Message from Haiti: Mesi anpil

Earlier today, I delivered this message from Bishop Duracin to the 215th Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia, meeting in Richmond, Va.:

My brothers and sisters in Christ, on behalf of the Bishop of Haiti, the Rt. Rev. Jean Zache Duracin, on behalf of the people of the Episcopal Church of Haiti, and on behalf of the people of Haiti, I say to you this day: Mesi anpil. Thank you very much.

Thank you for your love. Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for your incredible generosity.

You know of the dark night that descended on Haiti more than two weeks ago. You know of our tremendous losses of life, of the ruins of our buildings, of the suffering of our people.

Bishop Duracin, with whom I spoke just this morning, has asked me to tell you this: The darkness that has covered the land of Haiti since Jan. 12 has not and will not overcome the Light of Christ, for the people of Haiti are people of faith, and they know that God has been with them, God is with them and God will be with them until the end of the ages.

In Haiti, we have a proverb: Bondye di ou: Fè pa ou, m’a fè pa ’m. “God says to you: You do your part, I’ll do mine.”

The people of Haiti have always done their part, and they believe, they know, that God has always done God’s. Now your Haitian brothers and sisters in Christ, related to you not by the blood of their birth but by the waters of their baptism, ask you to join them so that together, we can all do our part.

Bishop Duracin asks that first you pray, because Jesus said to pray.

Second, Bishop asks that you pay attention: Please do not let Haiti fall off the front pages of your lives.

Third, he asks that you share from the bounty and beauty of your hearts. He is urging all of us to give generously to and work with Episcopal Relief and Development and with Bishop Johnston’s Bishop’s Relief Fund, because they are working miracles in helping the people of God in Haiti right now. Bishop Duracin and Bishop Johnston are personal friends, and you are asked to support the Bishop’s Fund.

Bishop Duracin also says this: Please do not come to Haiti right now. Please wait until such time when we can use the skill of your hands, the strength of your backs and the sweat of your brows. Please … pray now, prepare now, and come only when we are ready for you so that together, we can build anew the Kingdom of God in Haiti.

This is how we can be faithful to God’s call to us to do our part, so that God can do God’s part.

This is the message that Bishop Duracin asked me to convey this day.

But most of all, Bishop Duracin and all the people of Haiti say to you again:

Mesi anpil.

Thank you very much.

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God says to YOU

My sermon on Haiti, preached the Third Sunday after the Epiphany at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Hot Springs, Va. I have preached here many times on Sudan and this parishes partnership with the Renk Theological College.

Au nom de Dieu unique, Pere, Fils, et Sainte Esprit. In the name of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, on behalf of the Bishop of the Diocese of Haiti, the Right Reverend Jean Zache Duracin, on behalf of the people of the Diocese of Haiti, and on behalf of the people of Haiti, I say to you this morning, Mesi anpil.  Thank you very much.

It has been twelve days since a 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti and devastated our land and our people; it has been 12 days without food and water and proper medical care; it has been 12 days in which we have buried as much as 100,000 people, we now believe that over 250,000 will be eventually be declared dead, but we will never know.

The Church in Haiti has been devastated.  The Roman Catholic Archbishop was killed trying to escape from the Cathedral of Notre Dame; the assistant bishop was killed.  The Diocese of Haiti, your sister diocese, a full member of the Episcopal Church in Province II, the largest diocese of the Episcopal Church of over 200,000 members, has been devastated.  Our cathedral is gone.  Our senior secondary school, College St. Pierre, is gone.  The Holy Trinity Music School, which houses the national symphony orchestra and has the only concert hall in the country, is gone.  Holy Trinity Primary School is gone.  The University of the Episcopal Church of  Haiti is gone.  The Musee d’Art, the only museum of art in Haiti, which is run by the Episcopal Church, is gone.  To the best of our knowledge, 100 of our 254 schools are gone.  We know of several of our churches out in the provinces that are gone.

But I can tell you today, having spoken with Bishop Duracin yesterday, we are still a strong diocese.  We are still a strong people, because we have the people of God.  Bishop Duracin was offered the chance to be evacuated either to another city in Haiti or to a city in the United States, and he told me, “No, I will stay with my people.”  In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake he set up the refugee camp on the soccer field, which is nothing more than a sandlot between the College Saint Pierre and the seminary which is totally damaged and is probably gone, and within two days he had 3,000 people under his care.  The Saint Vincent Center for the Handicapped, where indeed the Scriptures were fulfilled in your hearing every single moment of every single day, is gone.  The majority of our 170 children were rescued and have been in the refugee camp and will be moved soon to safer quarters.

Paul tells us in his letter today that when one member of the Body suffers, we all suffer.  And I can tell you that a portion of your body, of our body, is suffering right now.  Haiti has been a nation of suffering since 1492 when Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue and landed in what is now Les Cayes.  From the moment that Westerners arrived in this land, the people have been abused, they have been used.  The native Haitians are now gone, many of whom decided to die rather than to submit.  Our own leaders in Haiti have abused us, and used us, and oppressed us.  But in the last few years, with the help of the Western world, particularly the United States, Haiti has been making great strides forward.  Our government is stable, our people are beginning to be cared for; we actually raised the minimum wage in Haiti from $2 a day to $3.50 a day, which doesn’t sound like much to you, but take your wages and raise them by that proportion and tell me you’re not happy with that pay raise.  We were beginning to make progress and then in August and September of 2008 four hurricanes struck within three weeks, and so we had to take a major step back.  We were beginning to make real progress recovering from those four hurricanes in 2008 when the earthquake struck, the largest earthquake in more than 200 years.  Most of us in Haiti had no idea that we sat on a major fault line.  We did not know that there could be earthquakes.  Our land  is devastated.  Our government is devastated.  Our people are suffering.  And these people are your people.

I’ve told you this before when I’ve spoken to you about your Sudanese brothers and sisters in Christ, and what I’ve told you about them I tell you exactly the same about your brothers and sisters in Christ in Haiti:  they are related to you not by their blood of their birth but by the waters of their baptism.  They are members of the Body of Christ and those people are hurting.  And we are asking for your help.  Because the Scriptures tell us that when one member of the Body suffers, the whole body suffers.  This is not a remote thing that happened to strangers far away; this is a disaster that has happened in your own body, and we know that you feel our pain.  We have seen the outpouring of support.  We have received your words and your prayers, and we are immensely grateful; and Bishop Duracin has instructed me to say to you over and over again, mesi anpil.  Thank you very much.

I want to tell you a little bit about this diocese about which so few people know.  I want to tell you how the Scriptures have been fulfilled in you sight and in your hearing.  I want you to tell you about we have done in the past because I want you to know:  We will do this in the future.  The blind do see in the Diocese of Haiti because we are the ones who run the Saint Vincent Center, the only full school for the handicapped.  We teach them to read in Braille.  So in our cathedral, which is no more, at every festal service at which the bishop is present, one of the many girls would come over from St. Vincent’s and she would stand in front of us with the reading in front of her, and she would run her fingers across the Scriptures and proclaim the Word of God.  The blind were made to see.

The lame were made to leap with joy because at that particular school we are the ones who made the prosthetics; and not only did we make the prosthetics for those who need them, we matched them to the color of the skin of the person who is getting it.  And let me tell you, that is not the norm in the Third World; most of the prosthetics in the Third World come from the First World where the majority of the people are white.  Can you imagine being black and losing your leg and being given a white leg to replace it?  Not in Haiti.  We will match to the color of your skin and you will leap with joy and I have witnessed it.  And I can tell you right now that many of our handicapped people, children and adults, are sitting in that tent field that Bishop Duracin set up, and they do not have their prosthetics with them because they were destroyed in the earthquake.

We made the mute to sing with joy by teaching them music at our music school where we have the finest, the finest musicians in the country.  We allow the deaf to hear by teaching them sign language in French and Creole.  We have been fulfilling the Scriptures in Haiti for 150 years, since the founding of the Diocese.

Right now, we have nothing left.  Bishop Duracin has publicly proclaimed, “I have lost everything.  I have nothing left.”  When he says “I have lost everything,” he is telling you his house is gone, his office is gone, his car is gone.  But when he is telling you there is nothing left he is not talking about his personal belongings, he is talking about his diocese, about everything that for the past 16 years under his leadership and for the 20 years prior to that as a priest of the diocese that he helped build up.  Everything in his diocese is gone.  But we have the most important asset: We have the people of God..  The people of God in Haiti are strong.

We have an expression in Haitian Creole, and it is not the official motto of the Church but by God it should be: “Bondye di ou: Fe pa ou; m’a fe pa’m: God says to you, ‘you do your part, I will do mine.’” In Haiti for 150 years the people in Haiti have done their part.  They have always trusted God and God has always done his part and right now God will continue to do so because God promised it, and the people of Haiti know that.

Just as we believe in that in Haiti, I say to you now, “Bondye di ou: Fe pa ou; m’a fe pa’m: God is saying to you, ‘you do your part, and I will do mine.’”  And your part, because this is your body, is first to pray, because Jesus said first to pray, and pray always, and Jesus promised to answer our prayers.  And second, to pay attention.  Americans, who are the most generous people in the world–statistically I can prove that to you–tend to have short attention spans.  Already Haiti has moved off the front pages of many newspapers and newscasts.  Please don’t forget your brothers and sisters in Christ; please don’t forget your kin.  We need the abundance of your hearts.  We didn’t have a whole lot before the earthquake struck, and we don’t have anything left now.  Please give generously.  I know that if all you can afford is a dollar and all you give us is a dollar, that dollar means the world to us because as you give a dollar and you give a dollar and you give a dollar and we put it together as the Body of Christ, we will indeed be able to do what God is calling us to do, to do our part.  And when the time comes–please God, do not come now, Bishop has said do not come–but when the time comes we will need the skill of your hands and the strength of your backs and the sweat of your brows to rebuild so that our people do not have to live in tents during hurricane season and do not have to drink water out of the street and eat food that God knows when that animal was killed.  We need you to do our part.  We need you to realize that we are doing ours.

I want to put this tragedy into perspective because it doesn’t quite resonate otherwise.  Haiti is a nation of 10 million people.  One third of them live in Port au Prince and the area that was affected at the epicenter: that’s 3 million people.  If this were to happen in the United States, that would mean that proportionately 105 million Americans would have been at the epicenter.  As of yesterday we have buried approximately 72,000 people, the majority of whom we do not know their names.  If this were in the United States that would equal 2.25 million Americans buried without name.  On top of that, to make this come home to you, destroy the federal government, destroy the state government, destroy the county government, destroy the city government.  That is what happened in Haiti.

There is no word in any language that describes this adequately.  The portion of the Body that is suffering in Haiti is suffering terribly.  We know, and we have faith, that the rest of the Body of Christ will be right there with us, that you feel our pain, and that you will help to alleviate it.  God says to all of us, “Do your part, and I will do mine.”  And when we are faithful to that, my brothers and sisters in Christ, when we are faithful and do our part, then indeed, the Scriptures are fulfilled in our sight and in our hearing on this day.  Amen.

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Our time to mourn

Within a few hours of the earthquake striking Haiti on Jan. 12, I began working on relief efforts, trying first to find Bishop Duracin and our missionaries, and then to help coordinate relief efforts through Episcopal Relief & Development, The Episcopal Church, and The Diocese of Haiti.

Since that dark day, I’ve been working with Haiti partners around the world, gathering information, being in constant contact with people on the ground in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, gathering in friends and strangers alike to help. Everyone has responded magnificently, giving even the tiniest bits of information. People all across this land have received calls from total strangers, who abruptly are asked for help. Everyone we’ve reached out to has helped, and for that we are most grateful. And I’ve been trying to post as much information as possible on this web site, which began as an endeavor to help us speak about mission and has become a way to share information about Haiti.

Yesterday, I went silent on this site. In part it was because there was so much other work to do. But mainly, I needed to take time to grieve. Yesterday morning, I learned that 14 of my parishioners at St. James the Just Episcopal Church in Petion Ville, where I serve and live, had died in the quake. I do not know which of our approximately 100 parishioners died. So I can mourn only in general. Somehow, when it came time to do the updates on the web site, I could not.

I ask your prayers for my friends, my parishioners, for the people I serve in Haiti. We have lost so many, and may never know who they are, or where they are buried. I am still waiting word for about 125 other people, friends who have loved and cared for me, and whom I love and care for. I have received news now of about a dozen of my beloveds, and pray that I will continue to receive more.

Please pray for those who have died, and for their families, and for all who are mourning this day. We have a “big grief” in Haiti right now, and need our time to mourn. We need time to cry, which I did a lot yesterday, several times. We need your comfort and your prayers and your strength, so that we can go on doing the work God has given us to do, to help those in need, our brothers and sisters in Christ, many of whom we cannot find.

I ask your prayers …

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