Janey DeMeo didn't need to see the horrific photographs from Haiti to understand about the desperate plight of its people. She knew about it years before the 7.0-temblor annihilated whole communities in and around the capital city of Port-au-Prince.
As founder of Orphans First, DeMeo has been reaching out to suffering children around the globe operating orphanages, and providing supplies and monetary support to established ministries. Her work in Haiti began several years ago at the request of a friend.
"It was as poor as Africa and India, and possibly even more demonic in terms of the voodoo and all that," the pastor's wife and mother of two said, adding that widespread corruption served to squash any hope of the needy improving their lives.
Working in Haiti was a good fit for DeMeo who is fluent in French after having served as a missionary in France with her husband, who planted churches in the European nation. They moved to California six years ago.
Since the quake, DeMeo said her ministry has committed to expanding its work there, but admits efforts have been hampered by the arrest of 10 American missionaries after they tried to relocate 33 children to an orphanage across the border into the Dominican Republic without the proper paperwork. After three weeks in custody, a Haitian judge released eight of the 10, who are now home in the United States.
DeMeo said she understands their hearts, but cautions well-intentioned volunteers to make sure they do their homework to ensure not only their own safety, but to also not jeopardize the broad range of humanitarian work that is on speed dial in Haiti.
"I really think that as believers we have to work with such humility and not be strong headed and not have our own agenda," she said. "The Bible says to obey the authorities. The whole world has its eyes on Haiti anyway. If we are trying to do it by our own hands or don't heed advice, we open a door for Satan to do what he wants to do to discredit Christ and the work of God."
Now that most of the missionaries are home, DeMeo is hoping the Haitian authorities loosen some of the restrictions they imposed after the group was detained. Sensitive to dangers of unscrupulous child-traffickers, the Haitian president ordered the suspension of all adoptions and that he would personally preside over all adoption requests. With thousands seeking homes, the usual process could take even longer than the usual three years.
Even now, DeMeo is on standby to assist a Haitian relief group that is working to move 150 orphans, already in the process of being adopted when the quake hit, into Florida where they will be placed into temporary foster care while officials work to expedite their adoptions.
"We wanted to see what we could do to set them at ease while they were waiting for the process to complete, but that (the American arrests) put a damper on it," the French speaker said.
In the meantime, they are working to establish networks that can help with long-term needs for the children, her passion since starting her own family.
"When you become a mom, that just does it," she said. "We are scouting churches in Haitian communities with churches in America so we can create a more lasting support system for the orphans."
She is also investigating the possibility of establishing children's centers, one of the programs they offer in other developing nations and which helps with basic needs and educational scholarships.
"We want to create from scratch where there is nothing," she said. "Haiti is so near; it's just a hop and a skip away. It's made us compelled to become more involved there. It's really stirred us to be active in Haiti."
One, then she knows for sure, the demand for work will not ease over the next few years.
"We don't want Americans to forget Haiti and move on to the next thing," she said.
For more information, visit www.orphansfirst.org.