Authors: Rex Byers
Tags: #Caribbean, #missions, #Christian Ministry, #true crime, #true story, #inspirational, #Haiti, #memoir, #Biography
With Jeff Bennington
“I signed up for the Haiti mission trip to bond with folks from our new church. I had no idea what kind of bond God had in mind.”
Published by Nexgate Press, ©2013
ission Under Fire
is the true story of a short-term mission trip in Haiti that went terribly wrong the night 14 Americans were held at gunpoint above a humble medical clinic in the Port-Au-Prince countryside. The American missionaries fought off six armed bandits with knives, coke bottles, and prayer. In a miraculous fight for their lives, these brave survivors lived through hell, but have Heaven to thank for the experience.
Told through the eyes of Rex Byers, one of the wounded missionaries, this story will inspire you to take stock of your life, hug your loved ones, and strengthen your faith.
Chris Herr (CB)
Dee Dee Petty
efore the story that will unfold in this book took place, the most excitement Rex Byers and I had ever had together was playing bass and drums in what’s been jokingly called, “The World’s Most Dangerous Worship Band,” at Oakbrook Church in Kokomo, IN. The band is loud. It’s full of pumped-in haze and intelligent lighting. We naively thought those things made it “dangerous.” Little did we know what dangerous truly meant.
What you need to know on the outset of this read is that Rex and the rest of us on this mission trip to Haiti are normal people. Ok, to be fair, when it comes to Rex, I am using the term
incredibly loosely (I joke). Rex is in essence a normal, hard-working, mid-western guy. He’s been married to the same wonderful woman since Lincoln was in office and earnestly strives to put God first in every part of his life.
The second thing you need to know about Rex and company, is that we are not people who are good about just going through the motions of church; that is to say, our faith is real. We believe that trying to live lives that mirror Jesus is the most important thing to which we could aspire. We went to Haiti on that specific trip because we all felt that’s what Jesus wanted us to do. It wasn’t a vacation (Are you kidding? In Haiti?). We didn’t go there because of an expectation based on the ethos of Oakbrook Church. We all felt that this trip was something we were each called to. Yes, we knew we’d have fun. We knew it would be rewarding. We knew there would be long, hot, hard-working days. But mostly, we knew this was where we were supposed to be.
Thirdly, even though we all came under deadly fire, none of us would trade it for anything. And even though none of us had ever known fear so great; had ever known what it was to be shot at close range; or had ever known the true feeling of despair; we would not trade what happened in this book for anything. In the end, it was clear we had the privilege to see God work in a way few people ever experience firsthand.
Like any story worth telling, this book centers on conflict: man versus man. You may feel the desire to root for us and against our Haitians attackers. You may even have feelings bordering on hatred toward the men who shot at us. If that were the case, I’d ask that you turn those ill feelings, and pray for those men. We have, and although it isn’t easy, we invite you to “Love your (our) enemies...”
Now, I invite you to read and share this true story of normal people, working in an impoverished country, who experience an amazing God—a God who saves, literally.
Friend of Rex Byers, mission trip team member, and executive pastor at Oakbrook Church
n the dark, quiet night, a voice called out in terror, “Let me in! Let me in! They’re gonna kill me!” With his face and bare chest pressed against the outside of our kitchen window, my friend and co-missionary Bruce Donaldson was held at gunpoint, desperately begging for help.
A group of six armed men stormed our compound in Port-au-Prince, Haiti around 11:45 pm on November 18, 2011. The gunmen crept upstairs to our second-story patio where Bruce was sleeping. For Bruce, this was a place of refuge, a place where he’d look up at the stars and see God’s handiwork. During the day, we could see a panoramic view of the mountains and countryside. But on that night, Bruce’s rest came to a crashing halt when the men grabbed him and fired the first gunshot beside his ear to let him know they meant business. His only hope was his faith in God, and those of us inside.
That was only the beginning. My life, and the lives of my fellow missionaries were about to change forever. The following is my account of the days that led up to, and include, that dark night in Port-au-Prince. I signed up for the Haiti mission trip to bond with folks from our new church. I had no idea what kind of bond God had in mind
e began our journey to Haiti around 3:00 am at Oakbrook Community Church in Kokomo, Indiana on Saturday November 12, 2011. We drove to the Indianapolis Airport, boarded our plane, and headed to Florida, while laughing and enjoying the many new friendships that were about to blossom. I went on this trip to bond with some of the guys from our church, and especially the folks on the music team. I was the new guy. I truly enjoyed this group of people, and had anticipated the bonds that would form.
Ten months after the Haiti earthquake, our team had plans to play a small role in helping that devastated country. Over 200,000 people were killed and one million were left homeless. Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas had become little more than a pile of rubble. The already lacking infrastructure was severely crippled, crime had escalated, and families were desperate for food, clothing, shelter, and work. With each aftershock and rainstorm that followed, any hope of recovery seemed bleak at best, if not impossible. Months later, many homes were still unlivable, crumbling and falling upon their permanently damaged foundations.
With a heart for missions, I had to go.
Once on the plane, we loaded our carry-ons, and took our seats. My seat was located in the front of the plane, away from the others, and that kind of bothered me. I could hear our group talking and laughing. I had that middle school feeling where everyone knows everyone except for me. I knew the feeling would pass.
Suck it up, Rex, and put on your big boy panties
, I thought.
We connected with our next flight in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and flew across the Atlantic. Landing on a third world tarmac is a little different than landing in the States, because when you step off the plane, you walk down a rollaway stairway, like when the President steps down from Air Force One. A small detail like that makes the trip memorable, and different.
Upon arrival, we were greeted with palm trees, hot weather, and the horrible Haiti humidity, but the Secret Service, reporters, and curious onlookers were not present—the reporters and onlookers came later.
We picked up our luggage and loaded it onto two trucks, climbed in the truck beds and sat wherever we could find a vacant seat. One of the trucks had a topper and a couple of the guys sat there. It wasn’t a topper like you’d imagine here in the States, rather, something like a wrought iron fence that encircled the truck bed. We were inside the fence, sitting on top of the luggage, and covered by a roof of some sort. We hung on for our lives as we traveled through the rough roads in Port-au-Prince and out to the country.
The city was much like I expected. There were countless vendors along the narrow roads and kids running through the streets, barely clothed. I bounced on someone’s luggage while we traveled through the ragged streets, glad that the airport was on the outskirts of town and that Double Harvest was even further. This kept us away from the vendors and the smells of rotting fruit.
Children, who should’ve been in school, but whose families could not afford the mere $10 to $20 a month it cost to educate them, played or worked in the streets. As we drove through the ravaged borough, there were trenches carved in the side of roads where rain would flood the city during storms, washing away trash and dirt. And the fact that millions lived in such miserable conditions made my heart sink. I felt so blessed to live in the United States. Our work, however, took place near the villages outside of Port-au-Prince. Once we drove out of the city upon our arrival, we would not return until after the shooting.
e drove about ten miles east of Port-au-Prince on rough pavement until we came to the Double Harvest compound. As we approached our destination, I was immediately impressed with the facility. Amidst the rural backdrop and vast mountain ranges, the Double Harvest organization had constructed several large outbuildings sprinkled throughout 200 acres with hardly any wasted space. It’s a very efficient organization tailor-made for the people of Haiti. They have a large, multifaceted agricultural center, fishponds, water treatment, and many other prominent features. They plant acres of crops, and raise several varieties of food in green houses. Double Harvest is an organization that accommodates a medical facility, food bank, school, and a church.
The Double Harvest name was inspired by the mission’s desire to harvest food for the people of Haiti, with the ultimate goal of harvesting souls for the Kingdom of God. I was excited to take part in what they do, and to play a small role in healing this troubled country.
e drove to the concrete apartment reserved for short-term missionaries. The apartment sat on top of the mission’s small medical clinic that served the locals. The trucks stopped, we hopped down, and unpacked our supplies and luggage. Then after Arthur, (the mission coordinator) officially welcomed our group, he led us to our quarters. We climbed the stairway to the second story above the clinic, hauled our luggage behind us, and entered the women’s side of the complex. The place looked clean and tidy—quite a sight for tired eyes.
We unpacked our food and supplies, and stocked the women’s kitchen. We also stored additional food and drink, including Coca Cola bottles that Double Harvest set out for us to take into our living quarters. I never anticipated their eventual use.
I walked down the hallway searching for a room to call my own, when a few guys claimed the back bedroom. Jason wanted to hang with his son Cole, and Brad. Morgan and Bruce took the front bedroom. Joel, Monte, and I had spent time together on the praise team over the last few months so I felt comfortable bunking with them.
Once we settled in, we decided to relax and rest before the long week ahead. Sermons would be preached, testimonies given, and live music played everyday. We would also fill our days with hard labor, assisting Arthur in any way we could. Interestingly, Double Harvest had broadcasted over the public radio that Americans were coming to perform music for everyone—something the mission had never done before. In retrospect, we wondered if the announcement “red flagged” us, inadvertently alerting our attackers of their vulnerable visitors.
For whatever reason, Double Harvest expected a large crowd, and hoped that many lives would be changed. We were excited about the possibilities, but needed to acclimate ourselves to our new surroundings.
Before settling in for our first evening together, Arthur told us that the team before hadn’t quite finished the stage. We would need to finish it ourselves, so we had to skip church in the morning. That was our only day to get the stage ready for the following evening. The stage was where we would perform skits and lead worship for the week. Arthur told us that the canopy wasn’t finished either. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but the crusade would continue into the night and we needed a solid structure to hold the appropriate lighting and to provide a cover in case of rain. We started working on the canopy the next morning; the crusade would begin that evening so we had to work fast. This was our first hands-on project and I was excited to get started.