Out of the chaos of Haiti - a blessing
Jon and Jana Buettner's story is a reminder that good can come from the midst of tragedy sometimes.
The earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people in Haiti has also opened up doors to a new life for hundreds of children in the country. For the Buettner family of Ashby, that new life came earlier than expected with the arrival of 2-1/2-year-old Kerdjerns Pierre.
Jon and Jana's daughter, Rhyan, the oldest of the Buettners' three children, has worked at an orphanage in the mountains of Petionville called God's Littlest Angels for more than a year now. The orphanage specializes in finding families for all of their children through adoption. When Kerdjerns arrived at the orphanage, Rhyan knew exactly what family he belonged to.
"We had thought about adopting before," Jon said. "But it had never been focused on a spot. When she got to Haiti, she opened our eyes to kids who had a need. At one point, she called us and said, 'I found my little brother. He's a Buettner. I know he's a Buettner.' "
That is all it took to get the process rolling. Jon and Jana were about a year into what is normally a two-year long procedure to make the adoption official. Then the earthquake hit on January 12.
Rhyan had returned to Haiti from the United States just two days before the quake. God's Littlest Angels was located five miles from the epicenter of the disaster. What happened after the initial shock still plays in slow motion when Rhyan thinks about it today.
"Our orphanage is built on the side of a mountain," she said. "I thought it was a landslide at first because we tipped so far to one side that I thought we were just sliding down the side of the mountain. When that thought crossed my mind, there was nothing else I could think of because if that was happening, we were all dead.
She can vividly remember the first rumble.
"Everyone just kind of said 'what was that?' Then the first lurch and then the second lurch," she said. "We were on the third story of a concrete building. Everybody just grabbed babies and ran down the stairs. I think we had all the kids out of the building in less than three minutes, which is incredible."
All 80 children got out of the building alive that day. Just a few miles down the road, Port au Prince lay in ruins.
"Driving through the streets, there is no way to describe it," Rhyan said. "It's like hell on earth."
With thousands of people without food and water, the Haitian government and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security decided to do something about orphans who were in the process of being adopted.
On January 18, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, in coordination with the U.S. Department of State, announced a humanitarian parole policy, which allowed orphaned children in Haiti to enter the United States. Each adoptive family had to meet certain criteria that proved they were in the adoption process. The children will now have to have their immigration status resolved after arrival.
Hundreds of children have gotten to their adoptive families much sooner than expected as a result of the policy. For Jon and Jana, the news was met with shock before the happiness set in.
The couple was on their way to Alexandria when they got a text message from Rhyan. Jon and Jana were scheduled to do an interview about the adoption with KSAX-TV when their daughter told them they would need to be in Miami the next night to pick up Kerdjerns.
"You go from being in total disbelief and then you go, 'we're going to have a 2-1/2-year-old in two days," Jon said. "We need a car seat. We need diapers. You go through the whole list. The next 48 hours were a whirlwind."
The Buettners did exactly what Rhyan told them to do. They arrived in Miami the next day, along with about 85 other families who were going through the same thing.
Packed together in a small room, a thin dividing wall was all that separated them from the newest members of their families. Jon and Jana had experienced a wide range of emotions in the past 24 hours. But it was at this moment that they had an experience that truly touched their hearts.
On the other side of the wall, the children were waiting - out of sight but within an arm's length away. Through the thin wall, the parents could hear the children singing.
"One of the moms said, 'Everyone, be quiet. They're singing,' " Jana said. "We could hear through the wall all the kids singing "Sing Halleluiah to the Lord" in Creole. It was just unbelievable. There were grown men sobbing into their hands."
There have been a lot of laughs ever since. Kerdjerns has adjusted well to his new life. That was evident in the smile on his face as he took in his first hockey game during the Alexandria Blizzard's "Hockey for Haiti Night" on January 30. The Buettners were recognized at the first intermission during the Blizzard's 4-1 win over Owatonna.
Kerdjerns investigated his surroundings during the second period - pounding lightly on the glass as the players skated by and running along the boards in search of anything he could get his hands on.
He still is not used to the Minnesota winters. Ice cream makes him cringe. But his personality is coming out more every day.
"I've had people come up to me and say, 'Oh, he's so lucky to have you,' " Jana said. "I have to turn that right around. We are so blessed to have him. He has changed our lives significantly."
A tragedy altered the course he took to get to them. It was an event that changed the lives of thousands of people. In the case of Jon and Jana Buettner, it was change for the better.
"The earthquake is devastating," Jon said. "There's a lot of death and destruction, but inside of that, there are stories of hope. It just happened that he was able to get to the family that he was supposed to be with quicker than he normally would have. In a country that's looking for anything positive to come out of this, I guess this is one of them."