The News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Ind., Kevin Leininger column: Haiti: 'God is still at work there'By Kevin Leininger The News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Ind.
Publication: The News-Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Indiana)
Date: Tuesday, January 26 2010
Jan. 26--Not even this city's poorest neighborhoods have much in common with what's happening in post-earthquake Haiti, except perhaps for one thing: Helping to revitalize one taught Matthew Harrison how to bring mercy to the other.
"Fort Wayne was absolutely vital by showing (me) how, after receiving God's gifts, we should show the love of Christ through community involvement and caring for the needs of our neighbor," Harrison said. He was senior pastor at Zion Lutheran Church, 2313 S. Hanna St., in 1997 when he and Father John Delaney of nearby St. Peter's Catholic Church planted the first seeds of a Hanna-Creighton neighborhood renewal that eventually yielded new and restored homes, a new library and other community buildings and, ultimately, the city's multimillion-dollar Renaissance Pointe project.
Largely because of the St. Peter's-Zion Project, Harrison was called four years later to head the 2.5 million-member Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod's World Relief and Human Care organization -- a position that took him to Asia after the devastating 2004 tsunami and to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
But neither prepared him for what he found in Haiti after arriving last Wednesday, barely a week after the earthquake reduced much of the already miserably poor country to rubble.
"It's the sheer volume of people in one place who are suffering," said Harrison, pastor at Zion from 1995 to 2001. "But I have no doubt that God is still at work there."
At work through people like Harrison and countless others working to bring comfort to the chaos.
Some of Harrison's team went to the hardest-hit area around Port-au-Prince, while he spent most of the past week near Jimani on Haiti's border with the Dominican Republic, where doctors -- some of whom arrived with Harrison -- did their best to cope with injuries, shortages and aftershocks.
"The (aftershocks) caused patients to relive what had occurred days earlier. Some were trying to flee, others were tearing their bandages off, and at least one jumped off a second-story balcony, fracturing his pelvis," Harrison said. "The second (aftershock) seemed to affect the doctors, nurses and caregivers more than it affected the Haitians."
Harrison's team brought with it $20,000 worth of food, water and other supplies, and his organization has already raised more than $1 million for Haitian relief efforts. His team met Monday to assess Haiti's needs and, after returning to the U.S. today, Harrison will begin in earnest the fund-raising efforts he knows Haiti will need in the years to come -- a skill he honed while seeking contributors to help rebuild a Fort Wayne neighborhood whose very name was once synonymous with "blight."
You may ask: How can someone who has seen and worked to ease so much human suffering still believe in a loving God? An even better question might be: How do the actual victims of earthquakes and other disasters not lose their faith?
Harrison addressed that age-old question this week on his Internet site, "Mercy Journeys":
"'Pastor, I don't know how to cope with this,' (a doctor) told me. 'Patients where I work complain about everything. I just treated a woman who had her arm guillotined with nothing but Tylenol as pain reliever, and she was smiling at me, thanking me. I couldn't believe it. These people have lost everything, and they are so thankful.'
"In the midst of all this, the Haitians have shown amazing faith, regularly singing hymns to Jesus as they huddle with their lone surviving child or a new friend on the ground or in the next bed ... The Lord does not bring the cross to hurt you. He brings the cross and suffering to create faith ... We can only face tomorrow with the knowledge that the outpouring of love and blessing in the wake of this disaster is and will be one of the most phenomenal acts of mercy in our time together on this Earth."
As a Zion member who heard Harrison preach for years, I'm intimately familiar with Lutheran doctrine: We are saved by faith in Christ alone, through God's grace, not by our works. But the Bible also says that true faith cannot be contained by the walls of a church but will manifest itself in acts of love toward neighbors we have never even met.
And in those acts, God is present -- even in the worst of times. Especially in the worst of times.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel
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