One year away from home

Remembering the day gangs attacked Source Matelas

Today marks one year since JiHM’s property was overtaken by gangs. One year since the entire village of Source Matelas fled their homes, schools, churches, and livelihoods in sheer panic.

April 19, 2023, is a day that will never be forgotten by our brothers and sisters who called that village home. And so we, too, remember and bear witness to what they have gone through and continue to overcome.

“It was a total panic”

As the sun shone brightly over Grace Emmanuel School on that Wednesday morning, students were busy at work on first semester exams.

At 10 am, the gunshots began.

“We heard lots of shooting,” recalled Enice, a custodian at the school, “but we thought it was the police exchanging fire with the gangs. After some time, we saw lots of people running on the mountain in front of the school and heard it was gangs that were attacking Source Matelas.”

“I felt so much stress,” shared Woodmaer, a student who is now a senior at GES. “There was so much confusion. Everyone was running. In every sense, it was a total panic.”

Enice and Woodmaer were both at the school on the morning of the attack.

At first everyone started to head toward the gate or board the bus to take the road to Cabaret, but when a bullet nearly struck Roger, JiHM’s director of operations, as he stood outside the gate, he ordered everyone to return inside the walls of the property and lock the gate.

Because of the 10-foot-wall surrounding the school, students and staff had to escape by crawling through an iron drainage grate that a few men quickly bent open.

JiHM’s property, identifying the drainage grate where students evacuated the school on April 19, 2023.

“The leaders of the school helped save our lives,” Enice said. “They told us to head on foot to Cabaret. With much difficulty, we arrived around noon. We thank God for the grace He gave us because we had it so much better than so many others.”

As staff and students fled with gunfire just behind them, panicked parents tried to make their way to the school.

Dominique, whose daughter was in kindergarten at GES that day, shared his story.

“When I heard the gunshots, I thought it was [the Source Matelas militia] shooting, so I got on my bike to race to find Ketchina at school. That’s when someone told me I couldn’t get through because the gangs were there, attacking our village. They were the ones shooting. I had to bike like a crazy man to save my life, leaving behind my wife and the rest of my family in Source Matelas. The gangs shot behind me, but thanks to God the bullets didn’t reach me.”

Dominique’s daughter at school in April 2022.

When Dominique arrived at the school, it was empty. “I was very panicked because I didn’t know where Ketchina was. That’s when a friend called me and told me my daughter was in Cabaret. It was a great relief for me. God gave me more grace, too, because my wife and family that remained in Source Matelas made it safely to Cabaret that night.”

Miraculously, everyone at JiHM’s property safely evacuated to Cabaret. JiHM’s location on the outskirts of Source Matelas had allowed just enough distance from the gangs to escape.

But schools that were located in the middle of Source Matelas did not have the same experience. Billy Jean, who teaches math at many different high schools in the area including GES, was teaching at one of those schools that day.

“Rumors arrived around 10 am to say that gangs had invaded the area and all the schools needed to release. But everyone couldn’t leave because in the short time since the gangs arrived, they had already killed many people.”

He would learn later that many of his students were killed that day. His own family remains traumatized from their own experiences, especially his wife and 5-year-old son.

Woodmaer and many other students at GES lost friends who attended other schools that day. “It was the saddest day for me,” Woodmaer recalled. He said his family wants to leave Haiti because “there are too many bad memories.”

Jean and his grandpa in 2019

Jean*, a 7th grader at GES, had not come to school on the day of the attack. He was fixing a motorcycle for someone when the shooting started, and he ran to the home where he lived with his aunt’s family. His grandpa ran to join them, too. His uncle thought the shooting wouldn’t last for long, so they all hid under beds. They stayed under beds all day and all night.

“The next morning, we took the road to leave for Cabaret because everyone in the area had left, we were the only ones who remained,” Jean remembered. “That is when we ran into a group of gang members.”

Horrifically, in front of Jean’s family, the gangs shot his uncle and his grandpa. Jean and the rest of his family watched them die.

“The gangs told us to leave and not look back.” They ran to Cabaret. Jean has been sleeping on the floor in different friends’ homes ever since.

How can we respond?

The atrocities carried out in Source Matelas are horrific and infuriating. A massacre of men, women, and children in broad daylight with no police response. An international response that has not materialized. As Pastor Adam Ramsey puts it, wrongs like these make “Triune blood boil with righteous anger on behalf of all who experience injustice.”

Though the problems afflicting Haiti may be too big for us to fully address, we can continue to bear witness to the injustices inflicted on our brothers and sisters in Haiti and act on their behalf. As God’s children, we must be about the work of justice—bringing what is good and right and true back to places where wrong is winning the day.

As the prophet Micah says, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

Here are a few small ways to “do justice” for the people of Source Matelas:

Support the work of JiHM.

Grace Emmanuel School continues to hold class whenever possible, with 340 students enrolled from the Source Matelas/Cabaret area. In addition, JiHM continues to pay its staff of 70+ people every month, whether it has been possible for them to do their work that month or not. Providing education and jobs is one way you can be part of returning God-given dignity to people who have been robbed of so much. Your support through gifts and sponsorship is the only way that is possible. Please continue to generously support JiHM.

Encourage JiHM staff.

As the difficult months in Haiti have turned into years and peace remains elusive, JiHM’s staff has grown more discouraged. They worry JiHM will cease to exist because of the difficulties. Would you be part of sending the message that they are not forgotten? Write a simple note of encouragement to someone on our staff today. (For a link to view our staff directory, email Kristi at You can also leave the name blank.)

Befriend a Haitian refugee in your community.

Thousands of Haitians, including hundreds from the Source Matelas area, have arrived at our doorsteps seeking refuge over the past few years. Could you support them by welcoming them into your church? Inviting them to dinner? Helping them learn English, apply for a job, get to work, or just navigate a vastly different culture? May we reciprocate the welcome we received by Jesus Christ, who welcomed us into His family on no merit of our own.

Finally, keep praying.

Pray for gangs to lay down their weapons and repent. Scripture makes it clear that God could just say the word and the gangs would flee. While we trust His perfect timing, let us not grow weary in crying out to Him to “…let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)

May we not just lament the absence of justice in Haiti, but be people who actively work to undo its effects in the name of Jesus, who gave His very life to save this sin-soaked world.

*Name changed for his protection.