Published in Meridian Magazine
Written by Randon Draper
Lt. Col. Draper has been helping to get the remaining children from our group home. He's been a true hero for us during this ordeal.
Editor’s Note: Randon H. Draper is an LDS Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Air Force, and as an attorney on the ground in Haiti, found himself in a unique position to help the approved and documented Haitian orphans actually leave the country for their adoptive homes. He’s never seen such miracles before in his work, and he shares his story here.
I landed in the darkness of the Port-au-Price international airport at 0400 on the morning of 14 January 2010, less than thirty-five hours after Haiti’s devastating earthquake. Little did I know that my time here in Haiti would be one of the most profound spiritual experiences in my life as I worked to help transport adopted orphans to their families. I certainly did not anticipate that I would come to more fully appreciate the Savior’s admonition, “Suffer the little children to come unto me…”
As an Air Force attorney assigned to support the 621 Contingency Response Wing (CRW), I received six hours notice to depart my home base at Scott AFB, IL so I could drive to the airport and link up with the CRW at McGuire AFB, NJ. After last minute adjustments to my pre-packed bags, and hurried good-byes to my wife, Anne, and our children, and last minute instructions to my seventeen-year-old son to help his brother complete his last pinewood derby, I departed for the airport and found my way to McGuire AFB. There, we boarded a C-17 Globemaster, the workhorse of the Air Force, and flew to Toussaint Louverture International Airport.
When we arrived, there were faint lights on the dark hillside above the airport, but it was deathly quiet. We began the work of setting up camp between the ramp and the runway. The work of the CRW would bring in desperately needed supplies to a crippled nation in with a very small airport. I was there to support this effort.
When operations began, I watched a well-orchestrated ballet of aircraft coming with supplies and leaving with evacuees. I knew I would be working legal issues involving rules of engagement, contracting (for such luxuries as port-a-potties), and claims if we break things in the host nation (less concerns for that one here, unfortunately), but I wondered what unique issues this operation would have for me. I had no idea that I would engage in the most satisfying work of my Air Force career–- helping to get orphans out of the country to their adoptive parents.
The adoption process requires both processing from the Haitian government and an adoption in the United States. Prior to the quake, most adoptions would take up to two years or longer and would require a number of visits by the adoptive parents. While it required government processing to complete the adoption, the parents and children were bonded to each other in their hearts and minds at the very beginning of the process. They were, in the best of ways, already families; and on the 12th of January 2010, these families were separated by a crisis.
Within the first few days of the CRWs heaviest work of around-the-clock flight operations, I was tasked by senior leaders in the states to locate five children who were at the tail-end of their adoption, help process them through and get them on aircraft to their parents in the states. As I went about this work, I felt the movings of the Spirit directing the course of events to bring these children home. This event set the stage for many more miracles to come.
During the first two weeks, there seemed to be no end to the amount and urgency of the work which was only interrupted by four hours of sleep each night. Throughout my day, I would find organizations engaged in their own relief efforts and would learn of a need they had. Keeping their contact information, I would go about my day with a prayer in my heart, that I could assist as many as I could, while engaged in my primary responsibilities. I was in awe with the number of times I would come a across another organization that had the solution for the first organization in need. I would marry them up, so solutions could be found. The Spirit then guided, as it does still now, this work for others who labor for their brothers and sisters.
Although my deployment duties usually involved working large groups of adoptees through the process and on to military aircraft, I was tasked in a variety of ways to locate specific children with a various specific issues preventing their travel to the states. In one particular case, I was asked to locate a child for whom her parents waited, but for whom there was no record at the embassy. Many files had been jumbled by the quake, and workers there were dealing with the personal impact of the crisis on their own homes and families.
I prayed for answers hoping that maybe someone could now marry up my need with an organization that would help. As I pondered over the child’s adoption paperwork that her parents provided, I recognized the name of a person whom I had met just two days before, as he came through the airport escorting a group of adoptive children. For some reason I had written down his contact information, something I did not have in the adoption paperwork. I was able to contact him and receive information needed to locate the girl’s paperwork. By the end of that day, the child was on a plane heading for home. The spirit surged in my heart, as tail of her aircraft lifted off into the Caribbean night air.
When I laid on my cot in the darkness later that night, I pondered on the undeniable promptings of the Spirit that had directed me in ways I had never before experienced with such consistency, helping me, and others as well, at every step in this work of getting children to their families. Then for a moment, it was as though I could hear thousands of voices and thousand of prayers crying out for their children in this desperate time of need. This was followed by an ushering forth of the Spirit which opened for me a brief glimpse of our Father's pure love for His littlest ones. It was a feeling I have never before experienced; and it surpassed even the profound emotions felt at the birth of my own children. I knelt to the side of my cot and silently wept, not wanting to wake others in the tent.
My experience that night drove my resolve as I advocated, at times against opposition, for a variety of needs to help the process in transporting the military’s most precious cargo. That experience clarified my understandings that no matter how hard I work, this work belongs to our Father. He knows the prayers of mothers and fathers, and He regards the tender hearts of His little ones as pearls of great price.
Shortly after this experience, I met the Utah Hospital Task Force, a cadre of medical staff and returned missionary translators. Their spirits rekindled and strengthened mine. Dear to the work in which I was engaged, their efforts made it possible to return a large group of adoptees to their parents. They shared with me their experiences, which witnessed the miracle of reuniting families.
After the main group of the adoptees traveled from Haiti with the help of the task force, fifteen remained behind for a variety of issues that held up their processing. Chareyl Moyes, a program manager with an adoption agency in Utah, and I teamed up to work on their return. Though distances apart, we added our prayers to the many others (including those of my own family back home) as we worked each child’s case – each needing a different solution and divine intervention, and all receiving an answer. As I write this, only one remains in Haiti. Her approval in the states was granted. We now only wait for the formality of approval from the Haitian Prime Minister.
The work has not been easy. There have been frustrations, set backs and downright opposition. I have experienced both my highest highs and my lowest lows all within a day, and it starts all over the next day again. My greatest reward for my token efforts in a work much greater than what man can do alone is in holding the little children who wait to be reunited with their families. I feel renewed strength and unmatched peace; I find refuge in the mist of a land in turmoil.
In the first week after I arrived, I overheard a young Air Force officer lamenting to a friend that he was returning home from his duty without having accomplished all that he wanted to do. I took an opportunity to interrupt, and reminded him that if he were here for six months, he would likely be saying the same thing – that we all want to get our hands dirty digging out those buried and dying, but we must be content to “lift where we stand” (quoting President Dieter Uchtdorf). We do our small part and move on to the next task hoping that our efforts have made some difference to our fellow man.
As I will depart within a week, I feel as the young officer did, and must now follow my own advice. My experiences in Haiti will never be forgotten. They have forged for me an understanding of the power of prayer, and the love of our Savior for the tender heart of each small child. It will be my time to look forward to my next task, but now with an even more understanding heart of the will of our Father for his children.