With the kind of radiance that hints at secret knowledge of something very deep and very good, Noyo eagerly describes the privilege he feels in serving his native country, Haiti, as a Young Life staff-worker. “Just because something is easy,” he explains, “doesn’t mean it is the best. If you do something easy, it doesn’t last.”
He remembers a Young Life celebration planned for last December. They expected 100 kids, but a last-minute political demonstration in Cite Soleil limited attendance to thirty. During a tour of Young Life offices, he shows us the tiny space where thirty kids sought refuge after the 2010 earthquake, crowded together for a week before filtering out to their rural home areas. He cites the on-going emotional turmoil of praying for wisdom to help a steady stream of kids with no money for school.
Then he laughs. He is thinking of his peers, other parents of young families who shake their heads as he disappears into Cite Soleil, the largest slum of the Western Hemisphere. They are fully aware of the volatility of the area, under-scored by the watchful presence of United Nations soldiers. Seeing him emerge safely yet again, they say, “Wow, I should know this Jesus!” Noyo’s mirth overflows in a big, throaty chuckle.
I am lucky enough to walk beside him through the dusty streets of Maissade, three hours north of Port au Prince. (Click on photos to view larger.)
We lag behind the others when I ask him what Jesus is teaching him these days. “Life on earth is short,” he answers. “We must always be ready and live a life that is worthy every day.” I hesitate, then respectfully reference the testimony he shared with our group the day before about his near-death experience on October 21, 2012. With very little urging, he opens the door to a virtual room, blindingly flooded with courage and faith, and invites me in.
Eagerly I step over the threshold. It’s a space I’ve glimpsed before – in the gentle eyes of a Mother Teresa sister giving food to the poorest of the poor, in the glowing face of a persecuted evangelist in the highlands of Vietnam, in the tender smile of a pastor cradling a sick child in an East African slum. It’s a secret place I long to know and understand.
The intensity of his story halts our steps. Foot traffic of a rural Haitian town flows around us on the rutted road and children spy from behind trees. The sun sinks low, illuminating dust particles hanging in the air.
He left a celebration at the Young Life office in Port au Prince with his wife. As they neared the gate to their home, they heard gun-shots. They paid little notice to the commonly-heard sound. But, as his wife prepared to alight and open the gate, a shot fired loud and close. The back window of their vehicle shattered. Before they could think clearly or even duck, a man emerged from the black night alongside the driver’s window and shot Noyo point blank, just under his heart.
His wife panicked and began to scream, “Oh Jesus, what am I going to do?”
Noyo tried to calm her, “If today is my day, I will leave; and if not, God will keep me alive.”
He got out of the vehicle and climbed 38 stairs to get his brother, Wadny, also a Young Life staff member. Wadny drove him to a hospital, Noyo’s mind still sharp and calm. He kept reassuring his brother and wife that his life was in the hands of God. They were turned away at the first hospital. At the second facility, medical staff stopped the external bleeding; but told the trio that the doctor who could treat Noyo was not in the city.
He describes it as a “flash in his mind,” a message that said, “you will not die.” He shared it with Sandra and Wadny; and added, “But try to find another hospital.”
They thought of a medical facility in Cite Soleil, but knew that gangsters would attack their car if they tried to drive there. They remembered a friend, a nurse who might be able to locate an ambulance. Hospital staff overheard their conversation and offered the use of an ambulance. Noyo tried to stand up, but he was too weak.
Sandra climbed in the ambulance with Noyo and another man who was shot in the head during the same incident. Of the eight who were shot, they were the only two survivors. Noyo said to the other patient, “You and I are in the same condition, but you see that I am not afraid. It is because I have Jesus! Only God can give a person this kind of strength.”
As they pulled into the third facility, another patient was being prepared for the only operating room; but he died. They took Noyo instead. His internal organs were shredded by the bullet; his liver required surgery that day and again three days later. He barely clung to life before the second procedure, and whispered his last confession, “Please forgive me of my sins and receive me into your Kingdom.” He saw a brilliant white light welcoming him. Then he heard a voice from afar calling his name. Weakly he opened his eyes to harried doctors surrounding him. An electric shock jolted his heart back from the precipice, and a breathing tube supplied oxygen for the next eleven days. Slowly Noyo healed and assimilated an even deeper passion to proclaim the hope he treasures.
He cites three insights embraced from his passage through the shadow of death:
- There comes a moment in life when only God can understand, help, and heal. Although his friends and Sandra would have done anything for him, there was nothing they could do. Only God could help him.
- He gained greater understanding of Jesus’ suffering. Jesus also endured severe pain, but without anesthesia.
- He lives to show the life of Christ in his life. Many relatives came to know Christ because they said only God could have kept him alive.
As Noyo pauses, I blink as though emerging from a brilliant afternoon, as though ducking through a door back into a shadowed room. I hear the voices of children, feel the dirt under my feet again. My soul savors the satisfying weariness of having climbed a mountain and viewed a vista that will forever enlarge it.
Noyo goes on to speak of his appreciation for those who prayed for him, in Haiti and in the US. Tears well up and overflow. He is overcome with emotion. I place my hand on his arm in reverent silence, feeling like a clumsy child who has stumbled into the court of a King.
At last he concludes, “I want to use every minute of my life to let people know how good is our God.”
To learn more about Young Life Haiti, please watch this video.