While we were in Haiti last month, I mentioned in passing to my friend Patchouko that the kids were dying to taste a fresh coconut, so the next day there he was, looking for one to pick outside his house. Emmanuel, the young man who helps haul water for the orphanage, was nearby, and Patchouko asked him to run up the tree for it. While this has always been a thing of wonder for me to see, to guys like Emmanuel, it’s a walk in the park, something they do all the time. Still, I’m always photographing them in amazement when I see them practically run up the vertical, branchless palm, sometimes 30 feet in the air. On this day, it was no different, except that the coconuts were much easier targets, only about 15 feet up a smaller tree.
But just as Emmanuel reached the top, we heard the crack. I snapped the photograph the instant we heard the snap, and in the next blink of an eye, Emmanuel was falling head first to the ground.
There was just enough time for a knee-jerk reaction, and Patchouko lunged forward with his foot. His shoe became the only thing between Emmanuel’s head and the ground. As soon as he hit the ground we knew why the tree had given way. It was rotted through to the core with fire ants, which were now all over Emmanuels arms, biting him. At first, he was completely out of it. His eyes were rolled back in his head, and saliva bubbles were gurgling out of his mouth. Patchouko took off running for help, and as he began to come back to this world, I held this young man on the ground. I told him to be still, and began to pray. All that would come out was simple. ‘Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. He’s a good boy. Reach inside him Jesus. He’s a good boy.’
Patchouko came back with help and immediately, as seems to be the Haitian way, they poured water on Emmanuel’s head. The American in me was afraid to move him at all, but they stood him up and walked him right away. We sat him on a bench for 20 or 30 minutes, making sure he knew his name, making sure he could tell us what day it was. Patchouko’s wife Jesula walked straight up to him and began turning his head in all directions of movement, like a chiropractor. But Emmanuel had made up his mind that he was going home, and so he forced himself get up, and we began to walk him home.
It was a fall that I’m certain would have killed me. And yet the next day when we came back to check on him, there was Emmanuel, kneeling on his bed with his bible, praying to Jesus.
Cory, one of the short-tem missionaries at the orphanage, joked that he had a perfect worship song to sing, called “We Fall Down….” We prayed with him again, and then began to sing more uplifting, grateful songs. Emmanuel, if you ever meet him, is an instrument of wonder to me. He’s like a walking, talking, breathing praise and worship band. He knows dozens and dozens of songs, every word, and all by heart. Hearing him sing to Jesus was a beautiful thing to me.
While he was recuperating, a friend of Emmanuel’s picked up in his place to haul the water, and we saw the close-knit fellowship among the young men in the village. Right away like a reflex, they stepped in to help, just as Patchouko stepped in when he saw Emmanuel’s head sailing towards the ground.
Within the week, Emmanuel was back to pumping and hauling the water from the well, sitting with us at night singing praise songs, giving the glory to the Lord and smiling. He doesn’t remember anything, except seeing and hearing me talking to him after the fall.
Most amazing to me was seeing God, even in the way Emmanuel fell. Look at the picture again. If he’d fell in any other direction, he would have landed on the razor-wire walls or the sharp tin roof. He could have be sliced and diced, could’ve broken his back on the wall or the 2×4 bracing, but he just happened to fall on the soft ground, with Patchouko’s foot to break the fall.
And yet here he is, guarding the door of the orphanage on a particularly busy day, listening to praise music, and smiling.
God is good.