CEDAR PARK, Texas (KXAN) — In the late 1990s, Brad and Vanessa Johnson were on a mission trip in Haiti when they saw a baby girl die in her father’s arms. It was in that moment, Brad said, he was compelled to build a mission organization with a permanent presence in Haiti to support its residents.
The Johnsons founded Mission of Hope in 1998 to provide resources and educational opportunities for Haitians. Based in Cedar Park, the organization has since expanded and now operates with 418 full-time staff on the island.
After a 7.2-magnitude earthquake hit Haiti Saturday, nearly 1,300 people have since died and at least 5,700 others have been injured. Brad said the earthquake is the latest in a series of strife afflicting the island, including a tropical storm and the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in July.
“Many accounts that we’re hearing in the Les Cayes area is that almost half of the city is destroyed,” he said. “So we have many homes that are down, many people are, right now, don’t know where their loved ones are. So it’s a state of somewhat chaos and trying just to figure out what to do next.”
All of Mission of Hope’s 418 staff members are accounted for, and Brad said their families are, for the most part, doing well. Their facilities are located on the north side of Haiti, while the earthquake largely impacted the southwestern region of the island.
“As soon as they found out their families were okay, they made it over to the disaster,” he said. “Our doctors are there, and they’re doing assessments now.”
Mission of Hope’s Haitian team previously responded to the 7.0-magnitude earthquake in January 2010 near the capital of Port-au-Prince, which killed approximately 200,000 people. Saturday’s earthquake had a stronger magnitude but its epicenter had a lower population density than the 2010 earthquake.
However, Saturday’s earthquake led to mountain slides that have blocked roadways leading into affected cities, impairing rescue and relief efforts.
“We don’t know the true devastation,” he said. “The initial reports we’re hearing from pastors and other ministries that are in those areas is that it’s not good. Many people have lost their lives, and they’re desperate for help right now.”
Immediate relief efforts are centered around basic medical and food necessities, given the earthquake’s immediate cut to the supply chain. Mission of Hope is loading a relief ship in Florida with medical supplies, food and water and shelter that will land in the coming days, in addition to medical and construction teams.
Tropical Storm Grace is expected to make landfall on the island Tuesday, in the same location as the earthquake. Brad said his crew is working to secure tents and other shelters to protect residents from the coming rainfall.
“Right now, it’s finding people that are stuck in houses and hotels that have fallen. It’s getting them the basic necessities so they can live today,” he said. “And then as we get them through that, we can start to talk about tomorrow. How do we rebuild?”
Having been on the island for 23 years, Brad said his team’s experience in the 2010 earthquake has prepared them for ongoing relief efforts. Since the 2010 earthquake, Mission of Hope has constructed more than 1,500 homes, while roads and electric grids were reconstructed within the past few years.
Saturday’s storm is a significant setback to more than a decade’s worth of progress made.
For some people, Brad said attention on Haiti only comes about in times of crises. However, the impact of these storms linger long past people’s awareness and attention toward the devastation.
“They’re our neighbors,” he said, later adding: “We’ve seen the greatness in the people, and the greatness in that nation and we just believe that if we continue to serve the people and give them the ability to lead their nation, to give them the education they need to lead their country, that we’ll see Haiti become what God intended it to be.”
To donate to Mission of Hope’s Haitian relief efforts, click here.