LWR Post #7
As I write, seated in a Cessna Caravan, to my left cotton clouds hang on the steep cliffs, descending from the 10,000 ft. peak, level with our aircraft. There is a grand crater blasted from the side of the mountain by an ancient volcano. Deep crevasses and dry riverbeds are rounded by millennia of erosion and dotted with small homes. Its patchwork of paths and ridges spider-web in an orderly incoherence down to the sea. As we climb to 11,500 feet (I’m looking over the pilot’s shoulder at the altimeter) the forested mountains of the Dominican break before and under us, the sea visible on the left and the right.
I should be at peace: calmed, in one of my favorite places in the world, enjoying God’s creation from the small seat of a small prop plane. But I am filled with anxiety. I am exhausted. I am sad. I am numbed and drained, feeling like a volcano of thought, emotion, reason, sorrow, pain, and compassion. All of it teeters too close to the edge of despair. I feel as though I might explode and implode simultaneously.
Chennai, Bombay, Kibera, Soweto, Aceh, Ground Zero, New Orleans, Greenburg--Port-au-Prince, for mile after mile after mile, is all of these rolled into one. Existing burgeoning slums have expanded exponentially. Camp after camp has arisen in orderly chaos. A few proper tents dot the encampments, but the shelters are overwhelmingly made of bed sheets and blankets, then plastic tarps come one by one, then pieces of tin and wood. There was heavy rain in the darkness of early evening last night.
We finally saw the dotted evidence of a government, a handful of police here or there. UN vehicles scurry about the jammed city. In the mass of endless destruction, I can’t say that I saw a single frontend loader removing debris. The quake was indiscriminate. The poorest, the wealthiest, all alike hit. Some of the best hotels collapsed, story after story now mountainous heaps of rubble. The old theological question “why some, not others” reverberated in my mind as I saw beautiful young faces, now sad, now smiling. Young men and old timers alike stood atop a heap which looked less like a building collapsed than a building exploded. They stop for a few seconds, exhausted hands hanging limp in worn-out gloves, breathing heavily, blank sadness in face after face. There is a profound inner strength in these people.
The pungent, horrid smells strike one unaware. “They say a hundred people died in that building.” On the mountain road from Jacmel to Port-au-Prince, we passed a collapsed church. It had been a Baptist church, but the preacher abandoned the effort for America some time ago. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti had established a preaching station there last year. Twenty young people were meeting there and died in the quake.
The streets bustle with merchants and pedestrians, looking near normal but not at all. In many out-of-the-way neighborhoods, community-minded citizens have cleared the streets of debris and garbage, piled it neatly, and swept the area spotlessly clean. All this in front of collapsed homes. Makeshift tents, shelters, and cooking areas are ubiquitous. We stepped into the compound of the church of Pastor Doris Louis, the “father of Haitian Lutheranism.” The beautiful church is cracked, but intact. The clinic/school that is connected, however, has completely collapsed. Two late-middle-aged men trudged on, swinging sledges with homemade handles, precariously perched on the grid of re-bar, chipping loose the concrete encasement which was once a roof. There are a good four layers to go. There is no torch, no frontend loader, no jackhammer, and no truck. And those hearty men will finish the job, one backbreaking swing at a time.
We are about to descend into Santo Domingo. We left the Mercy Medical Team behind in Jacmel. They’ve been working from early morning into late evening. The clinic at President Kessa’s church is treating hundreds and hundreds of maladies, many life threatening, and many not. It’s taking pressure off the local Baptist hospital where the more severe cases are taken for critical care. Our team came as angels just as the hospital’s human resources were at an end. We had no idea our team would split and cover both, our orthopedic surgeon and a couple of nurses serving there. The pharmacist and others are helping in both places. Many people are coming, asking for bandaging for limbs that will have to be removed. I see the courage of our volunteer docs and nurses. They see the courage of the Haitian people.
Last night on the long drive back to Jacmel, President Kessa talked with us about many things, including Voodoo. In the wake of the quake, many people have come to the church for comfort and forgiveness and strength. He gave up a weary smile (he’s plenty astute theologically): “Some people think that the devil was bragging to God that he had more followers of Voodoo than there were Christians in Haiti. God responded, ‘I’ll shake Haiti and we’ll just see.’”
There’s something of Job’s wisdom in that, a wisdom of faith that endures despite inexplicable suffering. “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15).
But perhaps God has shaken Haiti more to prove what there is of faith, hope, and love in the Christian community throughout the world. We have received so much. We have Christ and his forgiveness, and so very much more. And on top of all that, we have Christ’s own promise: “Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:37-38).
I see this, too, in Haiti, where dear Christian people are “pressed down, shaken together” yet “running over.” Lord, help us.
Pastor Matthew Harrison
Executive Director, LCMS World Relief and Human Care
Board Member, Lutheran World Relief