You may have heard about Mike and Missy Wilson on the News this past January. Major networks carried ongoing footage of their harrowing experience as they tried to get their adopted daughter, Tia, out of Haiti after the earthquake struck. Emotions also ran high as viewers watched a heartbroken Naika, Tia’s best friend, clutch Mike’s shirt as he embarked on his way back to the United States, unable to take her with him at the time. As the dust now begins to settle in Haiti and people are slowly putting the pieces of their lives back together, I had the opportunity to sit down with the Wilsons and discuss life before the earthquake, and the journey they have been through since that day.
Planting the seeds –the journey to Haiti
Tennessee natives Mike and Missy Wilson grew up in Knoxville and eventually moved to the Nashville area. They have three biological sons, Dyllan, 13, Lane, 12, and Eli, who is 9. They are also taking care of Katie, 21, who, even though she isn’t a biological member of the family, is considered one of their own. When Lane was born premature at 23 weeks old, life as the Wilsons knew it changed forever. Weighing just 1 pound, 4 ounces, Lane suffered a stroke as soon as he was born and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
Lane cannot walk, talk or see the world around him; he is completely blind. The Wilsons were completely unprepared but trusted that God had His hand over the situation. “When Lane was born, neither one of us had ever been around a special-needs child before. We learned things very quickly. We didn’t have a choice, and as time went on, we realized how much we have learned about life from Lane,” recalls Missy.
“He teaches us about things that we take for granted in life. When the unexpected happens, it’s how you deal with pain and suffering that matters the most.”
Mike, who had worked on church staff for 15 years as a youth and young adult pastor, and Missy began to pray about starting a Life after Lane was born. Soon, the “My Life Speaks Life ” was born. “We have seen God use this precious child and our story to speak hope and encouragement into other people’s lives,” writes Mike on his website, MyLifeSpeaks.com. Eventually, Mike left his position on the church staff and began to work and speak full-time through this Life . He partnered up with a good friend of his who also worked in Life, Brent Gambrell, and spoke around the country Missy, who had worked for Brent part-time in the past, then became executive director for the flourishing Life .
In 2003, while Gambrell was teaching bible studies in Orlando on a weekly basis, he was approached by a man who told him about a mission his family had started in Haiti. Gambrell’s first trip to the mission was in March 2003. As he told Mike Wilson in great detail about how “amazing things were happening in Haiti,” Mike felt compelled to schedule a trip for the following October. “I absolutely fell in love with the country. It was different than anything that we have ever been a part of. The need and opportunity for service was huge, and Brent and I saw it as something that we could do on a long-term basis,” explains Mike. Each year following their initial trips, Mike and Brent took missions trips to Haiti to serve in any way that was possible.
In 2007, Missy went along for the first time and also fell in love instantly. Since then, the Life has put together numerous trips, sending teams of 50 people into the country to help out with construction projects, mission work, life skills teaching and youth sports camps. Their ultimate goal is to build relationships with the people of Haiti so that the good News of the Gospel can be shared with them.
As Mike and Missy became more involved with and drawn to the people of Haiti, God put it on their hearts to adopt a child. In 2009, the couple went to an orphanage in Leogane, directly outside of Port-au-Prince, and met its director, Dr. Jacob Bernard. They describe Bernard as an “amazing human being.” “Dr. Bernard was just incredible, and we told him that we would like to bring some of our teams over and help him at the orphanage,” says Mike. “Also, on that day, July 8th, we had the pleasure of meeting Tia for the first time.”
As the Wilsons started the adoption process, filled with applications, approvals and referrals, they continued to work alongside Dr. Bernard’s orphanage in Haiti by bringing different groups to him during mission trips, including Katie, who has been interning at the orphanage.
Tragedy strikes – watching God’s hand orchestrate miracles during devastating moments
When the earthquake struck, Mike and Missy were at their office in Nashville, planning another mission trip back to Haiti. “Our thoughts immediately went to whether or not anyone was alive, as the orphanage is situated where the epicenter of the earthquake took place,” recalls Missy. “It was impossible to get in contact with anyone.” Mike and Brent tried to get a flight out of the U.S. that day, to no avail, but God had other plans to get them into Haiti. “A friend from the Life offered to pay for a private plane, if we could secure one, and within 24 hours, Mike, Brent and a military pal were on their way to Haiti,” states Missy.
“We were one of the very first planes to land in Haiti, and the pilot handed us his satellite telephone, telling us to keep it close because there was word of serious rioting going on immediately outside of the airport,” remembers Mike. “We decided not to leave the airport just yet, and slept on the tarmac that night. We didn’t know what to expect at this point, but I just remembered to cling to my faith and knew that I was going to do my best to bring Katie, Tia and anyone else that I could home to the States safely.” Over the next few hours, troops and major television networks began to arrive as well. Back in the U.S., Missy was busy working to get in contact with Dr. Bernard and arranged for him to pick up Mike and Brent at the airport the following day.
Driving away from the airport, on their way to the orphanage, Mike recalls the scene around him.
“Everything they were showing on the television was very real. The devastation was beyond anything you have ever seen before. On one side, you would see a six-story building completely collapsed, yet next to it was another building standing tall,” he states. “There were crushed cars, and bodies wrapped in sheets or covered with cardboard. Along the roads were giant piles of bodies, where people had moved them from the more-populated areas because the smell was horrendous.” Mike recalls the scene in Haiti that was the most difficult for him to witness: a dump truck that was filled with more than 400 bodies of small children who were killed in a school collapse. “I can see why it is hard for people to understand why they are piling up bodies and so forth, but people were petrified and without any leadership or authority; they were all trying to do the best that they could in the situation.”
After learning that Katie, Tia and others at the orphanage were still alive, the first thing Mike did was rent a bus to take the children away from the orphanage, to a guesthouse where they would be safe. “Katie and Brent were able to get a flight home, and I took Tia and her best friend, Naika, to the airport with me. We were trying to get help from the (U.S.)Embassy to get Tia out of the country, since we had already been cleared through many steps of the adoption process prior to the earthquake; but we weren’t sure if they would let Naika out, as we weren’t very far in the adoption process,” recalls Mike. “The Embassy told me there was nothing they could do to let either of them out of the country. We went back to the airport and slept on the baggage terminal that night. The next morning, we ran into a team from NBC News, and they offered to drive us back to the orphanage and run our story.” A media frenzy quickly ensued, and various News outlets began to run stories on the children and orphans of Haiti. As the Wilsons’ story began to be heard around the world, things began to happen. “The Embassy contacted me the next day and told me to tell Mike to get back to them, and they (would) expedite her paperwork and help him get her out of Haiti,” says Missy. Mike immediately took Tia back to the Embassy and boarded a plane with her, along with two other children who were going to their adopted families in Kentucky. The world watched on their televisions as one major hurdle had been overcome. But another obstacle was still lurking in the background – Naika wasn’t allowed to board the plane and leave the country with Mike and Tia.
Home at last –God’s plan comes to fruition
“He brought Tia (with) him on the 19th of January, and we were told that the process to get Naika would take a year or more. Days later, on Sunday, we got a surprise call from customs, telling us that they would process Naika on humanitarian parole and try to finish her paperwork in the next week,” recalls Missy.
“Then, all of a sudden, that night, customs called us back and told us that they just put Naika on a flight to Orlando and that she would be waiting for us! We were just thinking, ‘What in the world is going on in our life?’ We could hardly believe what these people were saying to us!” Mike jumped on a flight to Orlando to meet Naika, and within a short period of time, the two girls were reunited.
Having experienced the dramatic transition from complete devastation in Haiti to a new family and home in Nashville, Tia, 5, and Naika, 6, are adjusting well to their new surroundings. “Tia was very comfortable the minute that she arrived here. Naika was a little shy at first, but she has had a very difficult past. They are both opening up now, and since they saw each other for the first time again, they haven’t stopped speaking Creole to one another. The only thing either of them is having difficulty adjusting to is the snow here in Nashville!” Mike says jokingly.
Thinking back to the events that happened to their family over the past two months, Missy states, “Even though we have a crazy life and it is more than we ever dreamed that we would ever have, it has been great. It is so exciting to adopt, and it’s not just about adopting; it’s about continuing our work in Haiti and continuing to let the girls be part of their country. When they get older, they will be able to build a better Haiti for themselves and the people of their country. Even though the earthquake was nothing that anyone imagined Haiti having to go through, I know that God’s plan and hand is still on Haiti and still on us, and we will continue on this journey to see where this road takes us.”
“Our family is so invested in Haiti and has been invested for so long; it is a home for us, not just a place to do mission work. In the midst of a tragedy, God’s hand is still there as only He can be, and you can find Him in the most invisible places, like a destroyed church where followers are worshipping outside on a Sunday morning. They realize that they still have the opportunity at life; they were spared for some reason. Many of our friends in Haiti, who are not believers, have stopped us and asked us questions about our faith. I know God will use it all. God can use the most difficult circumstance to bring people to Him. He has brought us this far, and there is truly nothing that He can’t do. Hearing stories of people being pulled from the rubble, or walking away from situations that they shouldn’t have been able to walk away from, makes you realize that He is God and has a much bigger and better plan for our life than we do,” adds Mike.
For more information on the Wilson family and their Life, please visit: www.MyLifeSpeaks.com.