What for many began like any other mission trip quickly took a nightmarish turn when a government-sanctioned spike in fuel prices spurred violent protests and riots across Haiti.
One mission group from a church in New York City was doing medical work in Delmas 75 in the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, when they decided on Friday, July 6, to travel to Moulin Sur Mer, a resort almost two hours away, to put a relaxing cap on what had been a busy week.
Then the protests started, stranding mission groups from all across the U.S. in the third-world country.
Now safely back in the United States, one New York City missionary, Lizzy Hajdari, told Faithwire in a recent phone interview about her and her fellow travelers’ harrowing journey to safety — and the inexplicable aid that came their way.
The group, made up of about 20 people, some from New York and others who lived in Haiti, planned to leave the Montrouis resort Saturday morning, but the U.S. embassy in Haiti posted a warning, urging American travelers and residents to “shelter in place” amid violent demonstrations in and around Port-au-Prince. So Hajdari’s group found a nearby hotel and hunkered down for another day.
“We just started to pray,” Hajdari said, “trusting God was going to make a way somehow.”
Finally, on Sunday morning, the group ventured out. But about one mile into their trek, Hajdari said, the missionaries were met with a group of gang members who had set up a roadblock, stopping every vehicle and demanding money.
Hajdari said they turned the van around, ultimately parking along the side of the road to strategize their next move. Not long after they parked, three local young men in the group volunteered to go speak with the gangsters.
“Maybe about 30 minutes later, they’re riding back on motorcycles, and they’re riding back with gang members,” Hajdari recalled, going on to say that a man whose face was masked by a yellow handkerchief motioned for them to get into a blue pickup truck and follow them.
From that point forward, the man, whom Hajdari believes was a member of a gang, negotiated with the supposed gangsters at each roadblock, ushering the truck full of mission workers through each checkpoint. They repeated that process “every few hundred feet,” Hajdari explained.
“This one guy, I don’t know what he was telling [those at the roadblocks], I don’t know who he was,” Hajdari said. “But when we thought it was hopeless, the road just opened up for us.”
That mysterious man, though, only took them to a certain point. The New York group was closer to Delmas 75, but not yet where they needed to be. Hajdari said they needed “another angel” to get them to safety.
Then help finally arrived, and it was more than just serendipitous: Hajdari believes it was divine.
After hearing a lot of “commotion,” Hajdari said, they realized police were passing through, protecting the since-resigned prime minister of Haiti, Jack Guy Lafontant, who was a few cars in front of them.
Hajdari said both her group and Lafontant were struggling to pass the same roadblocks, each of which were made up of burning tires, concrete blocks, tree limbs, mangled metal, and trash. Now closer to a vehicle being allowed to pass, the first few cars behind the former prime minister were also able to move through the checkpoints.
At certain points along the remainder of the journey, police would have to stop violent rioting and gunshots, all of which the mission group had to wade through in the exposed bed of an old truck. A trip that would normally take two hours, ended up spanning about eight hours without any fuel stops.
When they finally made it back to Delmas 75, Hajdari, who joked she always wanted to be in an action movie, said she looked like she had “been through war.”
“I had debris on my face, my hands were dirty, my face was dirty, my feet were dirty,” she said. “And all of this just sitting in the back of a pickup truck.”
Each of the mission trip members’ flights was successfully rescheduled for the following Monday and Tuesday. The airport was roughly 15 minutes away from Delmas 75.
In the end, Hajdari’s “miraculous adventure” reminded her of Isaiah 43:2, which reads, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
“This is very personal now,” she said.