Haitian disaster brings Linfield family together

Photo courtesy of Lepp family

Debbie Lepp (left), Jimmy Lepp and Brian Lepp at a news conference in Pittsburgh

Kurtis Williams – For the Review

Psalm 23:4 reads: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Written by King David of Israel, the verse affirms his belief that no matter what darkness he encountered, he knew God would guide him through it.

With 95 percent of Haitians practicing Christianity, this quote certainly resonates with them now. A magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit 15 miles outside the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12.
Linfield sophomore Emilee Lepp has a close connection to the already poverty stricken country. When the earthquake hit, her family was at the end of an almost three-year process of adopting a Haitian orphan.

“We were all really upset because he was so close to coming home,” Lepp said.

During a mission trip with her mother Debbie to Haiti in March 2007, Lepp tried to convince her father Brian to adopt a child named Jimmy.
While most families look for younger children, the Lepps wanted an older child, which fit Jimmy’s situation perfectly.

After filing paperwork, an election put power into a new government, which halted adoptions. The incoming regime stipulated parents already with children could not adopt from Haiti.

Finally, after months of talk, the administration relented and the only road bumps left were a visa and passport. The family was going to pick him up in three weeks’ time when the earthquake rattled the nation.
With sparse communication and news reports, it was difficult to get information out of the country.

Debbie heard the news while teaching at a Christian school in Colville, Wash. Until she watched the news, she had no idea of the devastation.

“I started watching the news, and it was just horrifying to see the magnitude of what was unfolding,” she said. “The more information we heard the scarier it got. It was just pretty much hopeless.”

But after 24 hours, the Pittsburgh area missionary that headed the orphanage sent a calming yet chilling message to the effect of: “The kids are safe. They will not live if they stay.”

Fortunately, no children from the orphanage were injured in the quake. But the struggle for survival had just started with the earthquake.

With supplies dangerously thin, orphanages were a popular target for looters. Small amounts of water to live on were, in turn, life threatening. The children survived three days with the little water they had already. With so much damage, roads were virtually impassable.

“We were really excited about them being able to get water but scared at the same time,” Debbie said.

Also, with the threat of aftershocks, living in a building was impossible. This meant being relegated to the streets.

The only way to save the children was to bring them to the United States. Some of the kids, such as in the Lepp’s case, had adoptive parents.

People in the states began to call legislators, urging them to help end the plight. Pennsylvania Congress members, the governor, senators and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton became a driving force behind the eventual evacuation of the 54 orphans.

Six days after the earthquake, the children boarded a military plane headed for the United States. Brian and Debbie flew to Pittsburgh to finally pick up their son.

The seven children without prospective parents were granted temporary asylum and will be adopted in the United States. The other adoptions will be expedited.

The Lepps are grateful to have their child, but they understand the earthquake has caused many more problems than already existed in Haiti.

“I really don’t know how in the world they’re going to rebuild the country,” Debbie said. “I can’t even imagine what the future of Haiti is going to be at this point.”

Debbie said she always hoped Jimmy will grow up to help his fellow Haitians. But now, with the amount of lawlessness, Debbie can not foresee going back for some time.

Jimmy is settling in well with his new family. Debbie said he is social with everyone, but does not like to talk about the earthquake. Since the quake, he has not heard from his biological family in Haiti.

Many more orphans have been created because of this disaster, but through all the darkness shines a little bit of light.

1 Comment on Haitian disaster brings Linfield family together

  1. Denny and Emily Sjordal // February 16, 2010 at 1:58 pm //

    Thanks for the article on the Lepp’s adoption. My husband and I also have a connection to Jimmy as we became his grandparents. Just wanted to say he is a great little boy who grabbed our hearts even before we officially met him. He is loving, outgoing and loves to sing and dance. He is especially attached to his big sister Emilee and can’t wait to watch her play softball. Jimmy is one of the lucky ones!

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