Haitians struggling to rebuild their lives in the wake of the January 12 earthquake that devastated the nation are referring to the disastrous event as “the thing.”

“It was something beyond imagination and beyond understanding,” said MTW missionary and Haitian-American Esaie Etienne, who, together with his family, survived the quake. “Nobody has ever seen anything like it.” Etienne, as so many others, is still sleeping outdoors a month after the quake.

Government officials estimate that the quake has killed 200,000, rendered two million homeless, and has affected up to one third of the entire population of Haiti.

Given the enormity of physical and spiritual need in Haiti, MTW is forging a long-term strategy for disaster response and reconstruction, working through existing relationships with national pastors and churches. By the end of February, two MTW disaster response medical teams will have completed weeklong trips, providing acute medical care and counseling to quake victims in the Diquini neighborhood of Carrefour, a town just outside Port-au-Prince. A third medical team will soon follow.

“The need for resources will continue for a long time,” said Oscar Aylor, MTW’s director of mercy ministry, who has also served as a missionary to Haiti. “MTW is committed to Haiti and its people long after the media attention has turned elsewhere. We are beginning a one-year giving initiative to help us honor that commitment. Our longstanding policy is to work through the churches in such a way that they will get the credit, God will get the glory, and the Church will grow.”

“As Far as the Eye Can See”

MTW advance needs assessment team leader Tom Felmley landed on the ground in Haiti just 10 days after the quake occurred, with the goal of laying the groundwork for future MTW disaster response teams. “As far as the eye could see, there was nothing—just widespread devastation,” he said. “It looked like Hiroshima or Nagasaki after the atomic bomb had been dropped.”

In future weeks and months, MTW will continue to send multiple teams of medical, construction, and crisis counseling volunteers to aid earthquake survivors. These teams, comprised of specially trained and experienced professionals, expect to work through missionaries and their networks of churches and national pastors.

Currently, the MTW teams are providing medical care in several locations, including a 20-acre grassy field that has been converted into a survivor camp, which swells to 15,000 people at night. Many people no longer have homes, so are sleeping under makeshift tents made of curtains and tablecloths propped up by tree branches. Others have access to shelter, but are still afraid to enter buildings—fearing aftershocks and further damage.

The primitive living conditions—no clean water, no sanitation, no electricity—only reinforce the need for continued relief aid and medical care. And the rainy season will begin in a few short months, only exacerbating the situation.

“As time goes on, we’ll move from disaster relief to long-term ministry and rehabilitation,” said Aylor.  “There’s a tremendous opportunity for ministry in Haiti—that’s why we need to be there a long time. We see it as a significant ministry site, and we want to see new churches planted. It’s incumbent upon us to be the hands and feet of Jesus in times like these.”

To learn more about MTW’s disaster response efforts in Haiti, visit www.mtw.org, or follow MTW on Facebook or Twitter.

[Excerpted from the Spring 2010 issue of MTW’s Network magazine.]