January 12, 2010 was a horrifying day for Haiti.
The earthquake killed 300,000 people, left 250,000 children without one or both parents, and displaced 1.5 million out of its population of 10 million. As staggering as that all is…it was just one in a long list of natural disasters, political unrest and a myriad of justice issues that have long plagued the country.
Before that day, 80% of Haitians lived in poverty with 54% of that living in abject poverty. One percent of Haiti’s population owned half the wealth in the country, and the largest percentage lived on less than $1 a day. Haiti is one of the most ecologically devastated countries in the world. For decades they have cut down their trees to make cooking charcoal, leaving their hillsides controlled by soil erosion.
“Compassion is the fullest expression of the luminous force of intentional love and kindness. Humanity’s survival hinges on that one word…compassion is our sole hope. Compassion is at the heart of all religious and spiritual traditions. When we enter the heart of compassion, we enter the heart of God,” from Hidden in the Rubble by Gerard Straub.
Armed with compassion and a yearning to enter deeper into the heart of God…plus 3 shovels, random tools, a wheelbarrow, bubbles, soccer balls and jump ropes…our team of 8 was based in Mellier, Haiti, close to the epicenter of the earthquake. All of the buildings in Mellier were reduced to rubble and many families are still in tents, or makeshift plywood buildings with tin roofs. We slept on cots, complete with mosquito nets…no electricity, save for the generator we had to run for about an hour to recharge power tool batteries. Bags of water hung from a branch and buckets of water ensured we rinsed off each day, after sweat poured out from 8 am to 6 pm steadily. This trip was not for the faint of heart…but…
…we were blessed. Phenomenal food on the table 3 times a day from our cook Dina. Bug spray. Haitians that wanted to talk with us, and enjoyed laughing with us. We all stayed healthy. We had clean water to drink. Amazing workers at the construction site. Laughter…lots and lots of laughter, and incredibly blessed by each other.
I asked one of our translators if all the teams he worked with were like us…his response was a definite ‘No!’ It will depend on the team member you ask, but I believe our team bonded so well because of our common bond of Jesus and belief that we were meant to be in Haiti…mixed with the lack of electricity. At night…we played cards by flashlight, and other times of the day we weren’t distracted by the constant connect we have in the States with phones, internet and going places.
Terry, one of our teammembers, sent this out to us today that I think gives a pretty great picture of the atmosphere surrounding our team, “Our last night in Mellier we played cards – snacked – laughed – and sang. A young Haitian girl standing in the shadows was invited into our circle. After eating and watching for a short time she fell asleep. The light of our lanterns may have drawn her from the darkness of the neighborhood. But it was the light of our Savior shinning through laughter, song, and love for one another that made her feel safe enough to sleep peacefully in our midst. That night I watched grace extended without hesitation or reservation.”
We worked during the day on the Methodist church that is being rebuilt. We pulled nails, moved wood and spent a lot of time moving gravel from outside the building to inside so the workers could mix concrete. There is a school on the property, as well, and when it was recess time we were talking, running around and having our hair played with until it was time for class again.
Etched in our memories is also the small orphanage we visited twice. It was a 30 minute walk to play with 25 kids that live there, 16 of who are ‘real’ orphans with no living parents. They were hungry to be held, we quickly found out! We played soccer, bubbles, pushed kids on the swing set, and giggled the entire time we stayed.
Each night we would have devotion time with our translators Joseph and Peterson joining us. One night, devotions started at the dinner table and went until it was so dark all we saw of each other was shadows moving. God’s presence was thick all week, but on that night it was electric. We’d been talking about our observations of Haiti, and Joseph’s words marked my soul…
In Haiti, we have no hope for tomorrow. We have no idea where food for our families will come from. We are poor, so poor in Haiti. We struggle for an education, and then there are no jobs. We want the best for our families, but where do we find it? We know that it won’t get better for Haiti. But what we hold onto is eternal life with Jesus. In heaven there will be no more poor people, no more suffering, no more pain. When Haiti doesn’t have hope, we put our hope in life after this one.
That night as I walked out of our dining area Joseph’s words rung in my ears. I understand why he feels no hope for Haiti, especially when you look at the country’s history. But what rang in my heart was my hope for Haiti. A vision that the educated will stay in the county, and kids will grow up with a desire to see their country change…that their next generation will be different. When Haiti has no expectation for tomorrow we need to see it for them through our compassion, God’s love and willingness to not forget.