Missionary Groups Stranded in Haiti Amid Violent Gas Tax Protests

Update at the bottom.

As of Monday morning, the U.S. Embassy in Haiti was still urging Americans to "shelter in place" after a weekend of violent protests directly responsible for the deaths of at least three people. Airplanes were delayed, Internet and phone lines were cut, cities descended into chaos, and church missionary groups turned back from threatening roadblocks.

This situation strikes me personally because my church's youth ministry just had a mission trip to Haiti, and by God's grace they returned in time to escape this horrible situation. Many other groups did not, however.

The rioting began Friday, as Haitians took to the streets to protest an increase in fuel prices from 38 percent to 51 percent. The government quickly abandoned this plan as chaos erupted over the weekend. At least three people were killed in protests on Friday, and police said the bodies of four people were found Sunday in the streets of the Delmas district, TIME magazine reported. It is unknown whether these last four died in protests.

PJ Media listened to an updated announcement from the U.S. Embassy in Haiti on Monday morning. The embassy reported that "there are continuing demonstrations, roadblocks, and violence." It urged U.S. citizens "do not travel to the airport unless your confirmed flight is departing."

The message warned that "Internet and phone lines have been affected throughout Haiti," advised U.S. citizens to "shelter in place," and noted that "U.S. Embassy personnel are under a shelter in place order."

"If you encounter roadblocks, turn around and go to a safe area," the embassy urged.

Unlike my church's youth group, a youth group from Bradenton, Fla., was stranded at least until Monday thanks to such roadblocks.

The Woodland Community Church youth mission group left Neply, Haiti, early on Saturday for a 3 p.m. flight from Port-au-Prince International Airport, Executive Pastor Dewayne McFarlin told CNN. Only a few miles into the journey, the group encountered individuals demanding payment for access to the roadway.

McFarlin reported that the church group talked their way past the first roadblock, but soon came to a second roadblock with burning tires on the road. One of McFarlin's local colleagues rode ahead on a motorcycle and reported that the road ahead was filled with similar impromptu "checkpoints."

"They weren't government or police," McFarlin recalled. "Just people taking advantage of the situation."

Another mission group from Chapin United Methodist Church in South Carolina posted online that its mission team was safe but stranded.

"The team is safe, and are being very well cared for by the Mission of Hope staff," the church reported on Facebook Monday morning. "We are so very grateful to our Heavenly Father for His presence there, for His love and mercies and grace (which is always more than enough for whatever we face)."

While the team is presently stranded, the church reported that "there is the possibility of our team departing from Haiti late today and returning home. We are super excited about this possibility, but our excitement is tempered with caution due to the fluid and unpredictable nature of the unrest in Haiti." The church thanked parishioners for their prayers and encouraged more prayer for the safety of their team.

American Airlines had canceled ten flights since Saturday, and reported that three of its planes had left Sunday from Port-au-Prince and the northern city of Cap-Haitien. Dozens of people remained stranded at the airport in Port-au-Prince, however, unable to return to their hotels or other accommodations due to blocked streets and a lack of transportation.

TIME magazine reported that the cancellation of flights stranded church groups and volunteers from many U.S. states, including South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.

By all means, pray for the U.S. citizens stranded in Haiti. But also pray for the Haitians themselves. This kind of violence and unrest helps explain why this island nation remains so poor.

Unfortunately, Haiti's divisions and violence trace back all the way to its revolution, which would otherwise be an inspiring historical moment, when slaves rose up in rebellion and cast their masters out. The successful revolution gave way to internal division, however, and bitter recriminations between different governments in the north and the south.

Interestingly, the revolution also led French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte to sell Louisiana to the United States. Napoleon wanted a sugar empire, marrying Haiti's sugar production to the trade capabilities of New Orleans. With Haiti in revolt, however, New Orleans became far less valuable to him, so he agreed to sell it to America for cold, hard cash.

Haiti and the United States have always had a tumultuous relationship, and it should break Americans' hearts to see this island nation struggling as it is. For this reason, Americans should send aid, and more mission trips should be encouraged — once the violence abates.

Update: The Chapin UMC missionary group has made it safely to the airport.