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As tensions rise, orphanage group decides to move

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Tension was ratcheting higher Monday at the Rescue Children orphanage in Port-au-Prince.

For the first time, the members of Lifechurch who rushed to the orphanage after the killer earthquake saw looters in the neighborhood, three men in a taptap (taxi truck), going from house to house. Only the collapsed houses for now.

Concern also has been mounting over men who are knocking at the door, asking to charge their cell phones. The cell networks are working intermittently in Port-au-Prince, but that's no good if you don't have power to charge your phone.

Moving David Friedman / msnbc.com CLICK FOR VIDEO: Mission leader Ramon Crespo explains to the kids at the Rescue Children orphanage why they have to leave.

The orphanage staff from Allentown, Pa., may have made a mistake early on by letting neighbors charge their phones. The idea was to build goodwill to aid security. 

It was fine when a few people a day came to the gate. They'd knock, hold up their phones and say "Charge."

But now more are coming. Men we have not seen before, and more urgent in their requests.

SLIDESHOW: Church rushes to help orphanage in Haiti

The men from Lifechurch discuss their options, none of them good: Stop charging entirely, angering everyone who has come to rely on them. That idea is rejected. String an extension cord outside, drawing a crowd. Also rejected. The mission director, Ramon Crespo, settles on a third option: Allow 10 people a day to drop their phones off for charging, and then to come back and pick them up later. No one, including Crespo, is exactly sure how to enforce this.

Now any knock on the gate is greeted by three men from the orphanage, carrying mace spray and the shotgun. "If you have to shoot, don't shoot at someone the first time," said "house father" David Harris. "Shoot in the air. It's a deterrent. If you shoot someone, you'll draw a big crowd."

Shortly after noon, about 30 people gathered outside, knocking on the gate and asking for food. The orphanage staff knew they couldn't give any, because then there would be 1,000 people.

"No help is reaching this area," Crespo said, referring to the Santo neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, about one mile northeast of the airport. "No food, no water. No help. People are getting desperate."

Looking for help
David Friedman / msnbc.com
A woman begs Ramon Morales, right, for water outside the Rescue Children orphanage in Port-au-Prince on Monday. The orphanage staff and members of the group from Lifechurch in Allentown, Pa., have only limited supplies on hand and can't risk giving anything to others because of the security risk.

One outer wall of the compound is down, so as we sleep outside on beds and mattresses we are looking right at a man and his family who are sleeping outside in their home next door. On that side of the perimeter, he is our first line of defense. He also has a gun, and the orphanage is giving him food and promising him cash when we leave.

The men from the orphanage on Monday stretched razor wire that used to be atop the fallen wall around the neighbor's property, helping protect the outside of his property. The orphanage also gave a box of shoes to the neighbor to distribute. By the time they came out with the box, 10 more people had arrived for shoes.

But reports from farther afield were heightening concerns.

Regina Benoit, 23, who leads the three women on the orphanage staff, heard from her sister in Pétionville by phone that there is more looting there, and some rapes.

Another worker here, Anita Delcine, 23, said all her possessions were stolen from the home she shares with her 22-month-old son, and her mother, who is blind. They are moving in with another family.

Reports like these made Randy Landis, the senior pastor, worry that the situation in their relatively quiet corner of the city could deteriorate. "We have these children and these women that we're responsible for," he said. "We may have to evacuate quickly."

So Landis and most of the others moved the 13 children -- the 11 kids who were here before the quake and two young children of a staff member -- and staff on Tuesday to temporary shelter at the Love A Child mission, which has a large orphanage and medical clinic about 40 minutes away. Two church members, Ramon Crespo and Ramon Morales, remained at the Rescue Children orphanage to stand guard over the remaining supplies.

Interactive: Meet the Children


A second wave of Lifechurch volunteers is expected soon. A medical team of six plans to go directly to the Love A Child mission, which has already treated hundreds of wounded brought out from Port-au-Prince. Another team of six volunteers plans to help move the orphanage's food and belongings to Love A Child.

It would have difficult to take 20 people out in only one SUV, so a driver with a small truck was hired for the trip to the Love A Child Mission. The group had enough diesel for both vehicles and to keep the generator running for Crespo and Morales.  
The children were unaware of most of this. The girls helped each other with hairdos Monday morning while the small boys played in the garden with guns made from Legos. The oldest boy, Roberde, 16, had a whistle to blow if he had spotted an intruder.

At 10 a.m., Crespo called the children together under a tarp and began to talk.

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David Friedman / msnbc.com
VIDEO: Dominoes is a favored means of passing the time for the kids at the orphanage. Click to watch video of them playing a game.

"This may be the most important dialogue of all," he said. "The first time I met you, you were in a house, the other place, and all of you know the things that happened there. We had to pull you out.

"The earthquake happened. Now we cannot live here. It's not secure. We're lacking some necessities.

"Now the only choice we have is to go to a third place, 45 minutes from here. A temporary shelter. It's going to be a little bit inconvenient."

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Armed, resolute, church group heads for Haiti

Pa. pastor 'expecting the worst' at Haitian orphanage

As he explained the moves from house to house, Crespo put red blocks on the floor to stand for each house.

He promised the kids they would be protected. And that he would take the orphanage dog, Petey.

While he spoke, the children sat quietly. It was not clear how much they understood.

Mafouna, a girl of 12 who wants to be a nurse, occupied young Julie, 4, by teasing her hair with a comb.

After a group prayer, each child went to pack a small emergency bag: toothbrush, underwear, a toy.

Donations to support Lifechurch's orphanage work can be sent to 1401 East Cedar St., Allentown, Pa., 19109. Or you can click here for a list of other charitable organizations working on the Haiti earthquake relief effort.

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