What is power exactly? Is it wealth or education? When you think of power, what comes to your mind? Throughout history, power has always been something everyone is fighting for. Some want power and some want to stay away from it. For example, David and Saul: Saul was winning at everything in life, and things got even better for him when he became the first king of Israel. Before he came to power, Saul was humble, nice and respected the Lord. Then Saul changed after he got a taste of real power. Then came David. Again, humble, a shepherd, who adored the Lord and served Saul faithfully. We all thought David was going to learn from Saul’s mistakes, but power consumed him. There’s just something about being the strongest and the fastest at anything. At times people who feel that way think they own the whole world and should be able to do whatever they please with it. So, what does power look like in a third world country? Does it even exist?
We were supposed to be hosting a team in Haiti on July 7th, but it was canceled due to riots. I was in Haiti three days prior to the team’s arrival, to get things ready, and I was very excited about the team. It was a big one! Next thing I heard was that American Airline had canceled their flights to Haiti. I was shocked, because I did not know it was that serious. I usually don’t like to listen to the news on the radio, but I had to find out what was going on. I heard from the radio that the government had raised the gas prices by 38%. That means a liter of diesel would now cost $4, and a liter of regular gas would cost nearly $5.The reason for the price increase was because the government had agreed to reduce subsidies for fuel in February, as part of an assistance package with the International Monetary Fund. They did it to divert funds to social services and to improve tax collection, in an effort to modernize the economy. Well, most of the government officials did not like the idea, and they told the president not to increase the gas prices. From what I’ve heard from other Haitians, the president said, “I am the president of Haiti, and the people elected me, so I can increase the gas if I want to.” The thing is, that was the president’s second strike. You need to know that they don’t play baseball in Haiti, so there’s no such thing as a third strike. They get you when they feel like the time is right. The president’s first strike was when he destroyed a bunch of houses that were built next to his new home in Pelerin. Pelerin is outside of Petion-ville and it is a nice area. So whenever someone gets a little bit of money, they are most likely to move there. Anyway, he was not happy that the people were building next to him, so he destroyed their homes. The people were not happy, but when the gas prices increased, and they heard what he said, they went crazy! Fun fact for you: Brazil lost that day in the World Cup, and about 70% of Haitians are big fans of Brazil. Footból (soccer) is like a religion in Haiti. So you do the math. Destroy houses, plus Brazil being eliminated, and gas increase on the same day. That equals CHAOS, my friends!!
The president of Haiti uses his power one way, but are the people going to be different? Well, they were different. Pastor Etienne and I were out getting groceries for the upcoming team, and we just got back into the village when we heard what was going on in the country. The moment the gas increased, the people took to the streets. They blocked all the major roads in the country. They burned gas stations and markets, and three people were reported dead. It sounded like a volcano that was ready to erupt.
Pastor Etienne grabbed his radio and started listening to the news. We were shocked to hear what was going on in the country. I mean, we were just out there in town about an hour ago. But now, we couldn’t even get into the closest streets next the village. I was very calm because I thought things would be fine the next day. Come to find out, it was about to get worse. So, we all stayed in the village for two days, and no one went anywhere.
Things started to change for me because I was getting nervous. We had a missionary in Haiti for a month, to build our second team house in Dèyè Món. Now, we had to find a way to get him and me out of the country. Pastor Etienne, his sister-in-law and I got into the car from Gressier to go get Cliff, the missionary. We left on Monday, the 9th of July. It was on the road to the mountain village that I experienced what power the people have. We drove for about 45 minutes, and everything was okay. Then, all of a sudden, we were in the middle of chaos! We got stopped by a group of guys who had blocked the street with trees, rocks, and other cars they had parked horizontally in the street. They asked us for money; otherwise, they would not let us pass through. So, we gave them some money and they let us through. We did not even get half a mile away from them, when another crew stopped us. We also gave them money to let us pass. Then we drove for another 20 minutes and got stopped again! This time we, along with a bunch of other drivers, started talking to them. We talked for about seven minutes, when all the sudden “hell broke loose”. All the guys who were stopping us were running. I was like, “What the heck is going on now”? Well, the police had finally decided to show up. When the guys from the street saw them with guns and bats, they fled for their lives. While they were running, I realized that the guys stopping us were mostly farmers. All they had in their hands were the machetes and the axes they use for work. You need to know that people don’t have respect for farmers in Haiti, because most of them are not educated. Most farmers can’t read anything you put in front of them but, that day, they had all the power in the world. It did not matter if they could read or sign their names; all that mattered was that they had the power.
So we passed that obstacle. Then we had a flat tire. I know what you’re thinking: perfect timing to get a flat tire! We stopped to change the tire ourselves. While changing the tire, I kept seeing a bunch of motorcycle guys around. They kept on riding back and forth. Little did we know, they had been watching us. We put the tire on and got stopped again, not even one fourth of a mile from where we had stopped to fix the tire. Oh boy, I was getting so stinking frustrated! I said a few things that were not very nice, and my face showed it all. We gave them money and they let us through. But then the worst part came. I could see the guys we had just given money, but these guys within sight of us paying would not let us through… because that was a different group! We told them we had just paid the other guys, and they saw that. With cockiness the guy said, “Nope, they are not with us!” At that point, I was losing it! After a long discussion, they let us through. Then we drove for about 45 minutes, until we started to feel something was wrong. We noticed there were not a lot of cars on the road. Finally we stopped to ask for guidance, when we found out they had welded a gate in the middle of the road. I kept telling myself, “Calm down. You will get through this.” But I was not really believing it. The next place we got stopped, they sent us into a “back way”. That was when I got scared. I have never felt fear and frustration at the same time before. On the new road, there was no cars in front of us, but there were two cars behind us. All three of us in the car started praying. I told God, “You sent me here, and I am sure you will get me out of here today.” I was just then remembering that I had not read my Bible that morning, so I checked the Bible app on my phone. The verse of the day was “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Proverbs 16:9. Tears started rolling down my cheeks, because that was God speaking to me! From that moment on, I was happy and calm on the roads, even when we got stopped again. I did not mind, because I had a reminder of Who was “establishing my steps”- the routes we were taking!
I could not help but think of how powerless we were on the street. I am not that smart, but I probably have more education than 30 of those guys combined. But that was useless. Pastor Etienne is a very wise and well- educated man, but there was nothing he could do either. His sister-in-law works at a hospital, and she has a lot of connections in Haiti, but none of that could help us. Education and contacts were powerless. The only thing that seemed to work was money. So, does that mean money is power? Well yes… and no! Money got us through some places, but we were about to run out of money. What would have happen if the money had ran out? Even with the money, we were not in control! Someone from the street was still telling us what to do. I laughed at times, when I saw who was giving us orders. Sometimes they were kids younger than me! You know what? I felt what they were going through. I felt their pain and sorrows, even though we were the ones they were wronging. Imagine this: You have never been in charge of anything in your life. All you can do is watch what people do and listen to what they tell you to do. You have seen them living abundantly while you have nothing. But then imagine that one day, you get to control all these people? I am not agreeing with what they were doing in the streets. But I get the feeling it was finally their day to have a say. I can’t judge them anymore. We all go crazy when we get to be in charge, at some point in our lives. The most amazing thing is, God is always there to remind us Who is in charge. It’s not us!
(Kenlley Leyendeckers is a Haitian native, who was adopted by American parents at the age of thirteen. As a young boy, living in an orphanage there, he had met missionaries who inspired a growing vision within him. He knew he wanted to help bring hope to the children around him. The 2010 Earthquake precipitated his father’s going to Haiti to escort him to America. He quickly adapted to the American language and culture, graduating from high school and attending college. He is now the associate director of Mercy International.)