Posted 10/25/16 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
Andi Gedna has a fascinating story of survival.
He’s been in North Dakota for the past few months, one stop in the fundraising work he’s been doing for the nondenominational, Ray-based mission, Amazing Grace.
He said he enjoys the peace and quiet of the countryside, and he was happy he got to see snow again after several years.
Gedna is director and ministry lead for the Amazing Grace ministry.
The ministry was started in 2015 by Cindy Lewis, who lives north of Ray and works for Hess.
She is the president of the organization and traveled to Haiti last year. She met Gedna through a mutual Haitian friend and learned of a ministry he had initiated in Haiti.
Lewis returned to Ray determined to set up a mission to further the charities supporting the impoverished country.
Gedna told her of his struggles growing up in Haiti, and Lewis asked him to team up with her to help deliver the mission’s message of hope.
“It’s just so real when he tells it,” she said.
This week Gedna will return to Haiti in hopes of helping his fellow Haitians get food, water, and medicine, all of which are terribly lacking in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.
While he’s there, he’s going to be living in dangerous, unsanitary conditions. But he said he’s not afraid.
“God, I know, will protect me,” he said.
And he’s confident the work will be successful.
“When God is on the move, things progress.”
When Gedna was three months old, his parents left him alone in the house while they went to see a witch doctor. The practice of voodoo is common in Haiti.
They left an oil lamp burning on a radio next to the bed he was sleeping on. At some point, possibly because of the vibrations of the radio speakers, the lamp fell down and started a fire.
His leg was severely burned.
“It just cooked me,” Gedna said.
His older sister, one of 10 siblings he has, rescued him from the fire and brought him to the hospital, where the doctors gave him lotion for his burn and sent him home.
They said they couldn’t do anything more for him.
He ended up with a badly deformed leg, but he said he could have just as easily died in the fire.
“But that is not what God wanted,” he said optimistically.
Gedna was 8-years-old when his father left the family, and it was up to the young boy to care for some of his siblings who remained with him, in a country where you don’t just go to the grocery store and buy food.
Every night, he said his deformed leg muscles would grow stiff and he had to stretch his leg to get it to go straight so he could get out of bed. It was a slow, painful process.
Then he had to limp around the mountain upon which their house was located to get water from the river. Then he had to scour the streets for food to feed his family.
There were no handicap ramps or other wheelchair-accessible facilities to make his life any easier, and he couldn’t afford a wheelchair if there were.
On top of that, it was common for people to make fun of the way he walked.
One day, when he was on the streets looking for food, he came across some missionaries from the United States.
They saw how he walked and asked to see his leg. He was convinced they were just going to make fun of him and refused to show it to them.
Eventually he did allow it to be photographed. A friend helped get the picture to doctors in South Dakota who decided to help him for free.
After working his way through the Haitian bureaucracy to get his medical visa, a process that requires what basically amounts to bribery, he was able to come to the U.S. He had four surgeries to help repair his leg.
Unfortunately, there was only so much the doctors could do. Complications led to infections. He was told they had to amputate the leg, and if they didn’t do it within a week, they’d have to amputate above the knee.
Gedna didn’t know English well enough to understand what the doctors were telling him about prosthetic legs.
He thought he would be crawling on his hands and knees the rest of his life.
“I didn’t know they could make legs,” he said.
He can now walk normally on the prosthetic leg. The first time he stood on it, though, he didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to put all that pressure on his healing stump.
“I did not expect so much pain,” he recalled.
Getting access to expensive modern healthcare that allowed him to walk was a blessing after surviving so long in a country where such deformities in children often mean death.
Gedna also helped an infant from the Dominican Republic, which is next door to Haiti, survive what was sure to be a death sentence when the baby’s mother tossed him in a garbage can so she could go to a club.
Gedna’s mother found the child and brought him to Gedna, who was in Haiti raising his siblings.
Gedna was trying to feed his brothers and sisters, all on the leg that was still deformed at that point, and now his mother presented him with another mouth to feed.
Gedna said children are abandoned and neglected on a regular basis in Haiti, and often left to die. Without Gedna’s help, the baby would have suffered the same fate.
“That’s just not me. I just wanted to save his life,” he said.
So, Gedna hobbled over the mountain side and streets of Haiti, looking for food, with a baby strapped to his back.
While he was receiving medical treatment for his leg in the U.S., he left the baby with an orphanage in Haiti.
While in South Dakota, he happened to meet a couple who were trying to have children with no luck.
Gedna proposed to the couple they adopt the baby in Haiti. They agreed.
Despite all the poverty and infant mortality, the Haitian government makes it very difficult for parents in the U.S. to adopt Haitian children.
Gedna went through the arduous process of filing paperwork through the Haitian bureaucracy to bring the baby to the U.S.
He’s now safely in America, living with two loving parents in a safe household with plenty of food.
After his surgery, Gedna returned to Haiti and days later it was hit with the 2010 earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people and left millions homeless.
Gedna remembered the mango trees swaying violently as the ground shook. It looked so unreal, he thought he was hallucinating.
None of his family died.
“God protected them all,” Gedna said.
His brother was a teacher at a school that collapsed in the quake, killing everyone inside. His brother was feeling ill that day and canceled his class, a choice that spared his life and those of his students.
This week he returns to the country following another disaster, Hurricane Matthew, which has claimed over a thousand lives. Again, millions are homeless.
Gedna said the flimsy dwellings with the thatched roofs were just flattened in the storm.
The hurricane also destroyed the mango and other fruit trees, which the poor depend on for food. And there’s a cholera epidemic.
The mission has managed to ship tarps to the needy, and they are working with national retail businesses to send tents.
As it is now, many residents are propping up corners of roofs that are sitting on the ground, and sleeping beneath the space under them.
The tarps and tents will provide them shelter from the 100-degree heat.
“They’re baking in the sun,” Lewis said.
Gedna smiles when he talks about the mission work he does in Haiti.
The children are always excited to see him. Of course, they’re happy for the food the mission provides, but Gedna said they get just as excited for the hugs.
In a country where children are often tossed away, affection can be as scarce a resource as food and medicine.
“Andi was never told he was loved,” Lewis said.
When Gedna arrives, he said he often finds himself with a child hugging each leg and one hanging off each arm.
He uses his story of survival, he said, as inspiration in his ministry to instill hope.
“Maybe because of it, people can see the glory of God,” he said.
Walking around on a bad leg searching for food, he never could have dreamed one day he’d be flying around helping other people survive.
“I never thought I’d be someone important someday,” he said.
Lewis will be staying behind to coordinate the mission’s work in the states.
Having grown up with proper sanitation, Americans don’t have the immune systems to handle the conditions in Haiti, especially now after the hurricane. She would likely get very sick if she made the trip now, Lewis said.
So she will continue supporting the mission from her home in Ray, while Gedna returns to his home in Haiti.
She said the mission’s work is very demanding, but worth every moment.
“We get back 100 times what we give out. To see them grow, to see them learn,” Lewis said.
Anyone wishing to donate to the mission can get more information at www.missionamazinggrace.com.