Religion reporting doesn’t usually put a journalist in harm’s way. We spend much of our time in church pews and at interfaith singalongs. But a few days earlier, Religion News Service had been offered a chance to go with Samaritan’s Purse relief workers as they distributed aid in Haiti to victims of Hurricane Matthew.
It’s been three weeks since I returned from Haiti and a fortnight since Hurricane Matthew made landfall along the southern coast of the Caribbean island, bringing its Category 5 devastation to the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
And in the time that has passed since my first visit to Ayiti (as they say in Creole), I can’t stop thinking about her.
As the east coast of Florida braces for Hurricane Matthew to pass, the people of Haiti are assessing the toll the hurricane has already taken on their country. After the worst storm in more than 50 years ripped through the island nation, Reuters has reported at least 478 have died.
A country all too familiar with natural disasters now faces picking up the pieces again. Some cities like Jérémie saw 80 percent of buildings levelled.
Judith Mesadieu has dreams of becoming a doctor, but her poor eyesight and partial blindness makes it hard to study.
A corneal transplant could fix the problem, but the procedure remains rare in Haiti, which has just six eye surgeons for every 1 million people, according to the International Council of Ophthalmology.
Fortunately, Mesadieu snagged a spot on the recent surgery docket of a U.S.-based eye surgery missions group called the iTeam.
The iTeam, based out of Kansas City, Mo., has been traveling to Saint Louis du Nord for about 16 years. They preform eye surgeries twice a year alongside local ophthalmologists, teaching them new skills and improvements.
Lydia Allen, 66, is a nonmedical staff member of iTeam and said the Bible calls on her to continue to go these trips and help in any way possible.
“Go ye therefore into all the world,” Allen said, quoting Jesus’ Great Commission.
Christian missionary work spans the globe. But Jewish mission trips?
Your average American synagogue is not planning a congregational visit to a poor corner of the world. But a few are starting to, and some rabbis are lobbying for more to follow.
“At a time when synagogues are losing market share and ‘Next Gen’ Jews are deeply ambivalent about how much they are prepared to identify as Jews, I can testify that this kind of service mission is a game changer,” said Rabbi Sid Schwarz, founding rabbi of Adat Shalom, a Reconstructionist synagogue in suburban Bethesda, Md.
Unlike many Christian groups, Jews don’t believe in proselytizing: It’s just not in their religious DNA. But alumni attest that synagogue-sponsored mission trips provide a hands-on way for Jews to fulfill the obligation of “tikkun olam,” Hebrew for “heal the world,” as they strengthen Jewish identities.
Schwarz and 20 congregants returned from a 10-day trip to Haiti in December — the congregation’s third trip in four years to the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. There, they partnered with a pastor and used their bodies and their bank accounts to build houses and provide school tuition for Haitian families, many who had been living under tarps since the devastating 2010 earthquake.
Schwarz can point to less than a handful of synagogues that have done similar mission work. One is Temple Beth El in Hollywood, Fla., which has made more than 10 mission trips to Haiti since 2007 and leaves again for the island on Jan. 19.
“The Christians have a tradition of missionary work, and part of it is to Christianize the world. We Jews have no interest in Judaisizing the world,” said Beth El’s Rabbi Allan Tuffs. Nevertheless, “we should be out there.”
Five years after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti on Jan.12, 2010, killing hundreds of thousands of people, Haitians are still working to rebuild the poorest country in the hemisphere.
In August, Sojourners Editor Jim Rice traveled to Haiti to meet with nonprofits, ministries, and residents. His reports from the trip became the cover story for Sojourners' February issue. For the week of Jan. 12 only, we've released the story from our paywall. Go here to read for FREE.
See the slideshow of photos from the trip at the jump.
Three years after the 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti, the impoverished island nation is still struggling to rebuild. The ruins include Notre Dame de l’Assomption, Port-au-Prince’s renowned cathedral.
Hope abounds, however, as the capital city seeks to reconstruct this sacred place of worship. Edwidge Danticat’s “House of Prayer and Dreams,” in the April 2013 issue of Sojourners magazine, beautifully illustrates why the cathedral is central to the city’s past, present, and future.
Few narratives in the Hebrew Bible are more foreign to us than this week’s lection. We do not give away our children. In a society determined by socio-economic forces utterly beyond the control of individual citizens (e.g., globalization), we do our best to prepare ourselves for the inevitability of change. But what happens when we lose our footing?
Contemporary life changes too fast for habits and routines to have any chance to settle into a pattern. Western individuals must navigate their way through the fears and anxieties that are endemic to such an existence. Such is the pace of change, that effective life-strategies today may be obsolete tomorrow. We will do everything in our power to hold back the floods that threaten to wash away that which we hold dear — especially our children.
What was it like for parents in the Bible? Hannah, Samuel’s mother, was beset by another set of insecurities than those faced by contemporary Westerners. In the socio-economic situation of twelfth-century B.C.E., an Israelite woman’s worth was held in direct proportion to her fertility. Hannah was barren and thus her spirit was troubled to the point that she refused to eat, weeping instead on account of her “great anxiety and vexation” (1 Sam. 1:16 NRSV). In desperation, she made a vow before the LORD of hosts that if God would grant her a son, she would dedicate him to the LORD. The LORD heard Hannah’s prayer and blessed her with Samuel, whom she turned over to Eli the priest, according to her promise.
The Colorado wildfires are raging this week. I’m in Denver, and the grey haze over the mountains in the distance gives me a sick feeling. Countless trees on hundreds of thousands of acres have gone up in smoke. Hundreds of homes have been destroyed. Even human lives have now been forever lost to the flames. It’s tragic, and it’s not over yet.
But here’s what I believe. One day, when these fires have been extinguished, this land will be restored. People will do whatever it takes to reforest these hills and rebuild their homes. In a few years, mountainsides that are charred and blackened today will be green again. We have the will and the resources to restore our environment when it has been destroyed.
Two weeks ago I was in Haiti. Unlike the deforestation that has happened in Colorado in a matter of days, Haiti’s 98-percent deforestation has happened over centuries. The destruction to Haiti’s natural environment is almost complete. Birds are rare. Small animals are almost gone. Fish that once teemed in the waters around the island are barely there.
It gets worse.
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How does one dig out from under such tragedy? How does one have hope for a better life, for a new Haiti?
In a meditation titled "The Gates of Hope," Minister Victoria Safford writes:
"Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of hope -- not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower; nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense; nor the strident gates of self-righteousness ... nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of 'Everything is gonna be all right,' but a very different, sometimes very lonely place, the place of truth-telling, about your own soul first of all and its condition, the place of resistance and defiance, the piece of ground from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it might be, as it will be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle, but joy in the struggle — and we stand there, beckoning and calling, telling people what we are seeing, asking people what they see."
Indeed, we need to plant ourselves at the gates of hope and work toward a just peace, on Earth as it is in heaven.
To me, "unexpected" is at the heart of how I understand grace. It is the unearnable gift, the divine reversal and sacred surprise, the still small voice that drowns out the din of the maddening crowd, the little bit extra that my Cajun friends call lagniappe, the very thing we "deserve" the least but get anyway. From God. From the One who created the world and the audacious, indescribably power of love.
Taking a cue from Nell, here are just a few of the unexpected blessings I am grateful for today:
For God's fingerprints that cover every inch of our world, seen and unseen. And for the moments where I can almost make out the holy whirls imprinted in the sky, the ocean, the sunlight, and on the faces and stories of each of us.
For the generosity and selflessness I see so vividly — all around me, all the time — even in these lean, nervous days. I saw it in Zuccotti Park, where strangers prepared and served food to other strangers. I saw it in the sober faces and strong arms of the men who helped 84-year-old Dorli Rainey to safety after she was pepper-sprayed at an Occupy rally in Seattle. I heard it in the prayers lifted at the White House, at North Park University in Chicago, and in the basement of a church in Spanish Harlem where kind, mighty souls formed Human Circles of Protection last week and stood in solidarity with the poor, the vulnerable, and the least of those among us. I watched it on display at border crossings, immigration rallies, refugee camps in the Horn of Africa, and at a glass blower's studio in my hometown of Laguna Beach where strangers arrived with shovels and wheelbarrows to help dig out an artist and his artwork from the muddy ravages of a flash flood. I saw it in the fresh coat of paint on the front steps of my elderly parents' home in Connecticut that my cousins had applied for them with great care and kindness when my brother and I couldn't be there to do it.
My daughter attended her first day of kindergarten today. A poignant milestone dressed up in an exceptionally cute plaid jumper.
My wife and I thought we were pretty cool with it. Our daughter had attended preschool, after all, so this wasn't a major logistical change. She was excited as we dropped her off, said goodbye with a smile over her shoulder, then back to drawing in her new notebook.
We still thought we were cool with it after we signed up for PTA at the courtyard table. We ran into the local rabbi. My wife is pastor at a Lutheran church in town and they cross paths regularly. The rabbi's third child was starting kindergarten. He's an old hand at this.
Some sources have stated that more than 12 million people are being impacted by the worst drought and famine in the region of the Horn of Africa in 60 years.
12 million people.
How do you wrap your head around such a number?
You begin with one.
The World Food Programme, for example, has shared that they can provide a nutritious meal for one person for .17