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Chaplain’s perspective: ‘Not without my daughter’

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Capt.) Eusebia D. Rios
  • Joint Special Operations Air Component Chaplain
Editors note: This is part two in a series of four commentaries.

As a chaplain assigned to this humanitarian effort here in Haiti, I have witnessed the resilience of the Haitian people. I have witnessed the strength and compassion of our military medical corps. I have witnessed faith so strong that I find myself learning from the very people I have come to help.

When the medics line up a litter and put on their latex gloves, it's the signal for mass casualties inbound. It could be four or twenty-four patients. We just know that there will be a flush of people in need of medical attention and prayer.

As the patients flow in, I am called to help calm a patient down who is calling out in Creole for God to take him. I lean close to his ear. Over his cries of desperation, I ask him if he wants me to pray. I lean in and rub his head. His eyes fill with tears. I feel him trembling in fear. In that moment -- during a split second -- he looks into my eyes and allows me to pray.

I pray for strength and courage. Slowly, as I ask God to glance in our direction, the man stops trembling. He is calm. The medical team moves to treat him and give him oxygen.

I lean and whisper into his ear, "God is good. He is here. Rest in Him." The medical team continues to work upon their calmed patient.

There are many patients, many stories of horrendous loss, and many stories of miraculous survival. There is faith. Within this tent, are patients with second- and third-degree burns. Their stories break my heart. I lean close to them. The smell of their burnt flesh is strong. I whisper a prayer into their ears.

One man, whose face was completely burnt, looked at me and asked, "What do you see chaplain?"

I looked at him and said, "I see a man with beautiful eyes."

He tried to smile and thanked me for the prayer. I realized, as I moved to the next patient, that perhaps I was the first to see past his burns. It reminded him he was still a human being -- a man.

Moving from one litter to another, one tent to the next, I finally make it to the last patient in the holding tent. In the last litter, a man with sickle cell anemia lay with his beautiful little daughter sitting on the floor next to him. She held onto his blanket tightly.

I leaned in to ask if he wanted prayer. He spoke good English and said, "Yes." I asked his daughter, but he was quick to tell me she could not speak English. He gestured for her to come near as I prepared to pray.

His name was James. He asked me to pray that his daughter, Diamond, would be able to go back with him to the United States.

"If not, then put me in any hospital in Haiti," he said. "I will not leave my daughter behind. I need the treatment the United States can give me -- but not without my daughter."

This man's love for his daughter overwhelmed me. I bowed my head and prayed. I opened my eyes to see Diamond leaning on her father with her eyes closed. I said, "Amen" and looked the father in the eyes.

I told him, "I can't promise a thing, but I can at least ask some questions."

"That is all I am asking," James said. "Please see if there is anything that can be done. Thank you, chaplain."

I left the tent uncertain of what I could do, but I knew that if I could trust God, just maybe something could be done. I started by asking the judge advocate what the legal options were. I asked a state department head and then another person. I went from one desk to another -- one option then another.

Soon I found myself running in circles to the U.S. Embassy in Port au Prince. Finally, I just stopped and prayed. I had to calm my heart down. I was not in control, God was. I just needed to trust Him.

Well, before walking into the main Operations Center, I said a short prayer, all I said was, "I trust you God."

When I walked, I was told she can go, but we need to confirm there would be a family member in United States to meet the plane. I spoke with James again. I asked about relatives, and he immediately gave me his father's name. He lives in Miami.

When I talked to the Diamond's grandfather, he was so grateful. He said he would be there to meet the plane. Soon, every piece came together, Diamond and her dad, James, would be on a plane to the U.S. When I got back to James' medical tent, he was so thankful.

He said his daughter wanted to learn how to say something in English to me. So he called his daughter over. She stood in front of me. I knelt down to hear her soft voice.
Diamond looked at me and said, "I - love - you," then she gave me a hug. I looked at her and her father and said, "You are welcome."

I walked out of the tent. I hid for a moment in the shadows of the night. I had to compose myself. I needed to whisper a prayer of thanks to the true hero of the night -- God.

As the little girl and her father boarded the plane, I reached into my pocket to give Diamond a gift. It was a tag with "Happy Chappy" embroidered on it. She smiled and held on to it with a tight grip.

James lifted his weary hand and said, "Thank you, thank you chaplain."
I told him, "James we prayed."

He just smiled and said, "Yes, we did chaplain. Thank you, and thank God".
Perhaps, I will never see them again, but I know this: for as much as they feel that I blessed them, they blessed me more than words can say.

Truly, I have seen faith so strong that I find myself learning from the very people I have come to help. Amen.