Mark Tong, CEO of Frantz Building Services, has traveled to Haiti many times over the last three years, but his most recent experience in the third-world country turned out to be a little more frightening than past trips. As a missionary, Tong has experienced previous tension in Haiti, but on Saturday, Feb. 16, Tong found himself in the middle of a Level 4 threat that forced him to evacuate to safety.
As a member of Pleasant Valley Community Church, Tong connected with an organization called Lifesong, which connects people to missionary events across the world to serve orphans. When one of Pleasant Valley’s pastors agreed to a 2015 mission trip to Haiti, Tong asked if he could go with him. Tong said he’s been going back to Haiti ever since.
“Their goal is to raise up a generation of Haitians that are educated, that have skills, and can go out and be productive in society,” Tong said. “That they can, not only go to work somewhere but that they can be entrepreneurs, that they can get involved in the political world in Haiti. Those are the people that will make changes in Haiti.”
Tong works with a construction project through Lifesong MBO (Ministere des Bras Ouverts), building a school and dormitories for students in Bercy, Haiti.
“It’s a Christ-centered organization,” Tong said. “It’s going in and showing people that you care about them.”
Tong said building a school campus shows the younger generations of Haiti that someone out there cares about their success and future. Lifesong MBO bought 50 acres from the government for the construction of the campus. Now, Tong says, there’s a high school there, as well as a boys and girls dorm that houses 40 students each.
“Most of them grew up in orphanages. When a kid ages out of an orphanage, usually at the high-school age, if they don’t have anywhere to go, they usually go on the street,” Tong said. “So they’re having an opportunity to come there, live on the campus and go to high school. There’s also a tech school.”
Political unrest has been brewing in Haiti since Tong’s last trip to the country in October, he said. According to Tong, the it is due in large part to the government’s tax increases that have caused gasoline prices to skyrocket.
“There’s always something going on in Haiti, but this has been brewing since I was there,” Tong said. “Usually, these things will go on for two or three weeks, and they die out. This has been escalating. When we got there last Sunday, it was a Level 3 alert. That’s a threat-level. A lot of times it stays at a Level 3. It’s a big deal if it moves on from that.”
By the middle of the week, those in charge of the Lifesong mission believed things would die down.
“That didn’t happen,” Tong said. “By Friday evening, that went to Level 4. When it hits Level 4, everything changes. People are trying to get out because that means things are going to get worse. They color-code different parts of Haiti depending on the threat level. We were smack-dab in the middle of the threat zone. The Port-au-Prince airport was about 25 minutes from our campus in Bercy.”
This 25-mile ride turned into two hours. Initially, Tong and his fellow missionaries had hoped for a helicopter ride to take them to safety, as many others had done. However, they weren’t able to secure a helicopter in time, and they were forced to take a car ride through some of the most volatile parts of the country.
A police escort was called in to accompany them to safety. According to Tong, the Haitian police were dressed in military fatigues, wore helmets and masks so their faces would be hidden from the public. They also carried assault rifles, Tong said.
“If things got bad, they would not hesitate to start shooting people,” Tong said. “I trusted the Lord, that the Lord has us there for a purpose, that He’s going to provide us a way out and take care of us.”
Tong said the police escort leading the group plowed through multiple roadblocks, which were set up by Haitian civilians who protesting against the government.
“They’re doing the only thing they know how to do,” Tong said. “They’re using the only means of fighting against the government they know. The government is a suppressive government. If they allow the economy to grow and the people to become independent and flourish, they lose control. There’s this facade that it’s a democracy, and they have votes and things, but it’s really not. It’s a dictatorship environment.”