Hannibal-LaGrange grad recounts truck accident in Haiti - Word&Way

Hannibal-LaGrange grad recounts truck accident in Haiti

(Editor's note: In May, 14 Hannibal-LaGrange College students and a faculty sponsor were involved in an accident in Haiti at the end of an eight-day mission effort to assist with recovery from an earthquake that struck the Caribbean nation in January.)

By Beth Sowers
Hannibal-LaGrange College

"This has to be the last mountain," thought Seth Mendenhall. Feeling a bit ill and very exhausted, a three-hour drive up a mountain to a church service just didn't sound that appealing to him.

"Up to this point in the week, I hadn't been able to decipher why God had let me come," said Mendenhall, a 2010 nursing graduate. "I knew that He had opened my eyes to the state that Haiti was in. He had shown me how self-absorbed I was in thinking I needed all these things in life to make me happy when people in Haiti were living in 6×6 tents with only a tarp over their heads. This most definitely spoke directly to my heart. I was sure that the work we were able to during the day was a big help to Dee and Wilckly [Dorcé, founders of Haiti-based Dorcé Ministries]. I just didn't feel at this point that there was one certain reason I had been able to come."

When the truck became stuck, the group had to follow Dee to the church.

"By the time we had walked what felt like about 10 miles but was probably only one or two, I had confirmed that I had the worst attitude there."

Seth's discontentment, however, changed as soon as the church service began.  Seeing the huge crowd of people of all ages, crammed under a makeshift tent made of tarps draped over trees, singing and worshipping changed Mendenhall's heart.

The congregation asked the mission group to sing a couple of songs, and the group chose "Lean on Me" as its last. "When we got back to our seat, I remember turning and saying to everyone, 'We know 50 million praise and worship songs and you guys pick "Lean on Me"?'"

After the service, a few group members set up a health clinic. Again, Mendenhall felt his poor attitude creep back in. "I was mainly feeling useless," he said. "I did help some and that was good, but it [was] just not what I had expected."

After running out of medicine, the group loaded the truck and headed back. "After driving for what seemed an eternity on the way back out, we had reached the top of the final mountain."

He explained that Wilckly was a slow and cautious driver. During the trek back down the mountain, something sputtered in the engine.

The dump truck began to pick up speed and the passengers began to realize they were in trouble. Mendenhall noticed a sharp, almost 90-degree turn they were going to have to make to avoid going over the cliff.

"Wilckly didn't have many options here. Try and make the turn and surely tip us over; try and hit the rock wall on the other side of us which would have surely ricocheted us off the wall, sending us out of control; or panic and do nothing which shoots us strait off the cliff to a sure death below.

"Wilckly pulled us in close to the wall and slowly started to turn, although it seemed nothing at this point was going slowly."

Mendenhall remembers being tipped backwards and bracing for impact.  "The impact threw me like a rag doll against the bars on the other side of the truck which were now grating the gravel road. I had my eyes closed and my chin tucked at this point, sliding on the left side of my body. I remember the sound ever so vividly as the rocks were crunched between the ground and my head and shoulder. It sounded much like spinning your car tires on a gravel road. This lasted for what seemed like minutes, and I remember wondering when my body was going to slow down."

Mendenhall was stopped from going over the cliff edge by a huge rock and somehow ended up on his feet.

After wiping away blood from a head wound, Mendenhall realized the first two team members he saw desperately needed help. Seeing a lot of blood, he started to panic. Then determination kicked in and he rushed to find his bag of supplies.

Hannibal-LaGrange College nursing graduate Seth Mendenhall examines a patient during a clinic in Haiti. Mendenhall later used his training to minister to fellow students and Haitians when several, including Mendenhall, were injured in an accident. HLG nursing graduate Stephanie Smiddy is also pictured.

Remembering his training, he moved from person to person, assessing conditions and providing any aid he could with limited resources. Individuals not as badly hurt were also quick to help, sitting with those who needed reassurance, stabilizing necks and applying pressure to deep wounds.

A Haitian pastor who was helping finally forced Mendenhall into a truck.

After arriving at the mission's medical tent, injured team members were stabilized for the trip to the Miami University relief hospital in Port Au Prince.

The first member of the team he saw after being treated was Bethany Gorman. "She looked up and said to me, 'You know, you were pretty awesome out there today.' This was the first time I had had any type of recollection of what I had done all afternoon.
"No matter what, I knew that whatever good I had done was only compliments of God and his provision over us all….

"At one time during that night we were all [just sitting] when Bethany looked up at me and said, 'Do you hear that? That song,' she said.

"Sure enough, in the back of our tent the radio was on just loud enough to make out the lyrics to the song…'Lean on me….' It was if God was trying to tell us that through all that had happened that day, he had every last detail planned out and set into motion….

"We were most certainly leaning on him."