Scott Taylor: What I learned about true religion from covering the 2010 earthquake in Haiti

Just 12 days after Haiti’s devastating earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010, Bishop Severe Maloi of the Freres Ward stood in Port-au-Prince’s Pétion-Ville meetinghouse and tearfully accounted for his 101-member ward — two dead, two hospitalized with life-threatening injuries, four more with serious injuries and countless more still missing and unaccounted for.

Other local wards, he said, had suffered similar tolls in the magnitude 7.0 quake that resulted in between 200,000 and 300,000 fatalities, at least as many injured and an estimated 1.5 million displaced.

“But you read the Book of Mormon,” Bishop Maloi added, “you see that there have been a lot of people who have suffered much worse than this.”

Personally, I have yet to see suffering worse than the death, destruction and pain amid extreme poverty than I witnessed then throughout Port-au-Prince. Deseret News photographer Jeffrey Allred and I accompanied a team of Latter-day Saint surgeons, doctors, nurses and emotional-health specialists hurriedly sent to Haiti by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to help in the earthquake’s aftermath. We filed a week’s worth of coverage for the Church News and Deseret News.

Deseret News and Church News reporter Scott Taylor talks with with a young Haitian in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010.
Deseret News and Church News reporter Scott Taylor talks with with a young Haitian in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Memories of those experiences came rushing back as I helped Grace Carter with her Church News story about a Port-au-Prince survivor who translated for one of the doctors after the earthquake.

It was in Port-au-Prince in late January 2010 — which was still reeling in both the aftermath and the 50-plus aftershocks that hit at least 4.5 in magnitude — where I witnessed a week’s worth of true religion.

It was not just the selfless service given by the medically trained visitors at overcrowded, quake-damaged hospitals and meetinghouses-turned-makeshift-clinics. It was as much the demeanor and determination of the humble Haitian Latter-day Saints — and those recollections and mental images are just as vivid a decade later.

Arriving throughout the week at Port-au-Prince meetinghouses — Centrale, Pétion-Ville, Croix-des-Missions and others — and passing through the gated entrances always resulted in a momentary pause.

At each location stood a steadfast Church building, surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of homeless refugees from devastation — members and nonmembers in tents, under tarps or atop blankets, covering nearly every square foot of the grounds and practically all of the paved parking lots, driveways and sports courts.

I remember watching priesthood leaders walking among the homeless on the meetinghouse grounds, comforting while inquiring of needs. I’ll never forget listening to the hymns and prayers led by bullhorn in the dark of night.

Despite the masses outside the meetinghouses, a spirit of patience and cooperation prevailed during morning, afternoon and evening hours. When U.S. Army 82nd Airborne soldiers arrived at the Pétion-Ville meetinghouse gates in a pair of armored, gun-mounted Humvees, I chuckled when a sergeant asked if the Army might assist in quelling any potential violence or disturbance. Soon, the same soldiers backed a supply truck into the meetinghouse driveway and stood in awe as Haitian men quickly and orderly lined up to pass boxes of food and supplies into the meetinghouse.

Marie Terez Antenor sits by the Centrale Ward meetinghouse sign where her family is temporarily living in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Jan. 26, 2010, following the Jan. 12 earthquake.
Marie Terez Antenor sits by the Centrale Ward meetinghouse sign where her family is temporarily living in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Jan. 26, 2010, following the Jan. 12 earthquake. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

I witnessed priesthood and welfare committees meet nightly to review efforts, discuss needs and chart the next day’s plans to meet temporal and spiritual needs. And I saw Church and Area welfare specialists participate in supportive roles in those meetings, providing perspective and insight but never taking over.

I watched meetinghouse classrooms and cultural halls transform into clinics and a clerk’s office host a portable water-filtration system. I saw the few members needing to access the building for whatever reason treat it with respect and reverence. I observed conscientious, cheerful bishopric members monitoring access, mopping floors and lovingly caring for meetinghouses used well beyond a normal role.

I admired the members — particularly the young adults and returned missionaries — who stepped up to assist at the clinics, serving as translators, helping with the flow of patients and filling out paperwork.

Fibiola Beauvil holds her 4-day-old baby Klayra Eliska at the Centrale Ward meetinghouse in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Jan. 19, 2010. A 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit the region seven days earlier.
Fibiola Beauvil holds her 4-day-old baby Klayra Eliska at the Centrale Ward meetinghouse in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Jan. 19, 2010. A 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit the region seven days earlier. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Not only were members and nonmembers alike treated at the meetinghouse clinics, but Latter-day Saints answered the challenge from the volunteer doctors and nurses to scour the neighborhoods and see if others needed attention. The members went and found more who received critical medical treatment.

I choked back tears when seeing the severity of injury and infection afflicting the living and when visiting with survivors who told of family members either killed in the quake or still missing. And I wept while listening of one member’s ultimate sacrifice: preserving the life of her young child by using her own body as a shield against falling debris during the quake.

I haven’t been back since, but I’ve followed as Haiti has tried to rehabilitate, regrow and renew. But remembering my week in Haiti in late January 2010, I consider the Sept. 1, 2019, dedication of the Port-au-Prince Haiti Temple by Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles a fitting capstone to having watched Haiti’s faithful Latter-day Saints living their religion in some of the most extreme circumstances.