By Mark Ellis –
Dr. David Vanderpool, M.D., oversees a surgical hospital, school, church, and demonstration farm 25 miles east of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
In 2015, four gang members attempted to kidnap his wife, Laurie, at the compound. “They beat her and cut her with a machete,” he told God Reports.
When Dr. Vanderpool was alerted to what was happening, he grabbed a large wrench and went running toward the attackers. “I was swinging that wrench with all the power an old guy can muster. They left her and I sewed her up.”
Their 63-acre compound is protected by armed guards, razor wire, and rottweiler dogs. But two years after his wife was attacked, their base manager was murdered at the front gate. In 2018, two team members were kidnapped by gang members and ultimately released after enduring severe trauma.
But he believes the most recent kidnapping of 16 American missionaries and one Canadian by the 400 Mawozo gang on October 16th has taken the country in a disturbing new direction.
“Haiti is under the thumb of gangs. They are powerful and have no fear. It is a combustible mixture,” he observed. “We have suffered substantially at the hand of this exact gang that has these missionaries. They are brutal and brazen.”
The missionaries are affiliated with Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, which says the abducted group includes five children, ranging from 8-months to 15 years old. The kidnappers are demanding $17 million for the group’s release.
Dr. Vanderpool is aware of Christian Aid’s activities in Haiti. “We actually know some people who have been in that group. They are housed across the valley from us and their missionaries have come to our hospital. We have made friends with these folks. They do great work; they do a good job with education and nutrition,” he said.
In the past, the gangs kidnapped wealthy Haitians, but stayed away from Americans. “They thought the American military would show up and beat them,” Dr. Vanderpool noted.
“This is an enormous shift in the gang policy and this means nobody is safe in Haiti, whether or not you are missionaries. It is a very very dramatic change in the way business is done.”
The political situation is desperately broken, which compounds the country’s descent into gang rule and anarchy. On July 7, 2021 President Jovenel Moise was assassinated and there is currently an acting president.
“Two weeks prior to his death, the leader of the Supreme Court died,” Dr. Vanderpool noted. “They blamed it on Covid, which is suspect. Poisoning is a common event in Haiti. The timing is unbelievable. The Prime Minister stepped down and now there is no parliament.
“It’s really a dire situation. We have a country that has no constitutionally supported leader at all. Nothing is functioning. The Justice Department is destabilized, the police are not getting paid and not showing up for work.
Even more troubling, the gangs have increased their firepower. “The gangs have always had automatic weapons, but they have been seen with Russian PKM 59 calibers mounted on a truck, a belt-fed machine gun. It can shoot hundreds of rounds at a time. It will shred a vehicle unless it is armored.”
Dr. Vanderpool is committed to staying long-term in Haiti, but the gangs’ new weaponry gives him pause. “When I saw the Russian machine guns, that stopped me in my tracks. I don’t have anything to answer a machine gun like that,” he said.
If the missionaries and NGOs leave, the fragile society will further implode. “If the NGOs are not there, Haiti falls. They take care of education and nutrition for children and most of the medical care,” he noted. The NGOs are predominantly American with a handful of French and Canadians.
When two of Dr. Vanderpool’s staff were kidnapped previously, he told their abductors: “We provide all the medical care in this entire area. If you mess with us, we will shut it down and there will be no medical care in this area.”
The head of that gang got the message and released his staff.
Dr. Vanderpool is concerned about the precedent that may be set if the multi-million dollar ransom is paid. “If they pay that, we’re done. Then they will go crazy. They have to defeat these guys.”
There are reports the FBI is involved in negotiating for the release of the missionaries. The physician has written Op-eds advocating for the return of U.N. troops to restore order. “Probably a battalion of Marines would be more appropriate. If we don’t mount that effort, we will be in trouble,” he said.
“Haiti is a failed state. It is Somalia in our backyard. It will only get worse unless a tremendous amount of energy is put into this equation.”
David Vanderpool, M.D., is the founder of LiveBeyond, a faith-based humanitarian development and relief organization working on the ground in Haiti to bring disaster aid and medical care to Haitians facing increasing food shortages along with the escalating violence. Dr. Vanderpool’s book “Live Beyond: A Radical Call to Surrender and Serve” tells the story of their decision to sell everything they owned and move to Haiti full-time.