In 2010, a terrible earthquake struck Haiti that caused the deaths of over 100,000 people and destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure. The U.S. granted TPS to 58,000 Haitians to live in safety and rebuild their lives, work, and support family members still in Haiti.
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.”
In 2014, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) premiered Water Everlasting? The Battle to Secure Haiti’s Most Essential Resource, a documentary film addressing concerns about Haiti’s public water system.
Government agencies and charitable organizations have spent decades attempting to provide clean water to Haiti, but administrative weaknesses often impede these efforts. The 2010 earthquake exacerbated the problem. Suddenly, millions of people lacked access to safe drinking water, and waterborne diseases reached epic proportions.
Yet, despite the many instances of lack, there is good being done in Haiti in various capacities. Read “On a Firm Foundation” to learn of the many positive accomplishments of Haitians working in their own neighborhoods.
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.
A YEAR BEFORE her death from ovarian cancer, my 78-year-old mother finally started losing weight. She gave up fatty foods and sweets and went to herbalists who sold her pills that were supposed to regulate her digestion. In addition to all this, she was seeing her primary physician every three months.
The weight flying off seemed like a reward for her good behavior. The only downside was that my mother, who now weighed less than me, was burping all the time, as if there was thunder trapped inside her ever-shrinking body.
At Christmas time, I invited her to come spend the holidays with me and my family in Miami. At first she said no. Her birthday was three days after Christmas and she wanted to spend it at her home in New York.
She changed her mind right before Christmas, and she cooked us a wonderful Christmas dinner, and we took her to one of our favorite Haitian restaurants for her birthday. At her birthday dinner, my two daughters performed a birthday dance for her in the middle of the restaurant, and my usually reserved mother laughed and clapped with joy, a kind of joy we would rarely see again in the months that followed.
HILDA DE BOJORQUEZ holds a set of blueprints in one hand. Her other hand is pointing. At a better future, perhaps, if things go well.
De Bojorquez is the chief engineer at this construction site in a neighborhood just outside Port-au-Prince still blemished with rubble from Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. She commands respect from the all-male crew of Haitians working at the site—she tells a group of visiting U.S. reporters that her gender has never been an issue in the male-dominated world of construction, here or in her native El Salvador.
When asked about obstacles on the project, De Bojorquez goes on for 15 minutes—she’s an engineer, after all—but the point is that they’ve tackled them, one by one, and done so the right way. She extols the importance of a solid foundation and robust retaining walls. She points to the cinder blocks and the rebar, and explains how her group had to teach a company how to provide high-quality materials, with the promise that they’d buy everything the company made. And she emphasizes that she’s there not just to oversee a number of construction projects, but to train Haitians to do it themselves the next time—and to do it right.
The steel-reinforced blocks are rising into walls that will surround a new six-room school for perhaps 200 children in this neighborhood four miles east of Port-au-Prince. The narrow site is wedged between two crumbling buildings, both showing earthquake damage. Even to an untrained eye, the differences are obvious between the fragile, deteriorating blocks next door and the solid retaining walls rising at our feet.
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.
WE WERE LOOKING at cathedrals while others were mourning and burying their dead.
It was the first day of the international design competition that would help choose a few architectural plans that might be used to rebuild Notre Dame de l'Assomption, Our Lady of the Assumption, Port-au-Prince's most famous cathedral. This cathedral was so central to the city that, before it was leveled in the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake, its turrets could be seen from most places in Port-au-Prince, as well as from the sea, where mariners used a light on the cupola of the church's north tower to help bring their ships home.
During the 2010 earthquake, the Catholic archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Monsignor Joseph Serge Miot, was killed inside an administrative building adjoining the cathedral, along with priests and parishioners. It was the images of their crushed bodies and their loved ones wailing around the perimeters of the cathedral's rubble that motivated me, a non-architect and non-Catholic—but a lover of cathedrals—to agree to join a development strategist, a preservationist architect, a structural engineer, a priest and liturgical consultant, the dean and associate dean of two architectural schools, and the editor of a magazine that discusses the dual issues of faith and architecture to help select three out of the 134 moving, elegant, and in some cases totally out-there designs that we had received from architects all over the world. Among the panelists, three of us were Haitian born, and many of the others had either worked in Haiti or in the Catholic Church for years.
The selection exercise itself was one that mirrored faith, blind faith. We were looking at sketches and plans but had no idea who had designed them. Some of the entries contained written statements that were so moving in their optimism for Port-au-Prince and its 3 million inhabitants, their hopes for Haiti and her people, and their longing for the rebuilt cathedral to serve as a symbol of renewal that they nearly brought me to tears.
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.