Sunday, October 31, 2010

Little Children

All photos in this post by Robbie Pruitt

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Mt 19:14)

It was hard not to think of this verse as I looked up at the image of Jesus holding a little one in his arms. The mural was painted onto the living room wall of a children's home we visited, and seemed to be coming to life all around us. The moment our group stepped through the door, we were swarmed. As Robbie said later on, these were "free range children," unencumbered by cribs, baby gates, or shoes. Kids came out of every corner, ran to us, and latched on to whoever had a free arm, leg, or shoulder.

They cuddled, hugged and clung.

They played, winked, and teased.

They looked up at our eyes. They didn't speak English, but their desire was clear... please please please pick me up!

They posed for the cameras, smiled with bright faces, and revelled in the attention.

They didn't want to let go. Neither did we.

Now I'm back home, reflecting. My mind goes back to the scripture, which I actually look up this time around. Flipping to the Gospel of Matthew, I read the familiar lines again with the faces of the little Haitian kids vivid in my mind.

Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there. (Mt 19:13-15)

I keep reading. Surprised, I notice what comes next in the text. The rich young man. This story is also familiar--in fact, I just read it yesterday. But somehow, now, in contrast to the image of the little children to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs, the story of the rich young man seems to have a different ring to it.

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”

“Which ones?” the man inquired.

Jesus replied, “ ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first." (Mt 19:16-30)

What a contrast. First we have the kids, just like the kids we saw. Possessing nothing. Thirsty for love. In desperate pursuit of someone to care for them. Plunging into arms that will hold them. Clinging as if for life itself. Oblivious to how they must appear to others. Wholly unencumbered. Free to love. In the arms of Jesus, filled with joy. The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.

And then we have the rich young man. Possessing many things. Thirsty for comfort. In pursuit of easy guarantees. Approaching tentatively. Clinging to wealth. Highly aware of appearances. Wholly encumbered. Imprisoned by money. Walking away disappointed. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

The words of Jesus for the children and for the young man echo in my heart. Teach me, Lord... Show me how to run to you. Give me the desire to leap into your arms. Give me the grace to leave everything behind for you. Forgive me for when I choose to walk away disappointed. Open my eyes to your kingdom.

Friday, October 29, 2010

They call it Jerusalem


If the video won't play, try watching it here.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Throwing rice


Photo above by Ron Holt

To me, there are few sights more beautiful than the Haitian countryside. The land itself is full of drama. A ride through the mountains deserves a soundtrack with booming tympani and majestic strings. Impossibly steep mountainsides streach up to jagged ridges. In the US, this kind of topography is almost exclusively found in national parks, full of flora and fauna with only a few human visitors who come in for a day hike, and then return to their homes. In Haiti, these awe-inspiring mountainsides are dotted with small homes, striped by terraced fields, and peppered with people trying to draw a living out of the land through farming.

Photo above by Ron Holt
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Until the 1980s, Haiti's agricultural sector was fairly developed and was able to provide most of the food for the country. Many Haitians, like one of our translators, Mr. P, seem to idealize this pre-1980s period of time, noting, "At least we could eat." Mr. P's opinion on this surprised me because this was also a period of brutal dictatorship by Papa Doc and Baby Doc. During this time, the countryside was terrorized by the regime's band of armed thugs, called the Tonton Macoutes. They were known to massacre anyone who opposed the government and conducted campaigns of murder, rape, kidnapping, and pillaging. They raided villages, decapitated and dismembered their victims, and left ravaged bodies on display in the street as a warning. And yet, according to Mr. P, "Papa Doc was our best leader. At least people could feed their children." This statement seemed unimaginable to me, and left me wondering about what really changed in the economy and agricultural sector that has left people struggling to provide even the basics for their families.
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Was it a change in agricultural practices? No, those had been effective for decades, if not longer. Was it a change in the government and its policies? No, those didn't change until a little later, with a landslide democratic election of a charismatic priest named Jean-Bertrand Aristide. If not those factors, what was it that changed? As it turns out, the driving change was not from within the country at all--it was from the outside--it was a change in [gulp] US economic policy.
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A brief written by the Mennonite Central Committee does a great job of explaining what happened:

"In the 1980s Haiti was nearly self-sufficient in food production, most of its farmers could earn a living and the Haitian population purchased local food. Today, up to 70 percent of Haiti’s food comes from imports and Haiti’s agriculture remains in shambles due to economic policies that have debilitated local food production and rural development" (p. 8)
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It goes on to specifically address the role of USAID policy in Haiti:
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"USAID has worked since World War II to open global markets to American business. American food aid in particular has had drastic consequences in marketplaces around the world. Through food aid to Haiti, as well as successive trade agreements in the 1980s and 90s that reduced import tariffs to 3% (compared to the regional average of 35%), American rice has flooded Haitian markets, and Haitian markets have responded: imports have increased, and national production has decreased. In 1981 Haiti imported 15,000 and grew 124,000 tons of rice per year, but by 2004 Haiti imported 350,000 tons and grew only 78,000 tons each year. The net result of non-disaster food aid is a marked loss of capacity for Haiti to feed its citizens.
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"While American rice farmers alone benefited from $11 billion in U.S. government subsidies from 1995-2006, Haitian farmers struggle to compete with subsidized American produce. Food-for-work and cash-for-work programs managed by USAID have also undermined the agricultural sector by providing incentives for farmers to leave their fields to work on small infrastructure development projects whose measurable positive impact is questionable. Those who continue farming have difficulty hiring farmhands when forced to compete with the compensations offered by these projects. USAID sent an additional 122 million pounds of beans, oil, and rice as response to the earthquake in Haiti, driving down prices for locally-produced commodities.
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"Haitian farmers are unable to compete with these low prices, a pressure magnified by the increased demands placed on many of these farmers. Post-earthquake, hundreds of thousands of people have returned to the countryside, where their families struggle to feed and house them" (p. 13-14).
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It's remarkable to me what a huge impact one US policy change can make in the economy of another country, especially a small one like Haiti. The image that comes to mind is an elephant balanced in a fishing boat, like one of the many we saw during our trip (fishing boats, not elephants, that is). One tiny shift in position can make the whole operation capsize!

Photo above by Ron Holt

It seems that there is much to learn from this history that is especially pertinent to the current situation. After the earthquake, as in the 1980s and 1990s, there have been massive amounts of free food sent to Haiti as part of the relief effort. This aid was essential and is still desperately needed. We saw a lot of malnutrition and hunger in areas where this food aid has been withdrawn (more on that later). At the same time, sending ships full of rice and beans is not enough, and has the potential to have a similar destabilizing effect on the local economy that the USAID policies had. It is essential that short term food aid be balanced with long-term investment into the agricultural sector, and a re-evaluation of US economic policy toward Haiti.
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In the interest of keeping the elephant from tipping the boat over, the Mennonite Central Committee's brief makes the some specific recommendations:
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• "Allowing the Haitian government to regulate food imports.
• Advocating that the government legislate agricultural subsidies.
• Providing Haitian farmers with access to credit.
• Repairing and improving agricultural infrastructure.
• Ensuring that farmers have legal rights to their land.
• Investing in participatory, farmer-led research and knowledge transfer for small-scale
farmers in Haiti" (p. 8).
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It is my hope and prayer that as Haiti moves forward, its countryside will become as fruitful as it is majestic, and as sustaining to the bodies of the hungry masses as its beauty is to their spirits.
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In the words of the prophet Micah (4:1-5):

1 In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills. Peoples shall stream to it,
2 and many nations shall come and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
3 He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more;
4 but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
5 For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Joy of [Haitian] Cooking

Photo above by Ron Holt

One of the joys of our time in Haiti was getting to know Naomi, the head of the kitchen staff at Isaiah 61 House. Though timid in front of the big group, Naomi is warm and chatty one-on-one. She told me about her family, most of whom live in Port-au-Prince—her father is a pastor and her mother is a nurse (just like Robbie’s grandparents). She used to be a missionary for YWAM in Haiti and the Dominican, and seems to see her work at Isaiah 61 as a kind of ministry, too. She became my guide to Haitian cooking through our nightly chats in which she would graciously explain her delicious recipes to me. The recipes were fairly simple, but the more I learned about the process of cooking (both from Naomi and others), the more complex issues started to emerge.

Photo above by Ron Holt
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Haitian cooking is traditionally done over a charcoal fire, with the coals having been made out of wood. A large pot is places over the coals, and food is either fried or boiled inside. This kind of cooking is preferred because it does not require electricity, which is spotty at best. Interestingly, the problem with the electricity is not that there aren’t electrical lines and infrastructure, but that the country does not produce enough of if to provide consistent power. In Jacmel, the city power is cut off every night, and there are frequent outages throughout the day. Those who are wealthy circumvent this problem by using generators. But the large mass of “everyone else” just goes without electricity and cooks on coals instead. All of the food preparation is also done by hand, with the most popular tool being the mortar and pestle, pictured on the left in the photo below. To me, this is another great example of the Haitian people’s flexibility and resilience, finding a pretty good work-around to help them survive—and eat tasty food in the process.
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Photo above by Ron Holt
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The significant downside to cooking on coals is that it uses massive amounts of wood. If you think about it, Haiti is about the size of Maryland and has approximately 9 million inhabitants. That’s a lot of people in a fairly small space. If all of them are using coal fires to cook on a daily basis, imagine how much wood is needed! The reality is that it is much more wood than the land can sustain. Deforestation is a huge problem in Haiti, as you can see in the photo below, from National Geographic. On the left is Haiti. On the right is Dominican Republic. The difference is drastic.

Photo above: Cobb, Charles E. 1987. “Haiti: Against All Odds.” National Geographic, Vol. 172, No. 5: 645-670.

Of course, this kind of environmental disaster did not happen overnight, and it did not happen just because of the charcoal industry. According to a Library of Congress brief, as of 1923, about 60% of the land in Haiti was forested. In 2006, less than 2% of it was. Some of the factors that contributed to this are hurricanes that toppled trees, unsound agricultural practices, and high levels of competition and population growth. It seems that poverty is also a part of this downward spiral—when a farmer is poor and desperate, his first priority will be doing whatever it takes to feed his family, even if it means using environmentally unsound practices. But then, the land gets degraded faster and becomes less productive, making it even more difficult for that farmer to make ends meet. And so the cycle of destruction continues. A discussion of this cycle of deforestation would not be complete without also looking at the political and macroeconomic factors also at work over time… tune in tomorrow for more on that. Did I mention that almost everything in Haiti is complex and multi-layered!

Photo above by Ron Holt
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A notable exception to complexity in Haiti is the food itself. It’s generally fairly simple and delicious; satisfying and filling. The most common dish is probably red beans and rice, flavored with cloves. Another favorite is Haitian black bean sauce, which is served over rice or corn meal porridge (see recipe below). On special occasions, meat is prepared, and is usually fried. The meat itself may be chicken, goat, pork, beef (more rarely), and fish. The meal is sometimes served with a tropical juice, always prepared from scratch that day. My favorite was grenadja, or passion fruit, which happened to be in season while we were there.

Photo above by Ron Holt

It was a joy to watch Naomi and her kitchen staff at Isaiah 61 House preparing the food for dinner. They started early in the morning, bringing in the ingredients from the market—big bowls or baskets of fruit, potatoes, and meat. They would spend the whole day washing, peeling, sorting, grinding, marinating, stirring, cooking, and frying. All the while, they chat and tease each other in the kitchen. From time to time, the play would be put on hold temporarily as one or more of the women cried out to God in Alleluias, hymns, and prayers. The cooking, laughter, chatting and worship was interwoven seamlessly and naturally. It was just so good. I was struck by the richness of the simple and life-giving task of cooking—it showed me (again) how much time is God’s gift for relationships. What a blessing.

Naomi’s Bean Sauce (notably without any measurements!):

Combine the following, cook until soft, and blend (or grind in mortar and pestle) until smooth:
Black beans, washed and sorted
Garlic
Onions
Green pepper
Salt and pepper
Cloves (the secret ingredient!)
Coconut milk
Oil
Butter

Bon appétit!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Divine interruptions

When things don’t go according to plan, I sometimes wonder if there is some reason. You know, like, if I hit some crazy traffic and am delayed getting to a meeting, or something, was there some purpose for it? And if there is some reason, some divine orchestration of the day to day events of my life, it is usually not particularly clear to me, at least not on a daily basis. But every once in a while, circumstances leap off of the usual baseline of life, and seem to be screaming to us, “Yes! There is a reason for this! There is a bigger picture!”

Part of our group was blessed to be a part of this kind of experience, while Robbie and I were doing some other things at St. Michel Hospital one day. The day started off as planned. The group toured the hospital, and headed downtown to the mayor’s office. A couple of the leaders of the group were to meet with the mayor to discuss some plans for the primary health care clinics CCH will be putting into place.

Photo above by Ron Holt

Once they were there, the mayor graciously invited to whole group (at least a dozen extra people) into his office for a visit.

Photo above by Ron Holt

Of course, this whole segment of the day occurred in Haitian time, meaning that it was much longer than anticipated, and involved a lot of waiting. Specifically, someone had been running late, so the meeting with the mayor had been delayed for a while. And then the whole group was invited in, which added some time too. By the time they got on the road after the meeting, they were behind schedule. Well, at least behind their schedule that they had planned. Little did they know that they were really right on time.

Within minutes, they were at the scene of an accident. From what they could see from the van windows, it looked like a motorcycle had hit a woman, now screaming in pain in the middle of the road. There were three doctors (an anesthesiologist, a bioengineer, and an OBGYN), and a Haitian-American translator with a background in medicine. At that moment, they jumped into action as emergency medical responders. They burst out of the van and rushed to assess the situation.

Photo above by Ron Holt

They moved the woman to the side of the road, because Haitian driving was not slowing down to accommodate the scene of the accident or the injured woman in the road. She screamed in pain when they carried her off to the side, and clutched at her upper leg. It didn’t take them long to suspect she had a broken femur, the large bone that connects the hip and the knee. The already acute situation suddenly became even more dangerous, and required an x-ray to be sure. The break of a femur is life-threatening, because the femoral artery runs very close to the bone. If the jagged edge of the broken bone punctures this artery, internal bleeding can kill a person quickly.

Photo above by Ron Holt

Just as the random assortment of doctors was transformed into EMTs, so one of the vans was converted into an ambulance. The team made a make-shift brace and loaded the woman into the van. She was still calling out in pain. She begged and asked the doctors, “Please, I don’t want to be handicapped. I don’t want to lose my leg!” She must have seen how hard life is for people who are handicapped, especially following the earthquake.

Photo above by Ron Holt

The van-turned-ambulance rushed to the nearest hospital. I wish I could say that the story ended here, and that this woman was handed over to the capable hands of local doctors. But the saga was not over yet. The first hospital they went to is a clinic run by a group of Cubans. When they realized the severity of the injury, they refused to admit the patient. “We are not a hospital, we are a clinic. We are not equipped to handle this kind of injury,” the translator explained to the doctors. Back to the van.

Photo above by Ron Holt

The next stop was a private hospital, Cayes Jacmel, which we had visited a few days before. The road leading up to it is not paved and full of potholes, so I can only imagine how the patient’s suffered during the bumpy ride. When they arrived, they were turned away again. “The x-ray machine is out of toner. We can’t do the tests here, but we can take her when they are done” the administrator suggested. Of course, payment needed to be made for the few services they did provide, and one of the American doctors covered the fee. Nothing is free here.

On they drove, to another hospital, where they could do the x-ray. The x-ray confirmed the suspicion that the patient had broken her femur. In fact, it was a full break, and not just a fracture, as you can see.

Photo above by Ron Holt

Finally, they drove back to Cayes Jacmel, to admit the woman for treatment. In the US, the appropriate treatment would be orthopedic surgery, in which metal plates and screws would be used to secure the two parts of the bone together so it can heal properly. But here, there are no metal plates, there are no surgical screws, and there is no surgeon. So, there is no surgery, at least now. Now, they can make the woman as comfortable as possible, and maybe try to straighten out the bones by pulling traction. Thankfully, there is a team of US orthopedic surgeons coming to this very hospital in a few weeks, and they will be able to bring the supplies and do the surgery. I hope and pray that this woman is able to survive the next few weeks while she waits.

Photo above by Ron Holt

As I reflect on this story, I experience a lot of mixed thoughts and emotions. On the one hand, I am so grateful that the doctors, their make-shift ambulance, and their funds to cover hospital fees were on the scene, providentially, just at the time they were needed. Otherwise, the woman would probably have died there, on the side of the road. What a beautiful example of how God orchestrates timing and circumstances for those who are up for the adventure and open to God’s will.

On the other hand, the state of affairs that this narrative exposes is unacceptable. It shows us, in living color, the lack of emergency medical response, the inadequate hospital supplies and equipment, and the insufficient staffing of doctors. In Haiti, there are only 2.5 physicians for every 10,000 inhabitants, according to figures from 2000 by the Pan-American Health Organization. It’s just not enough.

In the past, when I've thought about this kind of suffering in the world, I've gotten angry at God, and demanded, "God, why do you allow all of this? Why don't you do something about it?!" But now, more and more, I realize that it is God who is asking us, who is asking me, the same questions. How will I respond? How will I act? Will I be open to a divine interruption?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Water in a time of cholera

As of this afternoon, 250 people have died in Haiti in an outbreak of cholera. You've seen the headlines. Cholera epidemic spreads in Haiti; Nearly 200 dead. In Haiti, cholera could heighten earthquake misery. Cholera cases found in Haiti capital. Perhaps you have see the images, too. You have probably come to know that cholera is a nasty bacteria that causes severe vomiting and diarrhea, and can lead to death by dehydration in 10 hours if not treated. You've heard it is spread by contaminated water. And here, the story usually stops. But on the ground, in Haiti, there is a lot more to the story at this point.

Water is a huge problem and development need in Haiti. Clean water is hard to come by and is too expensive for the vast majority of Haitians who are living on $1 or $2 per day. Every so often, we saw a well, from which kids and women were pumping water. I'm not an expert on this, but I presume that this water is fairly safe to drink.

But, most people don't have access to a well like this within walking distance from where they live--remember, most people don't have cars. "So what do people do for water?" I asked one of our guides. "They get it from the river."

That river?!? The same one that they do laundry in? The same one that they wash their cars in? The same one that has pigs and goats foraging for trash along the filthy banks? The same one that raw sewage flows into? The same one that people use to dump unusable parts of butchered animals?

Yes, that river. What about the people that don't live close to the river, like the ones in the tent camps? Well, they have water truck deliveries. That's a truck that brings a huge bladder of water and hooks it up to a dispensing faucet set-up (see the first photo of this post, above). But there are two problems. First, the water trucks do not bring enough water to meet the needs of those people in the camps. Second, the water that they bring comes from the river, with no additional treatment.

So, people get sick. Kids get diarrhea. They may not be able to get treatment. And even if they do, they go back to drinking to bad water. Many of them die. According to a report by UNICEF and WHO, diarrhea is the second greatest cause of childhood deaths in the world, with more than 24,000 kids under age 5 dying of it per day. This reality continues even though diarrhea is largely preventable through access to clean water and good sanitation practices, and is usually treatable through simple and inexpensive rehydration practices. But the deaths continue, because people who are living in severe poverty do not have access to things as simple as clean water. So, because they are poor, these kids die of diarrhea.

Photo above by Ron Holt

Cholera is also a disease of poverty, as this article about the recent outbreak in Haiti explains. It's by Joia Mukherjee, the Chief Medical Officer of Partners in Health, a medical aid organization that has been working in Haiti for many years. Here's a portion:

"While Haiti has not had a documented case of cholera since the 1960s, the conditions in the lower Artibonite placed the region at high-risk for epidemics of cholera and other water-borne diseases even before the earthquake of January 12, 2010. In 2008, Partners In Health working with partners at the Robert Kennedy Center for Human Rights released a report of the denial of water security as a basic right in Haiti. In 2000, a set of loans from the Inter American Development Bank to the government of Haiti for water, sanitation and health were blocked for political reasons. The city of St. Marc (population 220,000) and region of the lower Artibonite (population 600,000) were among the areas slated for upgrading of the public water supply. This project was delayed more than a decade and has not yet been completed. We believe secure and free access to clean water is a basic human right that should be delivered through the public sector and that the international community’s failure to assist the government of Haiti in developing a safe water supply has been violation of this basic right. Additionally, in Gonaives the capital of the Artibonite has been destroyed in two waves of floods and mudslides, after tropical storm Jeanne in 2004 and after the series of hurricanes in 2008, made possible because of the environmental devastation of the region. The destruction contaminated the water supply and left the infrastructure (including the health infrastructure) of the upper Artibonite in ruins, forcing people to seek residence and medical care in St. Marc. The St. Marc region itself experienced significant flooding in 2008, displacing thousands of people. Lastly, the earthquake of January 12, 2010 resulted in the displacement of 1.7 million Haitians. While reliable statistics are not available currently, the last estimate, as of March of 2010 was that 300,000 addition Haitians had fled Port au Prince to the Artibonite. As there are no “camps” in the region, these displaced persons are “home hosted”—joining poor relatives in already overcrowded conditions, without water security or adequate sanitation. The dispersal of displaced people makes it difficult to provide centralized services."

Again, my heart is stirred and breaks, and I'm left with more questions than answers. Why didn't we do something about this sooner? How could "political reasons" have gotten in the way of solving this problem before it started? What now? Where is God in this? And on and on...

And so I pray. And think. And cry out. And read. And weep. And give. And discern. And pray more...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Rubble

Photo above by Ron Holt

I am delighted to include another guest post by my husband, Robbie. What a blessing to me to see how God used Haiti to speak to him, too.

As of October 2010, 2% of the rubble has been removed from Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake that crumbled that country. Observing the effects of this reality, the current state of Haiti, can make one feel helplessness and despair. Looking out over the vast devastation, the conditions of poverty, and the destruction is profound, sobering, and leveling. There is so much need and brokenness.

When my wife Irene and I were in Haiti recently, I wanted to fix the things that I saw. I am “a fixer” by nature. As I looked out over the landscape, the sinking feeling in my gut was a feeling of helplessness and despair. “There is just no fixing this.” I thought to myself. Just as I was thinking this, I felt as if God were speaking to me, “That’s right, you cannot fix this. You cannot even fix yourself. I can fix this. I will fix this. You cannot, but I can. You are not their saviour, you can’t be. You cannot even save yourself, because you are in the same condition, but I can. I can renew and restore Haiti and I can renew and restore you too!” This was a moving and powerful word from the Lord for me.

We live in a fallen and sin riddled world that is filled with destruction and disrepair. We live in a world that is in a constant state of decay. Our world is groaning (Romans 8:22).

The following poem, “Rubble,” compares the human heart condition, the result of sin’s rampant rule, with Haiti’s brokenness and destruction, due to fallen world we live in and the magnitude of sin’s consequences throughout history.

It is God that pardons, saves, restores, renews, and rescues. God is at work in His creation despite of sin and evil in the world, and it is God who will make all things new, including Haiti, and including the Haiti like destruction and devastation that is in me and you.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” –Jeremiah 17:9

Photo above by Ron Holt

Rubble
(Jeremiah 17:9)

I got rubble . . .
I got rubble
Down inside of me
Fists full of rubble
Heart full of rubble
Broken heart and trouble
I got torn canvas
Tarp shredded
And days dreaded
I got stench filled polluted air
Charcoal fire burning
And no loving care . . .
Shame and a blank stare
I got worn out clothes
Nowhere to go
Where my next meal comes from
. . . I don’t know
I got dusty shoes
No good news
So far faded to black
Can’t see the blues
I got crowded streets
Shredded sheets
And no one to meet
I got polluted water in my veins
Spotted and soiled and stains
I got carcasses and death and remains
Viruses of all strains
I got a Haiti as my heart
Because I played my part
I am sin’s destruction and death
Gasping for life and breath
I am shattered destruction
Condemned collapsed building
Nothing to offer and nothing to bring
Soiled and dirty, never clean

I am ruins and decay
Broken and in disarray
Dashed hopes and dismay
I am hurricane torn
Weathered and worn
I am exploited lands
And caught with red hands
I am earth quake rattled
Crushed and tattered
Crying out . . . smattered
I am rubble
I am rubble in streets
Crashes nearly avoided
And skipped heart beats
Aftershocks and broken infrastructure
Spilled out in rupture
I am muddied murky waters
And close dilapidated quarters
I am refuse and abuse
Left out alone and cut loose
I am resource depleted
Promises never delivered . . . defeated
Broken glass on the shore
Never having enough
And always wanting more
I am helpless and despair
No health care
I am a world apart unnoticed
Out of sight, out of mind, unaware
On my own, I am unfed, full of dread,
And left for dead
I am Haiti
There is no life independently
No life on my own you see
I am wearing down and washing into eternity
Erosion . . . corrosion . . . implosion . . .
I got rubble
I got rubble breaking down to ashes and dust
Dust storms and winds gust
I got Haiti blowing through me
My destruction before me
Endlessly . . . effortlessly . . .
Carelessly . . . recklessly . . .

© 2010, Robbie Pruitt

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Feast Day

Photo above by Ron Holt

St. Michel Catholic Church sits on the grounds of the hospital by the same name, just to the left past the iron gates. It is a lovely building with a Spanish architectural flair to it, complete with pink stucco and bright yellow highlights. On most days, the heavy white doors are closed and locked, with a few vendors selling water and snacks on the stone steps out front. But, we were fortunate to be there on a day unlike most days—it was the Feast Day of St. Michael the Archangel, the namesake of the parish.

So on this day, the church was abuzz with people. The main building was no longer used for Mass because of earthquake damage, but that did not stop the church from gathering. There was a large white tent erected just adjacent to the building, decorated with bright yellow sashes, palm branches and artificial flowers. Neat rows of folding chairs filled in every shady spot, and were packed in with people, perhaps 400 or 500 in all. Those that couldn’t find a seat stood toward the back and on the steps, straining to peer in toward the altar. I joined in mid-way through the service at the back, next to Robbie, who had been there the whole time.

Photo above by Ron Holt

This is embarrassing to admit, but the first thing that struck me was how underdressed I was. Though I had on a skirt and plain t-shirt, my typical church attire in the US, it seemed conspicuously inappropriate among the crowd that had assembled. They were lookin’ good—I mean, really good. The men wore suits and polished shoes. The women had on hats, bright dresses and heels. I even saw a few women with pantyhose on, even though it was about 95 degrees F outside. Up front, there was a choir, all dressed in white and singing spirited songs in Creole. There was also a fleet of priests who co-officiated the special Mass together. At the designated times, they spoke, read, prayed, and offered thanks and blessings to some Missionaries of Charity who would be departing to their next assignment soon.

Though I couldn’t understand every word that was spoken over the speaker system, and I missed a good portion of the Mass, I felt a kind of comfortable familiarity when I joined in the service. Having grown up Catholic, the calls and responses, the flow of the liturgy, and the ethos of the worship are woven into my spirit. So, whether the celebration is in English some other language, there is a part of me that understands, appreciates, and feels blessed to enter in.

Photo above by Ron Holt

After the service, I ventured through the open doors of the sanctuary. At first, I wasn’t sure if I was allowed in, because of the structural damage—the sunlight still shined through the breaks of the walls behind the crucifix, and all of the other walls had fissures and cracks. A Haitian woman was inside, and seeing my reluctance, smiled and welcomed me in, asking me to take a look around if I wanted. She was dressed in a colorful patchwork skirt that fell in long folds toward her feet. In the chatty and hospitable way of so many Haitians, she told me about her church with pride and some sadness, as she pointed out the beauty of the space and the earthquake damage.

Photo above by Ron Holt

My impromptu guide explained that today was the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel, and beamed when she showed me the program that they had printed for the occasion. I was humbled when she pressed it into my hands, asking me to keep it. The folded pages were filled with prayers and readings in a mixture of both French and Creole. They were prayers of supplication and thanksgiving, and songs of worship and praise. There were readings with Daniel’s otherworldly visions of streams of fire, angelic multitudes, and one like a Son of Man descending on the clouds. This somewhat fantastical reading culminated in a declaration that, though outlandish, is the very reality in which I place my hope and my life, one in spirit with the crowds of worshipers that morning:

“He received dominion, glory, and kingship;
nations and peoples of every language serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away,
his kingship shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:14)

Photo above by Ron Holt
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