Life is at times uncertain and unstable for most of us. This is truer and more frequent for those who live on the edge of survival. In Haiti, 80 percent of people live on less than $2.00 a day.
As though that slow-burn cruelty weren’t enough, five years ago the earth shook and buildings collapsed and more than 200,000 people died. For about 30 merciless seconds on the afternoon of Jan. 12, a 7.0 earthquake meant the uncertainty and instability of Haitians’ lives applied even to the ground beneath their feet.
It forces questions like: Can you have faith? Can you keep hope?
I’m asked these questions regularly because I’ve worked in Haiti for the past eleven years. People see headlines from a distance and empathize with what they imagine must be a hopeless situation.
They’re also questions I ask myself sometimes.
On this 5th anniversary of the earthquake, I remember four-story buildings collapsed into a stack of concrete pancakes. I remember circling over Port-au-Prince in a small plane with other relief personnel six days after the earthquake, finally able to get there. I remember bodies being pulled from rubble. I remember how it seemed to take so long for rebuilding to start. People responded generously around the world, though the overall impact has been hard to track. It has been encouraging to see building and infrastructure progress the past couple of years. Still, the big picture can make my faith and hope go a bit wobbly.
It’s when I think of people — and when I start reflecting on the earthquake, people come first to mind — that the sadness comes on stronger, but so does the reason for faith and hope.
I think of Enel, a pastor and colleague who somehow survived in one of those pancaked buildings. He was in a university class with fellow students. A moment later he was trapped under concrete and some of his classmates were now dead in the rubble beside him. He crawled out and has made the most of the years since. He received the gift of life — a gift he could now give to help others, especially so young church leaders can work in their communities for justice and help Haiti’s most vulnerable children.
I think of John. Together we started Haiti Partners two months before the earthquake. He has lived in Haiti for much of the past 23 years. His commitment, respect for people, and knowledge of the country is profound. When his home outside of Port-au-Prince started shaking, he grabbed his two young children and ran outside. Every day since he has kept working for the hope that education and entrepreneurship can transform lives and communities.
I think of Juslaine, the grandmother of the family my wife and I first lived with when we moved to Haiti. Standing next to her collapsed small tin-roofed home, where we’d also lived, close to the earthquake’s epicenter, she said, “We’re alive, by God’s grace.”
She shook her head, looking around at the destruction. She also kept loving her family, teasing her grandkids. At her funeral two years ago, there was wailing, fainting, many tears. We packed into that church to mourn her death. But that church was also the place where Juslaine found hope and faith that strengthened her through life’s challenges.
I think too of Marvens, now 5 years old. His mom Marie-Ange was inside their small house when it started shaking. She ran out holding him, a 6-month-old baby. The house collapsed. Five years later, Marvens is attending an excellent school that didn’t exist before the earthquake, but has since been built through the hard work of local Haitians and the generosity of North Americans.
“With every crisis of faith, what we believe is crucified, and then we wait expectantly, whether in defeat or in joyful hope, to see what part of our faith is resurrected,” I wrote in my book After Shock, soon after the earthquake, as we worked to respond to the tragedy.
I was writing a kind of psalm because it felt like if I didn’t wrestle with God amidst the collapse, I might lose hold of faith and hope — or they might lose hold of me.
And I do find that my faith keeps getting resurrected. I try to follow Jesus around the next bend, even if I lose sight of him sometimes. I’m able to follow a little better now when accepting that God doesn’t rescue us from suffering, but is with us in suffering.
And every day, as so many people keep working with hope to make better lives and change their own country, as I get to collaborate with Enel, John, Juslaine’s family, and Marvens, I find that my tattered hope keeps getting resurrected, too.
Kent Annan is Co-Director for Haiti Partners.