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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Rev. Harrison's Fourth LWR Post

Leave it to a New Yorker.

In an earlier post, I described briefly the chaos that ensued at the hospital compound in Jimani on, I believe, the 23rd of January when a significant tremor struck the area. Some 1500 patients and family members, doctors, nurses, children, locals, expatriates all ran for their lives and out of the buildings. One poor man jumped from the second story of the large orphanage turned hospital. His leg had been amputated, but now his pelvis was fractured also.

Rev. Ted Krey, who had been ministering to these people one-on-one for days (along with his incredibly capable team), said, “Just walk among the people and calm them.” We went about praying, sitting, talking, singing, reassuring--being present. After about twenty minutes, a man stood up and began to lead the people in Creole hymns. The African style singing was a stark, faith-filled contrast and antidote to the terror, weeping, and fright now beginning to ebb. Another fifteen minutes or so later, a man stood from the second floor balcony with a bullhorn. He began shouting and telling the people to have courage--it is the end of the world. While I’d be hard pressed to reject the content of his eschatology (“When all these things begin to take place, look up for your redemption draweth nigh . . .” Luke 21:28), his preaching did anything but calm the crowd. And calm was what was called for as all the patients now needed to be re-triaged, having pulled loose bandages, I.V.s, damaged treated wounds, etc. scrambling out of the building.

Pastor Ted immediately suggested that we begin handing out meals to calm the crowd. It worked. One of the first ones to whom I offered the styrofoam container was an older Haitian man in a wheel chair, stout with a majestic countenance. He sat next to his relatives more seriously hurt than himself, head in hand, weeping. As I extended the tray to him, he shook his head, “no.” The crowd was completely calm again when a man (whether the same "prophet" as the earlier, I do not know) climbed on top of a trailer, bullhorn in hand, and began to try to stir up the crowd again. Neither do I know if he was intent on the same eschatological rant. In any case, the wheel-chaired Haitian immediately shouted to the young zealot in Creole. Not knowing a lick of Creole, I’ll offer a conjectured translation: “Shut up and sit down, you fool! These people don’t need this now!” His deep authoritative voice immediately accomplished its goal.

After all the meals had gone out and the truck had run to get more, I sat on the sand in front of his wheel chair. I apologized, speaking only the few words of Spanish and French I know--(If only I’d paid more attention to my French-speaking grandmother when she was alive…)--telling him I could not converse in those languages, much less Creole. He responded in crystal clear English. “No problem, we can speak in English.” My eyes opened wide and a smile marked my face. “Where did you learn such good English?” “I live in New York, I was just down here vacationing, visiting my relatives.” “Some vacation” I responded! We had a nice chat about life, about God, about family. He hoped that he and his injured wife (I believe) would be able to leave for Long Island the next day.

Even in the chaos of international disaster, it takes a New Yorker to get the job done. “Shut up and sit down!”

The larger point of all this is that the Haitians themselves and their Dominican neighbors will be the most significant leaders in responding to this disaster. Any long-term and lasting improvement of lives will happen only from the capacity built by accompanying--by coming along side the thousands upon thousands of still healthy, bright, effective Haitians who know their culture and will be the key to a better future.

That’s what LWR is about.

Pastor Matthew Harrison
Executive Director, LCMS World Relief and Human Care
Board Member, LWR

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