Last October I was honored to go to Haiti with a team of women from our church. The devastation in and around Port-au-Prince was unfathomable and yet in the midst of what Satan clearly meant for evil, there are many beautiful stories of what God used and continues to use for good.
Pastor Elizabeth Guelis has one of those stories.
When my sister Ann Menke and I met Pastor Elizabeth, the first thing I noticed about her was her beautiful, infectious, joy-filled smile that lit up her face and eyes like the Haitian sunrise. In her face, you could see the glory of God.
The second thing I noticed was her right leg. It was prosthetic.
Elizabeth’s smile grew even larger when I asked about her leg. Hers, you see, is a story like no other. Instead of bitterness about her loss, the prosthetic leg is a testimony to her of God’s love and grace.
Until the earth shook Haiti, Elizabeth told me that she and most Haitians didn’t know what an earthquake was. Hurricanes had threatened their country for many years so the buildings were often built with concrete to withstand the terrible winds. The concrete worked well to protect people from the hurricanes, but it was devastating when the earthquake hit.
On that Tuesday afternoon in January, Elizabeth had an appointment to meet an American friend at the woman’s two-story home. The women sat down in the corner of the concrete house to pray, but they hadn’t even begun to talk when the walls began to tremble. Dust filled the house and in an instant, it became so dark that Elizabeth couldn’t see.
Elizabeth tried to get outside, but she’d never visited this woman’s home before. In the darkness, and the dust, she didn’t know which way to go, and she couldn’t see or hear her friend. When she finally made it to the front gate, it was locked. She was trapped inside the compound.
Then the unthinkable happened. A wall collapsed over Elizabeth, pinning her legs. With the lower part of her body under the concrete, the upper half of her body facing the street, she drifted in and out of consciousness for hours.
When Haitians finally broke down the concrete wall around her, her legs were badly cut. Help had not yet arrived in the country so
someone put her legs into bleach and then wrapped plastic around them, leaving her to die. Her legs smelled terrible, she told me. I can’t imagine…
Three days later, Americans set up tent hospitals in the streets. She was the first one to be operated on at one of these hospitals. As her three children and the people in her church prayed, the Americans amputated her leg.
“I passed out when the American doctor began cutting my leg. I thought I was in heaven because I saw angels all around me.”
Her husband had died seven years ago, and when the doctors told her family she was dead, her children mourned for her.
But Pastor Elizabeth wasn’t dead. When she woke, there were people crying all around her. She was weak and dizzy, her leg gone, but she was alive. “God would not let me die,” she explained.
For nine months, Elizabeth was in the hospital. God had told several members of her church that she would live, and they continued to pray for her every day.
“I made a promise to God in the hospital. If He would let me live, I would serve Him the rest of my life.”
When she got out of the hospital, Elizabeth went to Bible school. She was glowing when she pulled out a picture from her Bible to show Ann and I. It was a photo of her on her graduation day. June 25, 2011. Elizabeth Guelis is now Pastor Elizabeth. She shares the Word of God with the people in her country and dreams of one day spreading His Word around the world.
“A lot of people criticize me,” she said. “They say I don’t deserve to be a minister since I never finished my high school education. Ministry is difficult, but God is with me.”
People criticize her because of her ministry, but there is also a stigma in having a prosthetic leg in Haiti. The handicapped are often treated with disrespect in this country, and some have questioned why God would allow her to lose a leg. She asked us if her sisters in America could pray that:
• God would give her strength to continue her church when people criticize her and tell her she can’t do it.
• She would hold the Word of God close and continue to do His work.
• God would give her the power and opportunity to share her testimony with thousands of people around the world.
The last day of our conference, Pastor Elizabeth found me in the crowd. She showed me her graduation picture again, pointing out the prosthetic leg with a sense of triumph. It is her testimony to what God has done and continues to do in her life. Then she held out the picture to me, signaling for me to take it.
“I can’t,” I said, shaking my hands and head. This picture meant so much to her, and I knew it was probably the only one she had. I couldn’t possibly take it from her.
But she held it out again, insisting that I keep it. It was her gift to me.
I wanted to give something to her in return, but I didn’t know what could even come close to equaling what she’d given me. Then I remembered that I had brought a picture with me to show the Haitian women. It was a photo of me, my husband, and my daughter when Karly was a baby. It seemed like nothing compared to Elizabeth’s gift—I can make another copy of it at any time—but it was all I had at that moment. I rushed to get it, and she gave me a precious hug in return. We’re sisters, you see, for now and eternity.
On that October afternoon, Elizabeth gave me her picture and her friendship. She reminded me of God’s love for His children, that even through terrible adversity and hardship He sees and loves each one of us. Not once did she complain to me about what had happened. Instead of being angry at God, she poured out her love for Him.
I pray that we continue to remember the stories of God’s goodness in the midst of tragedy, of the beauty He made and continues to make from the ashes. And that we continue to pray for women like Pastor Elizabeth who’ve devoted themselves to spreading God’s love and grace in Haiti.
Melanie Dobson has written ten contemporary and historical novels including five releases in Summerside’s Love Finds You series. In 2011, two of her releases won Carol Awards: Love Finds You in Homestead, Iowa (for historical romance) and The Silent Order (for romantic suspense).
Melanie received her undergraduate degree in journalism from Liberty University and her master’s degree in communication from Regent University. Prior to her writing career, Melanie was the corporate publicity manager at Focus on the Family and a publicist for The Family Channel. She later launched her own public relations company and worked in the fields of publicity and journalism for more than fifteen years.
Melanie and her family enjoy their home in the Pacific Northwest. The entire Dobson family loves to travel and hike in both the mountains and along the cliffs above the Pacific.
When Melanie isn’t writing or playing with her family, she enjoys exploring ghost towns and dusty back roads, line dancing, and reading inspirational fiction.
For more about Melanie Dobson and her books, visit www.melaniedobson.com.