Survivor: UMCOR Trio Kept Faith in Haiti Ruins

January 19, 2010

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*

Jan. 18, 2010 - There were times, trapped beneath tons of concrete in the collapsed Hotel Montana, when the Rev. James Gulley thought help would never come.

But Gulley, the Rev. Sam Dixon, and the Rev. Clinton Rabb always knew they were in the hands of God.
 
When help did come, 55 hours after a massive earthquake hit Haiti and reduced the hotel to a pile of crumbling concrete, Gulley was pulled to safety, but his friends both died of their injuries.
 
"I have no answer about why I was given the gift of life and Sam and Clint were not," Gulley [at left] said in an interview with United Methodist News Service. "I can't answer that any better than Job could answer why some people suffer more than others. All I can do is continue to try to use that gift in God's service in whatever way it is intended. I'm grateful to be alive, and I accept that gift."
 
The three men, working with the United Methodist Committee on Relief, were in Port-au-Prince to meet with members of the Methodist Church of Haiti to talk about ways to improve and develop the country. They had scheduled a meeting with members of IMA World Health, including United Methodist Sarla Chand, at the Hotel Montana.
 
"A driver from the Methodist Guest House dropped us off and when we walked in they were sitting in the lobby checking their email."
 
The group gathered and were heading to the hotel's restaurant when there was a rumble, Gulley said. "We had just passed the reception desk. I looked up and the hotel was shaking; in the third second, it fell on us."
 
The six humanitarian workers and two other men trapped inside elevators were suddenly confined to a small area.
 
"The first thing I heard was Sam saying his legs were broken. Then Clint [at right] said his legs were also broken. We called out to each other and the others said they were OK."
 
The group struggled to remain calm even though Dixon and Rabb were "suffering terribly," Gulley said. They were afraid they might run out of oxygen but soon felt some cool air coming around the edges.
 
"We tried to joke, to think of funny stories, but we didn't have too many. We talked about how ironic it was that we had come to Haiti to offer aid and now we were the recipients of relief aid."
 
After night fell on the first day, they knew no one was coming until morning. But when another day and night came with no help they began to feel despair, Gulley said.
 
At one point he started singing "Peace Like a River" and the others joined in. When help came from French firemen, Gulley and the others started singing the doxology, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow."
 
"It was good for those of us who were not so badly hurt," Gulley said. "But I think it was harder for those who were pinned because they had such high expectations after some of us were pulled out." Gulley said it took the firemen four hours to get him out.
 
"Sam [at left] was still alive, he was the last one whose fate we knew about," Gulley said. Early reports were that Dixon had been evacuated and was alive.
 
Dixon had removed his wallet from his back pocket in an effort to get more comfortable, Gulley said. "I picked up his wallet and put it in my pocket. I didn’t realize I was taking away his only identity."
 
Gulley and Dixon had worked together for many years.
 
"My first trip abroad in 1999 was to Haiti with Sam," Gulley said. Fighting through tears, he said, "We began in Haiti and that's where we parted."
 
*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tennessee.