The things I learned today in Haiti are as follows:
Soldiers lined some of the areas we travelled today. They had uniforms,
guns, and motorcycles. The road signs said that the Annual Summit de la
Caricom will be held February 18-19 in Port-au-Prince. Regional leaders
are coming to town for the meeting, which is likely the reason for the
beefed up security. Five shotgun carrying soldiers watched the parking
lot of the grocery store we ate in today.
On the road to church, we crossed National Route 9. National Route 9 has
a place called City de Sole down the way. It is one of the worst slums
in Haiti. During Aristide's reign National Route 9 was blocked off at
both ends and the planes were landed on it with cocaine so the customs
at the airport could be avoided.
A sign appeared on the side of the road, painted on concrete: "Got
Karizma?" Haiti has lots of 'Karizma' especially on Saturdays and
Sundays as people on the streets are dressed in their 'Sunday best' on
their way to and from church. Not an hour later, I learned first hand
that the Haitian religious tradition tends to be charismatic with lots
of singing, dancing, impassioned speaking - including speaking in
tongues. We went to church as the guests of a Haitian man who works
with the ministry here connected to the orphanage. The passionate and
powerful nature of the service seems to be standard for Haitian
churches. Pastor Josh, in line with this, gave a talk at church sighting
the simultaneous love and power of God.
After Sandy a road was washed out, and it felt like it would never be
repaired. The locals wanting to be able to use their local road,
decided to get their government's attention by barricading the road to
the Dominican Republic using burning tires. DR shares the island with
Haiti. The government in Port-au-Prince, unhappy with the trade
disruption quickly turned their attention to repairing the road. In this
country where the people seem so powerless and impoverished, it's easy
to forget how much power an organized group actually has. No matter how
dire a situation, it's important to ask What do you have at your
disposal that you can leverage? What are your burning tires?
In 1804 there was a revolution in Haiti. As a result, Haiti became the
first black republic in the world and the second independent republic in
this hemisphere (after the US). Interestingly
color-based-discrimination still existed and until the 1950s, Haitians
made each other prove some amount of white ancestry in order to hold
certain civil sector jobs. Haiti's identity, even today, seems strongly
shaped by freeing itself from a system of slavery so early in history.
January 12, 2010 - an earthquake hit Haiti, with an epicenter in
Port-au-Prince. The effects are still very much felt. Anywhere we drive
the signs of the earthquake are very present.
Here there is so much joy in the midst of poverty. This was especially
highlighted in the example of the church service today, packed with
young and old.
By the end of the day after a powerful service in a packed church,
filled with people in a poor country, I had a question in mind.
Is poverty a prerequisite for knowing Christ? The early church fathers
certainly thought so. The closer you get to the Holy Land and the older
the images, the more gaunt the early church fathers were, likely as a
result of their asceticism, their forced poverty. Is Haiti closer to
Christ because of its poverty?
About half a dozen years ago Time magazine ran a graph that had a list
of countries that formed a pretty consistent trend - the poorer the
country, the higher rates of church attendance. Only two countries
didn't fit that trend. They were the Czech Republic (a poor country with
little church attendance) and USA (a rich country with a high level of
The US is an anomaly with its high GDP and high church attendance.
Church attendance doesn't necessarily bring us closer to God. However it
does show that with wealth Americans have, almost uniquely, not given
up on religion. Haitians have lessons to teach us about being a good
Christian, lessons which I might, admittedly, feel slightly
Ultimately Im left with a reminder about how easily material possessions
can leave us isolated and how easily wealth can leave us feeling no
need for a relationship with God. Today left me pushing to want to be
better and to not use wealth as a barrier but to use the gift of wealth
as a greater burden of responsibility to make my light shine before
others. Twenty eight hours into this, without having yet picked up a
hammer, I feel Haiti challenging me to be better.