On The Frontlines In Haiti

March 23, 2010

On Dec. 30, Katie Wilhoit Kilpatrick, BA '08, and her husband, Ben, arrived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to teach at Quisqueya Christian School and serve the local community through mission work.

On Jan. 4, Ben wrote on their blog: "Now that I am here I can think of more reasons to leave than to stay. But man, this is where God wants me to be. Why? I have no idea. What can I contribute? Not much. But this is the place where we are supposed to be, and I am waiting on God to use me."

When the earthquake hit eight days later, Ben and Katie were in their apartment and found refuge in a stairwell. Their school was the only one in the city left undamaged. All the staff members were safe, but one of the school's 300 students died, and several lost parents.

Without medical training and with no knowledge of the city or language, Ben and Katie agonized over whether or not to evacuate. They didn't know when the school would reopen or if they would be needed.

It would have been easy to justify fleeing this ravaged country after living there only two weeks, but the Kilpatricks came to Haiti with a purpose. While others evacuated, Ben and Katie chose to stay, subsisting on one-meal-a-day rations and the prayers of loved ones. They moved out of their apartment and into the school--and they didn't have to wait long for God to use them in ways they never imagined.

"God brought us to this country, to this place at this time, for a purpose," Katie writes. "What would we do if we went back to the states--sit? We sold all our things, quit our jobs, gave up our home [in Dallas]."

On their blog, the Kilpatricks vividly describe everything they experience--the rubble, razorwire, dust, heat, flies, giant rats, odors of decay and human filth, blood, gangrene, a woman giving birth in the music room, aftershocks, mosquito swarms, tent cities, food drops, tiny children without parents, mourning, worship, their thankfulness to be alive. They prayed against looting, for aid to move, and most of all, for God to move.

Ben and Katie have been living by faith, not knowing what tomorrow, or the next minute, may bring. During the first few weeks after the quake, they helped evacuate an orphanage, run medics and supplies to makeshift hospitals, and utilize parts of campus into a U.S. Army command center and a hub for medical supplies and relief personnel from around the world. Hundreds of doctors and troops sleep in tents on campus every night. 

The couple has welcomed some of Katie's fellow Baylor alumni to Haiti, many of whom have come on short-term trips from Antioch Community Church in Waco, where Katie was a member while at Baylor.

By early February, class was back in session. First-year teachers Katie and Ben are teaching seventh to 11th graders in a single room all at the same time. The Kilpatricks rotate class discussions and reading and writing assignments so that every grade can continue learning at the right grade level. Of the 300 students previously attending the school, 65 have come back so far. It's been anything but easy, but Ben and Katie are making it work--for the sake of the students who returned.

"If I throw the ninth graders in with the 10th and 11th graders, the freshmen will skip Romeo and Juliet, possibly never reading it! I can't have that," writes Katie.

The couple has settled into something of a routine: teaching classes from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., doing relief work in the evenings and on weekends. Katie is also working on PR and fundraising for the school.

From Katie's Feb. 20 entry: "We've reached the long, slow, grind in the middle., with the first few miles under our belts but many, many miles to go before the finish line. By finish line, I mean summer break--we'll be home in Dallas for our few weeks of summer break starting June 1. But there's March, and April, and May to go. It's like when Welcome Week is over, and Christmas break is so far away, and the midterms are looming. ... We have to break it up into small chunks here as we begin our years in Haiti.

"I cannot, absolutely cannot, fathom the changes that occurred in my life, internal and external, in this last one month," writes Katie. "For many years I asked God to send me to the front lines, and he did. I'm ready. And I'm honored that he's allowed us to be his hands and feet to hurting Haiti."

Katie's parents, Randall, BBA '80, MBA '82, and Susan Rhodes, BBA '81, MBA '82, Wilhoit, are both Baylor alumni. Katie's brother, Matt, attended Baylor and is currently serving abroad. For more ground-level insight from Ben and Katie about the crisis in Port-au-Prince, visit their thorough and poignant blog at benandkatieinhaiti.com.