PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Ramon Crespo isn't leaving Port-au-Prince. Though the dozen children from the Rescue Children orphanage are safe in the countryside, he and six other men from his Pennsylvania church remain behind, helping their neighbors with food, water, medicine and shelter.
The small group plans to stay for at least another two weeks, said Randy Landis, the senior pastor of Lifechurch in Allentown, Pa. The church volunteers went down after the earthquake to safeguard the children they were responsible for. Most of the group, including Landis, is now back in the States.
But no help has arrived for their neighbors in the Santo neighborhood, one mile northeast of the airport in Port-au-Prince. So the intense Crespo, director of missions for the church, has stayed behind, setting up a distribution system for families living under tents.
"We're building little shelters," Landis said. "The U.N. gave us tarps, and we found a store with 2-by-4s. You can see blue tarps up all around the neighborhood."
Pediatrician Scott Rice from Allentown, who was in the second wave of church volunteers to travel to Haiti, is treating children and others at the orphanage. Others carry food and water from tent to tent, and try to figure out how to move more supplies down from Allentown.
In the countryside, the 12 Lifechurch children have settled in at the Love A Child orphanage in Fond Parisien, "We taught the children how to play kickball today, lots and lots of fun," Landis said in an update on his Facebook page (registration required: ). "We played kickball for four hours."
The successful trip for Lifechurch depended on the kindness of many strangers.
Some are famous, such as the wife of baseball All-Star Pedro Martinez, Carolina Cruz de Martinez. She drove from her home in Santo Domingo with a medical team, delivering a portable X-ray machine to the Love A Child compound. Now hundreds of wounded have been brought out from Port-au-Prince to a makeshift U.N. hospital there.
"We're trying to do what we can to help," Martinez said. "It's so sad." On her return trip, she and her well-armed security team allowed the first group of Lifechurch volunteers to follow her caravan back to the Dominican Republic on a narrow, unmarked road at night. Besides providing safe passage, she bought the volunteers cold coconut water and Coca-Colas at a stop on the dusty road.
|SLIDESHOW: Church rushes to help orphanage in Haiti|
Others are unknown, such as a factory manager in Santo Domingo. When the Lifechurch team was collecting provisions for their journey into Port-au-Prince, they searched the city for large cans to hold diesel fuel, which is still hard to obtain in Haiti. The team went to at least six shops, trying to follow directions. Everyone said the next store was "just five minutes" ahead, which always turned out to be 15, and still no gas cans were found. Finally Jorge Caraballo, a factory manager on his lunch break, got in his truck and let the team follow him to a store, a sort of Dominican Home Depot, where they could stock up. After they had, he refused payment.
Landis, the pastor at Lifechurch, said these contributions and many more, demonstrated the difference between paying to help someone and actually helping them. Yes, aid organizations urge that donors send money, but still everyone can find a small way to reach out. If you search the Bible, he said, you'll find about 800 references to helping the poor.
"When the man was beaten, robbed, left half dead on the road, the Good Samaritan was moved to compassion," Landis said last week, sitting outside the crumbling orphanage in Port-au-Prince. "He didn't just pay to help the man. He knelt down, he identified with his pain, he picked him up, embraced him, put him on his own mule, took him into the city, put him in the inn, told the innkeeper he'd pay whatever it cost, and the man was cared for. He got down into that man's world."
Not everyone on the road from Port-au-Prince was so kind. When they reached Santo Domingo after midnight, the church volunteers were flagged down by police officers on motorcycles. After a long conversation in Spanish, it became clear that the police had somehow detected an expired insurance certificate inside the glove compartment of the rental car. The police were kind enough to allow the churchmen to pay the fine right there on the spot, in American dollars.
Ultimately the church may help match up the orphans with adoptive parents in Allentown. The church already has many volunteers for adoption. Adoptions have been expedited for some other orphans whose paperwork was already under way. It's not clear how long new adoptions might take, and it's not clear that all 12 of the Lifechurch children could be adopted, because some have a living parent in Haiti.
At the same time, the church is planning to build a permanent orphanage on donated land outside of Port-au-Prince. "There are thousands of orphans," Landis said. "There will continue to be a need."
A bit of good news: The church team heard at last from Haitian physician Hubermann Debrosse, who drove into Haiti with them before going off to find his wife and two children.
By phone, Debrosse said he found his family safe in Saint-Marc, a coastal town northwest of Port-au-Prince.
"There was a lot of love" at the reunion, he said. But they had many relatives and friends who died, and the family has made several trips to a cemetery.
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"We have one who lost four. Another who lost five."
He said he hopes to get his wife and children to New Jersey, where he has been living and trying to get a license to practice medicine.
As our team from msnbc.com returned to the States, landing in Newark, N.J., we piled into separate taxis.
One of our drivers was Haitian, of course. He said his family was safe.
The other driver, even 10 days after the earthquake, said she had no idea where Haiti was.