him being fired.
I called Chris and told him about what was going on and we decided to start preparing things for the worker’s revocation pay, something we’re obliged to give by Haitian law. The employee didn’t return that day at all. When Chris got home we talked through things more. We wanted to make sure that we were making the best decision. He had been given many chances, had been talked to many times. Part of it was that his attitude had gone downhill over the last year and part of it was that his work ethic had gone downhill over the last year to the point where he had ruined several filter molds while welding – something that can cost us several hundred dollars each time, simply because he wasn’t paying attention.
As we talked through things we commented on his behavior over the last year. We knew that he had gone through some big stuff in life and had given him a lot of grace because of those things. In the course of conversation I mentioned to Chris that Jean had given me back the employee forms and as I was stapling photocopies of ID’s to them I noticed that this particular worker hadn’t filled out his form. Not one bit. And he had several hours to do so before they came back and before he left.
Then the pieces started to come together in our heads. The next morning the worker was back and Chris played it cool and talked to him about not leaving work without letting us know and then sent him out on the delivery trip for the day.
The night before we found filter forms from installations two years previous that this employee had filled out, and made copies. The next morning Chris took them in to the police and they were able to match some of the handwriting on the threat notes (there were three different people that had written on them). We had realized that the worker didn’t want to fill out the form because we would have been able to match the writing. He didn’t think about the fact that we had samples from way before. Chris met with the lawyer and the judge and had an arrest warrant drawn up. That afternoon as our workers were coming back through St. Marc after a day of deliveries in the Artibonite the police stopped the truck and arrested the worker. It was all so beautifully executed and it was a relief for us to have at least one person in prison. Over the next couple of days he started talking a bit and confirmed that the main person we had suspected was involved was in fact responsible for burning the van.
On Wednesday Chris had gone to town to meet with the police etc to put plans in motion to have the van burner arrested. There had been another attempt over the weekend that hadn’t worked, but more about that later. When he got home, he ended up calling the investigators again about something else, and found out that they had just gotten word that the arrested employee had been released – by the same judge that had signed the arrest mandate. It was apparently something called a ‘liberte provisionel’ or a day pass sort of thing where the arrestee is supposed to return in 24 hours. Um, really? You’ve had a guy arrested for a crime and you’re going to let him go for 24 hours on good faith. Welcome to Haiti. Chris spent the rest of the day making phone calls and coming up with nothing. Talk about feeling frustrated and helpless.
I should mention that we had other information about the third person involved in the threats and fire. A few weeks ago on a whim, and more as an attempt to eliminate the lid thief as a suspect in the fire we had given the UN and police a sample of his handwriting, also from a filter installation form. Turns out that also was a match. He’s been no where to be seen and probably won’t surface for a very long time, but at least we know he’s involved.
The other night while we were talking about where we were at we came to the decision that it’s time for us to start moving forward. For the last month we’ve been focusing so much of our time and energy on this whole thing that it’s really taken its toll and if we continue doing so it’s going to wreck us. Yes, we still believe we need to continue to follow up on things and Chris will continue meeting with the police and the necessary people so that our case doesn’t get dropped. People need to be arrested and we won’t stop until there is some resolution. Because of the police presence in the neighborhood there have been small things that have happened that have let us know that the people responsible are scared. The tables have turned and those that were threatening before now feel threatened. They’re losing ground as the community becomes more aware of what’s going on and their support system is nil.
As a family and as the directors of the mission we believe we need to follow through with things, but we can’t let it be the only thing we focus on anymore. We need to make sure that our workers are getting our attention and that the work we’re doing is still our priority. If we don’t follow through with our case, it could cause more problems down the road with how the mission is looked at in the community, but we need to have a healthy balance.
All of this has taken its toll on us personally. It’s hard to live for a month, day in and day out, wondering if today will be the day that something else happens. The use of threat is a big tool here in Haiti and many people live with constant fear of upsetting their neighbors. When you perceive that your personal safety is at risk it can be very paralyzing. We’ve spent the last month closing all our doors and windows, not going out unless we had to, always having security around, hardly going outside. It’s been driving me crazy. Until 7 weeks ago we lived peacefully here and liked life. Because of a few people we became prisoners in our own home. I totally understand how people feel after a break in or something like that. The violation is hard to explain to people who haven’t experienced it. Our marriage has felt the stress in the way we communicate with each other. It’s hard to be feeling so much and to have the person that you care the most about in the world be experiencing it right along with you, and to have to live through that sanely together. Sometimes you just crack and you say things you don’t mean or you say them in a way that isn’t the best. Olivia knows there is stuff going on, not because she understand events, but because she’s seen her daddy pacing constantly or her mommy crying on repeated occasions. She’s had nights of waking up crying hysterically and having unexplainable melt-downs through the day. It’s been hard to watch her and know that she’s just responding on a very raw, emotional level.
At some point though, we need to move on. We need to stop being afraid. As Christians God tells us over and over again in the Bible that fear is not from him. It’s not how he works. He tells us to move forward with courage, knowing that he is our protector and provider. He tells us that as Christians we will know persecution and that our lives may in fact be harder because of our faith in him, but that he will be walking beside us the entire time. If I truly believe that then I need to trust in God’s protection over us. And you know what? So much of it is about perspective too. When we sat down and talked about it, we realized that for the last month we had been living in fear because we perceived our safety was at risk. Yes, someone had used words to threaten us, and they had burned a mission vehicle, but they had never come on our property (cowards) and they had never physically harmed anyone. We needed to take the threats seriously, but we can’t let them paralyze us. God’s plan for us isn’t to have us here in Haiti to hang out in our house because something might happen. His plan for us is to be here and to love people and help them in a very practical way, and then deal with any situations as they arise.
At the encouragement of some of our workers we’re going to try and hold a community meeting where we can share more about why the mission is here and some of the problems we’ve been having and ask the community to support us by letting people know that this kind of thing is not wanted in Pierre Payen. Yonese has also asked if some of the people from her church can come and pray over the mission in the next few days. She gave us a good talking to yesterday about trusting God through this and that as Christian we’re to band together and stand up against people that want to do wrong. She also said that having people from the community come to pray is a visible reminder to the people responsible that we aren’t alone in this and that people from the community are supporting us and aren’t happy with what’s going on.
We are making efforts to get back to normal. The apartment is getting finished so we can move in as soon as possible and we can have those workers working on other things, and we can clear the construction out of our heads and focus on the filter project and training. It’s been 16 months. We are going to start looking at training dates and are looking at hosting visitors again.
We want to thank everyone that has been supporting us through this. We’ve had people all over the world praying for us. The missionary community here in Haiti has been a real source of support as people have let us know that we have many places we can go if we need to and just the overall understanding that comes with being “in it” together. We ask that you continue to pray for us, the mission and everyone involved. We need wisdom every day about how to proceed.
And now I have to go stop my daughter from emptying the salt shaker onto her books…