A Beautiful Life, Rescued and Changed after Haiti’s Quake
Today is the two-year anniversary of an earthquake that rocked the entire world. And it rocked the lives of our family and friends as we lost our dear brother David Hames in the rubble.
The devastation was unfathomable and yet in the midst of what Satan clearly meant for evil, there are many beautiful stories of what God used and continues to use for good.
Pastor Elizabeth Guelis has one of those stories.
When Ann Menke and I met Pastor Elizabeth, the first thing I noticed about her was her beautiful, infectious, joy-filled smile that lit up her face and eyes like the Haitian sunrise. In her face, you could see the glory of God.
Elizabeth’s smile grew even larger when I asked about her leg. Hers, you see, is a story like no other. Instead of bitterness about her loss, the prosthetic leg is a testimony to her of God’s love and grace.
Until the earth shook Haiti two years ago, Elizabeth told me that she and most Haitians didn’t know what an earthquake was. Hurricanes had threatened their country for many years so the buildings were often built with concrete to withstand the terrible winds. The concrete worked well to protect people from the hurricanes, but it was devastating when the earthquake hit.
On that Tuesday afternoon in January, Elizabeth had an appointment to meet an American friend at the woman’s two-story home. The women sat down in the corner of the concrete house to pray, but they hadn’t even begun to talk when the walls began to tremble. Dust filled the house and in an instant, it became so dark that Elizabeth couldn’t see.
Elizabeth tried to get outside, but she’d never visited this woman’s home before. In the darkness, and the dust, she didn’t know which way to go, and she couldn’t see or hear her friend. When she finally made it to the front gate, it was locked. She was trapped inside the compound.
Then the unthinkable happened. A wall collapsed over Elizabeth, pinning her legs. With the lower part of her body under the concrete, the upper half of her body facing the street, she drifted in and out of consciousness for hours.
When Haitians finally broke down the concrete wall around her, her legs were badly cut. Help had not yet arrived in the country so someone put her legs into bleach and then wrapped plastic around them, leaving her to die. Her legs smelled terrible, she told me. I can’t imagine…
Three days later, Americans set up tent hospitals in the streets. She was the first one to be operated on at one of these hospitals. As the people in her church prayed, the Americans amputated her leg.
“I passed out when the American doctor began cutting my leg. I thought I was in heaven because I saw angels all around me.”
Her husband had died seven years ago, and when the doctors told her family she was dead, her three children mourned for her.
But Pastor Elizabeth wasn’t dead. When she woke, there were people crying all around her. She was weak and dizzy, her leg gone, but she was alive. “God would not let me die,” she explained.
For nine months, Elizabeth was in the hospital. God had told several members of her church that she would live, and they continued to pray for her every day.
“I made a promise to God in the hospital. If He would let me live, I would serve Him the rest of my life.”
When she got out of the hospital, Elizabeth went to Bible school. She was glowing when she pulled out a picture from her Bible to show Ann and I. It was a photo of her on her graduation day. June 25, 2011. Elizabeth Guelis is now Pastor Elizabeth. She shares the Word of God with the people in her country and dreams of one day spreading His Word around the world.
“A lot of people criticize me,” she said. “They say I don’t deserve to be a minister since I never finished my high school education. Ministry is difficult, but God is with me.”
People criticize her because of her ministry, but there is also a stigma in having a prosthetic leg in Haiti. The handicapped are often treated with disrespect in this country, and some have questioned why God would allow her to lose a leg.
Elizabeth’s children are now 23, 18, and 12, and before our time together ended, she asked that the “lady mamas of Solid Rock” pray for her and her family. I promised her that I would share her story and requests with all of you and that we would pray with her that:
- God would give her strength to continue her church when people criticize her and tell her she can’t do it.
- She would hold the Word of God close and continue to do His work.
- God would give her the power and opportunity to share her testimony with thousands of people around the world.
The last day of our conference, Pastor Elizabeth found me in the crowd. She showed me her graduation picture again, pointing out the prosthetic leg with a sense of triumph. It is her testimony to what God has done and continues to do in her life. Then she held out the picture to me, signaling for me to take it.
“I can’t,” I said, shaking my hands and head. This picture meant so much to her, and I knew it was probably the only one she had. I couldn’t possibly take it from her.
But she held it out again, insisting that I keep it. It was her gift to me.
With humility and tears, I took her picture. And I continue to cry today when I think about her gift.
I wanted to give something to her in return, but I didn’t know what could even come close to equaling what she’d given me. Then I remembered that I had brought a picture with me to show the Haitian women. It was a photo of me, my husband, and my daughter when Karly was a baby. It seemed like nothing compared to Elizabeth’s gift—I can make another copy of it at any time—but it was all I had at that moment. I rushed to get it, and she gave me a precious hug in return. We’re sisters, you see, for now and eternity.
On that October afternoon, Elizabeth gave me her picture and her friendship. She reminded me of God’s love for His children, that even through terrible adversity and hardship He sees and loves each one of us. Not once did she complain to me about what had happened. Instead of being angry at God, she poured out her love for Him.
As we remember what happened in Haiti two years ago, I pray we will also remember the stories of God’s goodness in the midst of tragedy, of the beauty He made and continues to make from the ashes. And I hope that we can continue to pray for women like Pastor Elizabeth who’ve devoted their life to spreading God’s love and grace in Haiti.