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Week-long Missionary trips to Haiti are popular vacation options for central Indiana Christian groups. But a Boone County family wanted to make an impact that required a longer stay.
Jay and Amy Shultz of Whitestown and their three children committed to work for Nehemiah Vision Ministries for one year. They had the dual hope to serve and expand their family. They left in January 2011, but by June experienced a major test of faith which continues to this day.
Every Sunday, they plan a Skype date to keep track of Fedlaine, the six-year-old Haitian girl they are trying to adopt. They kiss the computer screen to show their affection. But bringing Fedlaine, or Fe Fe, home to join them at family table in Whitestown has been a long, difficult journey that they could have never anticipated.
The family has a long-time relationship with Pastor Esperandieu Pierre with Nehemiah Vision Ministries in Chambrun, Haiti. When a massive earthquake hit the country in January 2010, the ministry was soon flush with humanitarian funds earmarked for reconstruction.
Pierre needed help, and Jay had a construction background. When the Schultz family moved to Chambrun, Jay’s job was to oversee construction of a hospital and orphanage. During their commitment Fe Fe joined the Shultz family in their big blue and white Haitian tent home.
But six months in, the family was separated. On June 15, 2011, Jay was injured while driving a John Deere Gator.
“I was driving it and my son Jeremiah was riding,” Jay said. Then the Gator “slid around a corner and hit the back of a backhoe. It hit me right in the chest.”
Jeremiah, now 13, remembers his confusion. “I thought that he had been hit in the head and I didn’t want to look at my Dad. My first instinct was to run.”
Jeremiah ran to get his mother, Amy.
Jay says he immediately knew it was serious.
“As soon as it happened I knew I was paralyzed. I couldn’t move my legs at all.”
Amy says Jay looked pale and was ready to say goodbye. “He told me that it was all his fault and that he wasn’t sure he was going to make it, that he couldn’t breathe. And he just kept saying that he loved me and that he thought he would see me in heaven,” she said.
The closest hospital in Port Au Prince was hours away along a painfully bumpy road.
“Here I am in the middle of Haiti, Paralyzed and can’t breathe, I’m going to die. And that’s what my thought process was,” said Jay.
Amy wouldn’t have it.
“I was just able to tell him that I loved him and that I would be fine no matter what, but that he wasn’t going to die. I kept saying, you’re not going to die, you’re going to be fine.”
They spent the night in Haiti, and the next day took off for a trauma center in Florida, leaving the children behind.
It was at the Miami hospital Amy learned Jay had ten broken ribs, two broken vertebrae and while he’d likely live, he would never walk again. She kept silent.
“I didn’t tell him. I just didn’t say anything at that point for a long time,” she recalled.
Two weeks later Jay was transported to the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana. It took a month before the Shultz’s three children got back to Indiana. Fe Fe lacked the paperwork to leave with them.
Jay’s rehabilitation took months. At RHI he learned how to navigate in a wheel chair and adapt to his new limitations.
“Physically from my belly button down I feel nothing, I cannot move anything,” Jay said.
Kim Deckman headed up his outpatient physical therapy. Deckman says from the beginning Jay had a positive mindset and big support group that accelerated his transition.
“His attitude from the get go really has wonderful,” Deckman said.
Jay says it’s been hard, but “when you start off thinking you’re going to die, you look at it as a positive from everything after that. You know I am blessed to be alive. So I am just happy to be here and be with my family.”
And yet his family is not whole. It’s now eight months since the accident and Fe Fe still remains in Haiti.
“One of the rules is that if you have more than two biological children, the president of Haiti has to sign off on the adoption,” Jay said. “It’s been sitting on his desk four months now, waiting for him to sign off on it.”
When asked about the bigger heartache, “the injury or the waiting?” Amy doesn’t hesitate.
“Right now it’s the waiting, because I have my husband and he is still the same ordinary, fun-loving guy he always has been. But I am sure she is confused. You know we lived with her for six months and then left her again, so what is going on in her mind? I have no idea. I just want her here so that she knows that she has a stable family again.”
The couple is committed to sending a least one member of the family to Haiti every month to let Fe Fe know they are fighting for her. Jay has returned twice in his wheelchair. But back in Indiana, the family waits.
Anna is the oldest child. She is 16 and anxious to have a little sister. She let Fe Fe pick the pink wall color for the upstairs bedroom they will share.
“I’ll probably put like a bunk bed in here, ” she said.
The family collects Fe Fe’s pictures she makes at school and connect with her caregivers on the phone, and they pray.
“The thing I pray for the most is to get our little girl home from Haiti, that is my number one, desire, is to have her home. And then, I still pray for healing but I pray that I will be at peace and that I will be able to live out a life that brings me to God, whether I am healed or not,” Jay said. “This isn’t what I planned, this isn’t what I want, but this is where I am. I think all of us go through places where this is not what I envisioned, this is not what I want. But this is where you find yourself. This is the person God wants me to be and if God wants me to bring glory to him from this wheelchair, I’m perfectly at peace to do that because he’s given me life.”
Before signing off, Amy asks Fe Fe to keep track of five things that happen over the week to share on their next Skype date. The volunteer caregiver promises to make Fe Fe a peanut butter sandwich, and then Fe Fe says good bye, ” I love you Mommy. I love you Daddy, Amen.”