The Common Good

Haiti: 'How Long, Oh Lord, How Long?'

My phone rang at 1:00 a.m. It was one of the young men in the family we lived with for the first seven months when my wife and I moved to Haiti. They're our adopted Haitian family (that is, they "adopted" us 7 years ago, and we're incredibly grateful). They taught us how to speak Creole and do life. The three-year-old granddaughter is our goddaughter. The other children we consider like nephews and nieces. A family of 12 in three generations. I see them all the time when I'm in Haiti. We talked for nine minutes before their phone ran out of card or power last night. They're all okay, in a sense.

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A number of you have been asking about them because you know them from my recent book. I didn't want to write about them til now because we hadn't heard anything. Sick with worry. It was too much to write down what might or might not be.

They're all unharmed. They're sleeping out on the dirt tonight, because the three small family homes are now piles of rubble. The small town of Dabon where they live is near the epicenter and is devastated, leveled. "Kent, you'd get lost if you tried to find your home here." An older woman I always visit and buy water from in town was killed. As the names flew by too fast over the iffy phone connection, I didn't recognize them all. Most of the names he said were alive, some dead.

Then he said, "We don't have food or water." What do you mean? "No food or water." Same answer.

I believe in the God who multiplied fish and loaves to feed the hungry. I believe in the God who says I'm always with you. And right now, it's achingly clear -- heartbreakingly, angrily clear -- isn't it, that we who believe also believe in the God who is hidden sometimes, sometimes when we are most in need, to whom the psalmist cried out, "How long, oh Lord, how long?"

How long?

Too long. There's no other answer right now. People are being rescued, but too many aren't, and 50,000 never will be. There will be other answers in the weeks and months ahead, but right now the only answer is too long.

My Haiti Partners co-director John is making every effort to get out to this town of Dabon today, where we also have two elementary schools that have collapsed, though nobody died in the buildings as far as we know. John will hopefully see our family too.

So I sit here not knowing what to do -- just like you. At the same time, like you, I'm doing everything I can. Because that's what we have to do, that's what the God we believe in expects of us, even as we cry out for miracles.

For the "everything we can do" part, first I want to thank you for the incredible outpouring of generosity in gifts and prayer. John (who has worked in Haiti for 20 years) is on the ground assessing our response that will include (a) responding to immediate, critical needs of food, water, shelter, and basic necessities and (b) the particular ways we will be mobilizing for the recovery and rebuilding efforts in the communities of Dabon (where two of our schools and other colleagues are), Cite Soleil (a slum in Port-au-Prince where we also have a school that has collapsed), and Marianman.

Haiti Partners was already committed to Haiti -- and we work all over the country -- for years and years ahead. Now the plan is coming into place for the work in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

Finally, I've been asked often -- when working in Haiti and then during these past few days, how do you keep any hope? My answer, which is burrowed deep in my bones through the privilege of living with, being friends with, watching the courage of, and working alongside many Haitians, is that if they haven't given up hope, we have no right to. Today I saw on CNN Haitians walking the streets of Port-au-Prince singing hymns and praying.

We're people committed to be on the side of God's hope, even on seemingly hopeless days. We're people committed to be on the side of people in Haiti -- not just right now, but for the long term. We welcome your prayers for everyone, as so many people I've talked with today or heard about or read about have lost friends, husbands or wives, children, entire families. We welcome your prayers too for these particular communities and for (if I can indulge you) this adopted family of ours.

Kent Annan is co-director of Haiti Partners (www.haitipartners.org), which has set up an Earthquake Response Fund. He is also author of the new book Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle: Living Fully, Loving Dangerously, which is about living and working in Haiti.

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