You wonder what you will feel like in the last moments of your life, when you finally look death in the face . . . how your beliefs about death and the afterlife will play out. For me, it moved really quickly from abstract to tangible, given I was buried under six floors of rubble following the January 2010 Haiti earthquake. I will never pretend to understand why God allowed me to be rescued while many others did not make it out alive.
I traveled to Haiti with Compassion International to document the organization’s work to permanently rescue children from poverty. As I was trapped, I found it ironic that I had come to Haiti to rescue children from poverty. Little did I know that I would need rescue.
After a day of capturing footage my colleague and I had just been dropped off and stepped into our hotel when the Haiti earthquake erupted all around us. I was trapped in the wreckage of my collapsed hotel in an elevator car the size of a small shower. My head and leg were bleeding as I fought to stay alive using all the resources that I could—my iPhone and its first-aid app, camera, journal, sock and shirt. In moments of despair, I had time to reflect on how I viewed myself, my marriage, and my faith in Jesus Christ. The earthquake shook loose a lot of things in my life that weren’t important, leaving me with a firmer foundation.
I don’t know why I was spared while others were not—including a Compassion International colleague who was right next to me when the quake hit. I don’t take lightly the difference between my outcome and the suffering of others. But, I tell the story of the 65 hours I spent buried in the rubble of the quake in Unshaken: Rising from the Ruins of Haiti’s Hotel Montana.
As I spend this week in Haiti revisiting the sites and people that I met last year, the sounds and the smells are so familiar as if the island nation was shook by the earthquake just yesterday. Then, I look down at the scar on my leg, a scar that will forever remind me of my time in Haiti and the Haitian people there who continue to suffer and work to get back on their feet post quake.
I have an advantage. Last January trapped beneath six stories of rubble I was taught very literally about how quickly life can change in an instant. I worked hard in the months following the quake to hold onto the clarity and now it share with others through my experience in Unshaken.
Dan Woolley, an interactive strategies director at Compassion International, is the author of Unshaken: Rising from the Ruins of Haiti’s Hotel Montana (Zondervan). In response to interest in the first-aid app he used to save his life, Woolley is currently working on a different kind of first-aid app—one that helps people focus on what matters most. More info at DanWoolley.net.
Rescue photo credit: Los Angeles Times/Rick Loomis.
Return photo credit: Reuters