By Beth Sowers
HLG Public Relations
CARRIES, Haiti – “This has to be the last mountain …” thought Seth Mendenhall, 2010 Hannibal-LaGrange College (HLG) nursing graduate participating in a mission trip in Haiti. Feeling a bit ill and very exhausted, a three-hour drive up a mountain to a church service just didn’t sound that appealing to him.
“Up to this point in the week, I hadn’t been able to decipher why God had let me come,” said Seth. “I knew that He had opened my eyes to the state that Haiti was in. He had shown me how self-absorbed I was in thinking I needed all these things in life to make me happy when people in Haiti were living in 6×6 tents with only a tarp over their heads. This most definitely spoke directly to my heart. I was sure that the work we were able to during the day was a big help to Dee and Wilckly [Dorce’]. I just didn’t feel at this point that there was one certain reason I had been able to come.”
Upon the truck getting inadvertently stuck, Seth and the rest of the group were told to grab a box of MREs and whatever they had brought with them and follow Dee the rest of the way to the church. She and her husband, Wilckly, founded Dorce’ Ministries based out of Carries, Haiti. “Every house we saw in the distance I thought was surely the church. Nope. We just kept on going.” Another member of the group cheerfully said “I’m glad we get to do this.” “Yeah, nothing like getting sweaty for Jesus,” replied Seth, knowing that if he had to be uncomfortable, at least it was for a good cause.
“By the time we had walked what felt like about ten miles but was probably only one or two, I had confirmed that I had the worst attitude there. I was not at all focused on the things we were going to have the opportunity to take part in that day at that brand new church. I only wanted it to hurry up and be five or six o’clock which meant we’d be at the beach.” Seth’s discontentment, however, changed as soon as the church service began. Seeing the huge crowd of people of all ages, crammed under a makeshift tent made of USAID tarps draped over trees, singing and worshipping with all they had, changed Seth’s heart.
“I stared in amazement as I watched the church before me blow away 99 percent of the worship services in America,” said Seth. “I thought maybe this is why God had brought me here … to see what excited Christians looked like. There were some left after all.” The congregation asked the mission group to sing them a couple of songs, and for the last one they decided on “Lean on Me” when nothing else came to their minds. “When we got back to our seats, I remember turning and saying to everyone, ‘We know 50 million praise and worship songs and you guys pick “Lean on Me”?’ This was pretty ridiculous, at that point, to all of us. If only we knew …”
After the service, Seth and a few of the other group members set up a health clinic to pass out medicine and treat as many of those in need as they could. Even during this task, Seth felt his poor attitude creep back in as he realized what he was doing wasn’t any different than the other members of the team that were helping out. “I was mainly feeling useless,” said Seth. “I was counting on this to be the area that I could really serve God and the Haitian people. I did help some and that was good but it’s just not what I had expected.”
After running out of medicine, the group packed up for the day and decided it was time to load up the truck and head back. They had gained several stragglers along the way which made for a very full bed. “After driving for what seemed an eternity on the way back out, we had reached the top of the final mountain. The ocean landscape sprayed out before us. You could see the welcoming blue water glistening in the radiance of the sun accompanied by mountains on either side of the horizon. I remember talking to Alysa [Askew] and Bethany [Gorman] about a song that we’d sung earlier that month at one of the services at The Crossing. Alysa was trying to remember the rest of the words and I wasn’t much help. The part she was singing stuck in my head for the time being, ‘Shout unto God with a voice of triumph, Shout unto God with a voice of praise. Shout unto God with a voice of triumph, We lift your name up, We lift your name up.’ These were the words we were singing as we began our journey down the last mountain …”
Seth went on to explain how Wilckly was a very slow and cautious driver, very different from the Haitians that typically drove at high speeds and passed on hills. During the trek back down the mountain, something sputtered in the engine. “I listened a little closer, and I couldn’t hear anything again. This was actually the problem: I didn’t hear anything. The engine was not on,” remembered Seth. The truck began to pick up speed and Seth and the other passengers began to realize they were in trouble. Reportedly going 30 mph down a mountain in a dump truck, Seth noticed up ahead that there was a sharp, almost 90 degree turn they were going to have to make to avoid going straight over the cliff.
“The more and more this gets replayed in my mind, the more and more I realize how Wilckly really saved our lives,” recounted Seth. “Wilckly didn’t have many options here. Try and make the turn and surely tip us over, try and hit the rock wall on the other side of us which would have surely ricocheted us off the wall, sending us out of control, or panic and do nothing which shoots us strait off the cliff to a sure death below. Thinking about this now is giving me chills, an unmeasurable amount of appreciation for life, and an ever-grateful, sincere respect for Wilckly and the God we serve,” continued Seth. “From the report I got, Dee told Wilckly, who was calm as could be, to ‘Do something.’ Little did she or any of us know, he was. Wilckly pulled us in close to the wall and slowly started to turn although it seemed nothing at this point was going slowly.”
Seth remembers being tipped backwards and bracing for impact. “The impact threw me like a rag doll against the bars on the other side of the truck which were now grating the gravel road. I had my eyes closed and my chin tucked at this point sliding on the left side of my body. I remember the sound ever so vividly as the rocks were crunched between the ground and my head and shoulder. It sounded much like spinning your car tires on a gravel road. This lasted for what seemed like minutes and I remember wondering when my body was going to slow down.”
Miraculously, Seth was stopped from going over the edge of the cliff by a huge rock and somehow ended up on his feet. “I’m sure there’s a perfectly good explanation for this somewhere in some mathematical mind, but I’m going to go with the fact that God put a rock in my way to keep me from going off the cliff and then picked me up and stood me on my feet.”
After wiping the blood from his brow due to his head slamming into the rock, Seth quickly surveyed the tragic scene. The first two members of the team that he saw were in desperate need of help. After seeing all that blood, Seth began to go into panic mode. “If I’ve just seen the first two people from my team … I don’t want to live to see the rest and the shape they’re in,” he thought. However, his determination kicked in and he rushed to find his bag of supplies that was still hanging on the peg in the truck he’d hung it on before they left. “I’m sure there’s a perfect explanation for this as well,” said Seth sarcastically.
With a fresh HLG nursing degree tucked under his proverbial belt, Seth sprung into action, moving from person to person, quickly assessing each situation and providing whatever aid he was able to give with such limited resources. Those that were not as badly hurt were quick to help as well, sitting with those who needed a voice of reassurance, stabilizing necks, and using gauze pads to apply pressure to deep wounds to help stop any bleeding. “For the next twenty minutes, I ran back and forth trying to give aid to as many team members and Haitians (who mostly were already being cared for by their own) as I could possibly get to,” said Seth. “Once when I was taking care of Chris [Brennemann] and Carrie [Thompson], I remember looking up at the landscape. This may seem weird but I remember doing this as I was holding pressure on one of their wounds. Thoughts of my family rushed into my head. I knew that because I was still moving, I may get to see them again but the probability was also good that I had lost a lot of blood and would soon pass out.” Seth selflessly was worried about not being able to get to everyone that needed his help before he himself needed medical attention.
A Haitian pastor that was there helping out finally forced Seth into one of the last trucks on the scene that was there taking people to get help. “I was so mad at him at the time,” said Seth. “I hadn’t had a chance to look over the scene to make sure everyone was out that needed to be.”
After arriving at the mission medical tent, the injured crew immediately started receiving the care they needed to hold them over until they could get them on ambulances to the Miami University relief hospital in Port-au-Prince. Seth received staples in his head, while others had stitches, neck braces, and even glucose drinks for those with diabetic issues.
“We finally arrived at the hospital around forty minutes later. I remember backing up to a large white tent and being able to decipher some American faces outside our back window. Then, the door opened and I saw the best thing I could’ve ever asked for at that point: United States Marines! It almost brought tears to my eyes but I was at this point hurting quite a bit with a softball sized hematoma sticking out next to my left, lower-lumbar spine. They got me out of the ambulance with extreme caution while treating me the whole time like they were my biggest fan. I was finally starting to believe that we may actually go home tomorrow. I had not believed a word I’d said all afternoon that had come out of my own mouth. None of us should’ve been going home because we should probably all be at the bottom of a cliff,” continued Seth. “But now seeing the Marines, I knew we had a chance because if they were here, there were probably good American doctors somewhere close as well.”
Seth received an immediate ultrasound on his abdomen after being wheeled into an examination tent. “This was a relief because I knew that I was swelling rapidly on the ambulance ride. The problem with being a health care professional is that you know too much about all the things that could be going wrong at any given moment.” The ultrasound came back normal, and he was given morphine for his pain and taken to the recovery tent. “I hadn’t seen any of my ‘family’ for quite a while by this point and was really anxious to see them again. I also had no idea if anyone didn’t make it. I asked the nurse if she’d heard anything about the rest of us and she said that so far, everyone was going to be ok. Thank God!”
The first member of the team he saw after that was Bethany, who was being wheeled in by a volunteer. “We sat there for a short time without speaking until she looked up and said to me, ‘You know, you were pretty awesome out there today.’ This was the first time I had had any type of recollection of what I had done all afternoon. ‘Thanks … but it was only God.’ I said.”
“I repeated different variations of this answer for the next three days. No matter what, I knew that whatever good I had done, was only compliments of God and His provision over us all. I have a really hard time, although very encouraging, accepting any credit for any of this because I am in no way a life-saving, seasoned nurse. I was just an average nursing student who, if trying to guess whether he’d take the fight or flight, would’ve put himself in the flight category any day of the week.”
“Slowly, people on our team came hobbling, wheeling, or were carried into to our tent. Most of us on the verge of complete exhaustion, we just sat around in our wheelchairs and said nothing. At one time during that night we were all doing just that when Bethany looked up at me and said, ‘Do you hear that?’ ‘No … what are you talking about?’ I replied. ‘That song,’ she said. I listened closely and sure enough, in the back of our tent the radio was on just loud enough to make out the lyrics to the song playing, ‘… Lean on me.’ I just looked at her and shook my head, ‘Are you kidding me right now?’ This was a pretty uplifting moment for us. It was if God was trying to tell us that through all that had happened that day, He had every last detail planned out and set into motion. Looking back on all that occurred that day and even since, there is no doubt in my mind that that was truly the case. We were most certainly leaning on HIM.”
The HLG missions team consisting of 14 students and one faculty sponsor was in Haiti as part of an 8-day effort in May carried out in cooperation with Blessing Hearts International, a Haiti-based missions organization. The team had been involved in recovery efforts associated with the devastating series of earthquakes that rocked the nation in January.