Hurricane Tomas swiped the western coast of Haiti late last week, and three days of rain brought massive flooding to many towns, including Leogane. The U.N. estimates 1,500 people in the city were displaced by the flood, most of whom have been living in temporary tents since the Jan. 12 earthquake.
The LDS church is one of the biggest and most modern buildings in Leogane, with the capacity to safely hold and protect 200. The church's hurricane policy? Only church members can seek shelter there. On Friday, 36 congregants and family members slept at the church.
They didn't receive food or water, sleeping mats or mattresses. On Friday afternoon, a dozen women sat on the ground and in chairs outside, underneath the shadow of the church's enormous satellite dish, while church staff more or less ignored them.
The church did not welcome non-Mormon community members, and did not extend much comfort to its own church family. The policy reflects two common realities in Haiti: First, charity is complicated by a seemingly endless sea of need; and second, many churches are here to serve only themselves, not the community at large.
"It's not simple," said Matthieu Chrisner, adviser to the bishop, the leader of the local congregation. Letting people take shelter here "is a very complex decision, and a lot of people would have to agree. It's a chain of authority that reaches the headquarters in the Central Caribbean."
If I had a group of children right now who needed a shelter?
"For now, we can have members of this church and their parents," he replied.
If they were disabled?
"I would have to ask at another level," Chrisner said. "There is a committee. Really, it's a committee inside of some other committees. It goes through the bishop, then a committee process ... then, there's no way to know if it's longer or shorter. I can't tell you how long it would take for an answer."
A local Mormon mother, 25-year-old Tanya Favery, sought shelter here before the storm. She thinks the Mormon-only policy is wrong, but she is resigned to her role, as a grateful beneficiary, and doesn't question the authority of the bishop.
"It's not normal, as a Christian," Favery said. "It should've been done otherwise. People could've come here and found Christ. But I'm not the decider."
In an interview, Bishop Pierre-Louis Yves told AOL News his church wasn't welcoming any hurricane victims at all. The church volunteered its premises as a point of coordination for the Department of Civil Protection. He said the 36 people staying at his church were support staff for civil protection employees. People interviewed at the church denied that.
For their part, the eight or 12 rotating civil protection staff, part of a team of more than 100, moved in and out of the parking lot. None of them slept at the church. They, too, didn't question the scene -- a pristine building, with virtually no outreach to the community.
"It's not shelter, it's a Mormon church," a church employee said.
The phrase was repeated over and over by many in the neighborhood, as people seemed not to understand that in a hurricane in Haiti, any building capable of withstanding wind and rain is a potential shelter. Most other shelters were either schools or churches, many of which were far more modest than the LDS facility.
The government of Haiti estimated that the western region had shelters for 20,000, but post-hurricane, many are wondering what that number means and how exactly it was calculated.
Before the storm hit, government employees with bullhorns, as well as radio disc jockeys, told people to seek shelter or risk their lives. But people were not told where to go. Unless they knew a friend with room in their house, most were frozen in place.
Numerous employees of the Department of Civil Protection, who have been working in the neighborhood of the church, said there were other places besides the LDS church for people to go. But when questioned, they couldn't name or identify any. One employee said he knew there was a map with shelters on it, but he had never seen a copy. "I think the mayor has a copy," he said.
A U.N. official said the world organization would help facilitate any building that wants to be a shelter, by providing water and sanitation, as well as distribution of food, to ensure people are provided with basic services. But no building is required to be a hurricane shelter just because it is safe, the official said.
Local charities that work in Leogane were not aware of the church's policy. Stefanie Chang, with All Hands, a U.S.-based charity operating in the area, said she felt most people in Leogane who sought shelter were able to find it, since many decided to stay home and ride out the storm.
The bishop pointed out that the church had been a shelter for earthquake victims. But this time, he came to an agreement with the mayor of Leogane that the church would host a small office for government employees, instead of its homeless neighbors.
At the empty churchyard, Tanya Favery talked gossip and shared food with two new neighbors, Alcine Magolie and Solange Goston, who also sought protection here. Alcine said that with no free food, no water, no beds, they got the picture: Go home. Even though, truth-be-told, they'd rather not. And they didn't know what they'd find when they did -- water, mud, nothing at all.
They knew they were begging and they felt like beggars. But as Christians -- and Haitians -- their relative good fortune stings.
"The Bible said to open up to everyone," Favery said with some anger. "Jesus saved many lives in his ministry. A lot of people used to come to Jesus for help. He helped them."