Saved by a Soccer Ball

BJ Rudge (age 16) with Haitian boys and soccer ball that saved their lives.

It was a Saturday night in March 1993, when Bill Rudge and his team arrived back at the Mission Possible compound in Haiti after an outreach in Gonaives. They heard voodoo drums, so Bill decided to go research a Rara. Bob, Toni, and BJ went with him, while the others stayed back at the compound.

The lights go out at the compound at 9:00 p.m. and it is pitch black. So they each took a flashlight. Bill told Bob, Toni, and BJ that if they got into trouble to turn off their flashlights and run into the jungle and hide until morning. Edmond, the night guard at the mission compound who spoke a little English, saw them going and insisted on coming. He took them the back way through jungle trails.

As they were walking down a narrow path to get close to the site where over 100 voodoo practitioners were gathered, the ceremony was just breaking up and the participants were heading up to the street to dance from hut to hut. Bill and those with him stepped to the side of the narrow path to get out of their way. But when the Rara participants saw Bill, about 40 of them surrounded him and his team.

Bill had no idea what they were going to do. Some of the men and women and teens sounded extremely agitated. Not being able to speak their language nor knowing their intentions, Bill quickly pondered an escape behind a nearby hut, but decided to stay and face them. It was a good thing they did not try to run into the jungle because there was a high fence behind the hut, and they were trapped.

A few days before Bill and his team arrived in Haiti, a Haitian woman at a Rara was hacked on her face with machetes and left to die by two men who were drunk. She was taken to a Haitian medical center, but told they could do nothing. Then she was taken to the Baptist Mission Hospital where Doctor Rhode’s (who was also staying at Mission Possible with us) daughter is a nurse. She didn’t know if she could save her, but began to sew her back together. She did live but will be scarred for life.

A sign in Haiti at a voodoo display read, “The Rara is to celebrate the crowd who cried for Christ’s death.” No wonder the voodoo practitioners were so hostile when Bill and his team encountered them at the Rara.

Toni and BJ stood behind Bill, and Bob stood beside him. When the hostility was at its peak and it appeared we were in grave danger, two of the younger boys, who played soccer with BJ a couple days earlier and received a gift of a soccer ball from him, saw BJ was in trouble. They then walked out of the hostile crowd and stood by him. They both held his hands. The crowd’s demeanor immediately changed and no longer were threatening our lives.

The leader of the Rara said to Edmond, “Are the white people afraid?” Edmond replied, “No, the white people are not afraid!” Women started dancing around Bill and those with him. But Edmond said to them, “These are Christians; they do not want you to dance for them; they are only here to watch.” Edmond later said they were saying, “I danced for you, now pay me!”

After some harsh glares and comments the participants at the Rara continued their procession up to the street where the people began dancing from hut to hut to receive money. Bill and his team went up to the street, watched for a few minutes so they would know that they were not afraid, and then headed to the mission compound.

Thank the Lord that Edmond went with Bill and his team to interpret or it could have been a much different scenario. What was a small problem could have easily  – with language barriers  – escalated into a life threatening situation. The Rara participants’ aggression could have led to a fight for survival — one Bill now knows he could not have won. For all Bill knew then, the Haitians could have been saying, “We are going to kill you, prepare to die.”

It was the Lord, and the gift of a soccer ball that saved our lives.