"Among the Rubble, Sustained by Faith", REFLECTIONS By Rev. Carlos Hernandez, Director, Districts and Congregations, LCMS World Relief and Human Care
PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti - It's a surreal, almost apocalyptic experience seeing the massive destruction everywhere and on every street in Port au Prince from the windows of our SUV, stopping along the way and walking around to get a closer look.
We are on our second trip to Haiti as an Assessment/ Pastoral Care team that includes this writer (Rev. Carlos Hernandez), Rev. Glenn Merritt, Rev. Albert Collver, John Edson (LCMS World Relief and Human Care Board member) and our Executive Director, Rev. Matthew Harrison.
Last week we were thrust into intense Pastoral Care at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Jimani, Dominican Republic where patients were jumping off second story wards after two more strong earthquakes sent people frantically rushing outdoors.
Today on our rugged journey from Jacmel to Port au Prince through a treacherous 8,000 feet mountain pass, our agile driver and gracious host is The Rev. Markey Kessa, President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti.
He is a tireless, gospel-centered, compassionate Churchman/Theologian with a practical, no-nonsense business background. He is already providing strong leadership and forging collegial partnerships for the long Haitian disaster recovery work ahead of us.
As President Kessa skillfully weaves in and through the streets of Port au Prince, we see a mass of humanity - people every where on the cluttered, earthquake debris-strewn roadsides.
Bumper-to-bumper traffic, not including the ever present mini-motorcycles, spews even more smog reminiscent of auto-dependant Los Angeles. The smoke from the hundreds of wood-burning fires for makeshift cooking adds to the errie black cloud hanging over this devastated city.
The streets of Port au Prince, perhaps already as dangerous as any urban enclave before the earthquake, are much more volatile and prone to violence now as homeless victims of the destructive disaster clamor for basic survival needs.
Violence, toxic air and hunger are forcing thousands out of the city into the rural countryside - a diaspora of historic proportions.
Yet even as chunks of concrete are still falling from buildings that appear to be on the verge of collapsing, fruit and vegetable vendors are open for business for as far as the eye can see.
Interspersed between the food merchants are sellers of every concievable piece of merchandise.
In the U.S., these disaster compromised, unsafe areas would be "roped-off," off-limits and buzzing with bulldozers and an assortment of demolition equipment with dump trucks hauling off the debris.
But from what we see today, Port au Prince seems to be grossly neglected. This city of nearly three million, for now, has been left to pretty much fend for itself.
But even among the rubble, the suffocating stench of death, endless garbage, and imminent danger, for those who choose to stay, life and commerce goes on in the streets of Port au Prince.
The earthquake's crushing blow hasn't yet crushed the human spirit here. Perhaps it is the adrenaline that is driving the frentic activity, the bustling and robust movements typical of urban life.
But what will happen when all the international attention, the peace keeping missions and UN feeding lines subside and are gone?
For many, their faith is sustaining them, faith in need of daily strengthening and made even stronger by presence and a human ear to listen to variations of the answer to,
"What was it like for you?"
"What have you been feeling and how have you been doing?"
Strenthening Faith in our One Lord - that's our business today in Port au Prince, besides being eye-witnesses to the aftermath of probably the most distructive disaster in LCMS World Relief and Human Care history.
To be sure, we will continue the careful and detailed work of assessing the long-term recovery and re-building needs of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti and the communities they serve.
But equally needed, if not more so, as we travel from church to church, are the prayers we offer, our presence as fellow members of the body of Christ, and the quiet celebration of a faith that one Haitian pastor describes, as he cups his hands and confesses First Article conviction,
"We are in God's hands."
All this - nurturing faith - even as we continue attending to emergency needs, shipping and trucking beans, rice, water, tents and medical supplies every other day through the Lutheran Church of the Dominican Republic directed by Missionary Rev. Ted Krey and his staff from their offices in Santiago, Dominican Republic.
At length, we arrive at First Evangelical Lutheran Church where The Rev. Dorise Jean Louis is Pastor.
Our Pastoral Team offers Rev. Louis prayer, words of encouragement and hope.
Some of their "Concordia" High School buildings collapsed in the quake, and he takes us through the damage.
From there Rev. Louis escorts us to another of the four congregations he serves, and finally to the Good Shepherd congregation where Pastor Thomas Bernard serves. He is fearful of yet another, stronger earthquake, but still affirms faith in the providence of God.
Here too as in Jimani last week, we come as Pastors, fellow members of the body Christ because one part is suffering and so we are all suffering together.
This will continue to be the mode of the initial Haitian disaster relief efforts of LCMS World Relief and Human Care - face-to-face, on-site pastoral conversation, offering the Haitian pastors and their flocks hope, encouragement and prayer.
And also listening carefully to the assessment of the evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti - not ours - of what's most needed along the emergency- to-recovery continuum of disaster response surely to continue for years to come.
Rev. Hernandez may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (314) 956-2005.