Haiti, get up!

The Fourth Sunday of Easter, 25 April 2010, Year C, St. Jacques le Juste, Petion Ville, Haiti

Today’s reading from the Book of Acts is actually a parable about Haiti. It is a parable that speaks of who we are and what is happening in Haiti right now. I know that might not make sense, but bear with me and you will see: The story of Tabitha is our story.

In Acts, we are told the story of a disciple of Jesus named Tabitha, a woman who did many good works and who cared for those in need. Tabitha took ill, and then she died. As was the tradition in her culture, she had to be buried before sundown. So her family took her body, washed it, laid it out on a table, and then they sent for Peter, who was nearby. Come quickly, they said. Tabitha has died.

Peter came, made everyone leave the room, prayed over Tabitha and then said to her, “Tabitha, get up!”

And she did. She opened her eyes, saw Peter and got up. Because of her resurrection, we are told, many people believed in the Lord.

This story is a parable our own lives right here and right now because it is so similar to everything going on in Haiti. The earthquake came; many died; more were injured. The world saw this and said, “Ah, Haiti is dead.” Many in the world rushed here to help; others gave generously. But still, there was the thought, a thought sometimes said aloud, that Haiti was dead.

I know this. Bishop Duracin has me working in both the United States and Haiti, so I hear what is being said and I read what is being written. There are many who believe that Haiti cannot recover from this tragedy. There are some who say that Haiti should become a commonwealth of the United States. That the government of Haiti should be removed. That the constitution should be rewritten. There are those who claim that Haitians cannot direct the recovery, that “they” know better what needs to happen, that “they” should be in charge.

These people – they don’t know Haiti. They don’t know Haitians.

Because what they are saying is not true! Haiti is not dead!

It is not dead because Haiti and its people are listening to God, to the Good Shepherd who knows them each by name, and whose voice they know. Haitians are paying attention to the one voice that is calling to them.

And what is God, what is the Good Shepherd, saying to us here?

“Haiti, get up!”

“Get up!”

• • •

Three weeks ago, the Diocese of Haiti held its Synod, the Synod that had been delayed by the earthquake of Jan. 12.  Many of us went – priests, deacons, lay delegates – and at the Synod, we were given a message by Bishop Duracin:

“Haiti, Leve Kanpe Pou Ou Mache!

“Haiti, Stand Up and Walk!”

Haiti, get up!

And we are getting up and we will get up, because we do listen to the voice of God. Haiti is one of the most God-fearing countries I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been in a lot of countries. Haitians are Christians. They know God. They love God.

So when God says to us here in Haiti, “Get up!”  that’s what we need to do.

Get up!

No matter how hard it seems, no matter the difficulties we encounter.

And yes, there are difficulties.

The Psalmist this morning speaks of walking through the valley of death.  That is certainly true here right now. Just look out the door. Look at your own homes, at your own lives. Every single person in this room has lost someone, many of you have lost many people, more of you have lost your homes. You are walking through the valley of death.

But the Psalmist also is clear: We have no need to fear evil, because God is with us.

God is the one who is calling us, who is telling us to get up.

God, the Good Shepherd, the one we all know by name, the one whose voice we have heard before and are hearing now and will hear forever, is speaking to us right now.

Haiti is not dead.

Haiti is alive, and its people are alive, and its faith is alive.

Those of you who are here to help Haiti are here because you, too, hear God calling to you: Get up! God says.

That is our mission now: Not just to get up ourselves, but to help Haiti get up. The Church is leading the way, but we can only do so if we listen to the voice we know best, the voice of the one who loves us.

Get up!

Get up!

Get up!


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Packed and not so ready to go

Thursday in Easter week:

Dear Beloved in Christ:

It is my last night in Haiti for two weeks, and even though I am packed and almost ready to go, there is a large part of me that wants to stay. Yes, I look forward to the amenities of the U.S., but it is hard to leave behind my friends here, my family here, my colleagues, and even the people on the street whom I do not know but see daily.

It’s been nearly three months since the earthquake. I do see some progress; I see buildings going up (some of which do not look safe in the least, to be honest). And yet, I still see more buildings that have yet to be taken down. Driving through Port au Prince several times this week, I’ve seen more and more government workers out — easily identifiable by their bright yellow T-shirts — removing rubble, clearing more streets, trying hard to improve life.

But those improvements are slow in coming. I don’t know that most of the world understands yet how complete this devastation is. One of the priests here told me just yesterday that every single one of his churches was destroyed in the earthquake. Every single one. He needs large tents — as do many of our other priests — in order to have a place in which to hold worship, so that the people don’t have to stand in the brutal sun or get drenched by the rains. We still have buildings that are pancaked, still have buildings that are atilt, still have to maneuver around rubble in the streets.

And we still have hundreds of thousands of people who are homeless. They live in tents, sometimes in camps, sometimes on their own property. A friend just sent me a text message telling me that the front porch of their house collapses this week after several more small but still deadly aftershocks. He and his wife still cannot live in their own home.

Walking the streets, you are overwhelmed by the smells — of food being cooked on the sidewalks, of unwashed bodies, of no sanitation. The tents are right on top of each other … people have a “living space” of approximately two square feet per person, if that. It is absolutely amazing that this many weeks later, people still have no place to live.

And then there is the rain. Last night, a sudden downpour flooded the capital. Literally. I was having dinner with some friends when the rains began. We joked about how it wouldn’t be so bad running across the street to get home, because at least then we could wash the dust off of us from our long day of travel. When the rains abated — somewhat — we headed for the door, and discovered a gushing river in what was our street. The water was filthy and running fast, so fast that I wondered if we would be able to keep our footing. I had my backpack with my computer in it, and didn’t want to attempt a three-foot jump onto a slippery step leading to my church and apartment. So I waded through the water, carefully trying to plant each foot. The Lord alone knows what was in that river of filth; all I can tell you is that within minutes of arriving home, my feet were on fire. I couldn’t wash them fast enough or even enough to rid myself of that feeling.

And I have the blessings of having an actual apartment, on the third floor, to which to retire. I have buckets of more-or-less clean water in which to bathe. The people on the streets? In the tents? They have nothing. Some in the tent city across from my church draw water from our reservoir every day … without that, I do not know what they would do.  On Easter night, a woman showed up at the gate at 9 p.m. There were 12 one-gallon jugs of water waiting for her. She took two jugs in each hand, and made three trips to where she is staying.

Such is life in Haiti.

And yet, at our Diocesan Synod this week — delayed 10 weeks by the earthquake — there was much joy as well. The parishes took up collections on Easter Sunday to begin the fund for the reconstruction of Holy Trinity Cathedral. Each priest presented that money at Synod, in a joy-filled service on Tuesday. For the offertory, the people of the parish of Bon Sauveur in Cange literally danced up the aisle with their offerings: fruits, grains, sugar cane, farming tools, live roosters, a live turkey (which might be what we ate the next day …), vegetables and more. It’s a traditional offering, complete with dance and song, and is a celebration of the fruits of our lives. It also gives new meaning to the liturgical saying, “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.” Truly, the people of Haiti give back to the Lord on a daily basis, even when they don’t have much to give.

Which makes it harder to leave every single time. Because if they can and do give so much, if they are suffering so much, how can I simply come and go so much? But … that is the assignment Bishop Duracin has given me, and right now, it is the best use of my gifts. So, I pack up once again, cover up my belongings here with sheets to keep the dust off, and head out to the airport. In less than two weeks, I’ll be back, so it isn’t as though I am leaving my adopted country forever. I just have to keep one foot in America, one foot in Haiti, going back and forth, for a while to come.

And even in the midst of all this devastation, there are good things to see. Walking down the streets, I see so many of my friends, and I know that strangers continue to be astounded at the joy of each meeting. This is Haiti — here we greet each other with hugs and kisses on the cheek. We laugh, we joke, we arrange to get together, we make sure that we know where each of us is, and what we are doing, we try to help each other. My street artist friends are delighted to know that the paintings I buy from them are to be sold in the U.S., and that their work in turn will fund the rebuilding of this nation. My vendor friends keep cold drinks hidden away for me, knowing that as I walk by, I will ask for my too-sweet-but-filling Tampico orange drinks. The children on the street play games with me — thumb warfare sometimes, other times just the word games we play about asking for money. The security guards at hotels nearby all greet me, and the waiters at restaurants (where I usually only go with visitors) all stop to greet me as well.

The other day, standing on my balcony, I realized for the first time that the big tree growing over the wall is an avocado tree! I had been watching a bee pollinate the blossoms, and suddenly saw … avocados! Turns out, it belongs to the hotel across the street, for it is actually growing in their parking lot. But the branches that cross over that wall? The fruit of those branches is ours! At first, I found just four tiny avocados — which still have a long way to go in their growing. Avocados here are between 8 and 10 inches long, and at least four inches around, and are so very delicious. Then I realized that there were all these buds on the tree branches. THEN, a few hours later, I came out to examine the tree again, and found five more teeny-tiny new avocados bursting forth. Finally, I looked up — remember, I’m on the third floor, so the branches are at eye level — and saw hundreds of buds! Oh, my gosh, I said to my friends, we’re going to have to open a market! We’ll be rich!!!! Thank God for that bee that drew my attention to the riches of God’s grace, literally right before my eyes.

There is another tree growing in our courtyard which bears what I think is breadfruit. I’m actually not certain what the fruit is, only that is is good to eat, and better to be turned into juice. I haven’t done the latter yet, but have partaken of that blessing as well. This tree literally grows through the steps leading to the parish hall on the second floor behind the church. I didn’t realize that it, too, is a fruit tree. I will eat more of this fruit when I return.

This morning, I saw hundreds of children lining up to enter schools, which reopened this week. Not all of the schools are ready to reopen, but some have, and to see the children in their varied uniforms — every school child wears a uniform here — brings joy to all of us, for it is a sign that some normalcy is returning, and that education will continue, even if it has to happen under tents or in some cases, under the trees.

And just a little while ago, there was yet another street party right outside my door. Granted, the music is just a tad loud for me — anything that makes your heart thump is too loud for me. But it was joyful music, and brought joy to the thousands living in Place St. Pierre, even if only for a few moments.

Earlier this week, I drove from Port au Prince to Cange and then back. My triumph: I drive like a Haitian now, one hand on the steering wheel, one on the stick shift, one finger on the horn, ready to use it, at all times. Several times, I told my passengers to close their eyes — it’s easier for them. This may not sound like much of an accomplishment, but trust me, it is. To drive in Haiti is to be really bold — or to be crazy. We have three basic rules of the road: One, all other drivers are crazy. Two, lock your doors. Three, see Rule Number One. Oh, and it IS necessary to have a good horn. Weak horns on cars bring derision from all around. Good horns earn accolades. My car, which Bishop is driving right now (his was crushed when his house collapsed in the quake, and his new one is not yet here), has a decent horn. The rental car’s horn: Excellent. Not as good as the horn in a friend’s car — that’s a monster horn. But still, it was very good. And I am proud to have driven up-country. It leaves me with a feeling of panache.

There are two things that are hard for people to believe about Haiti: The first is that this devastation was, is and will continue to be, beyond description. The second is that in the midst of it, there is still joy.

Such is life in Haiti.

Blessings and peace in this Eastertide,


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It’s simply hard, very hard

From my visit 28 Feb-1 March:

Driving around Port au Prince and the surrounding environs, even weeks after the earthquake, you are confronted with scenes of devastation everywhere. Buildings titlpastedGraphic.pdfed awry; other buildings nothing but rubble. Mounds of rubble neatly swept into the street and marked off so that no one inadvertently runs into them.

Life continues in Haiti, that is for certain. But you can’t escape the devastation. And those scenes remind you that while the world may have moved on to the next big thing, the people of Haiti cannot and will not move on. Not until they have recovered all the bodies. Not until they have cleared the rubble. Not until they have homes in which to live, places in which to rest, offices in which to work.

One friend, seeing the devastation for the first time, tried to describe it to me over the phone. Our conversation:

“Oh, my. It’s …”

“Yes, I know. It’s hard.

“Yes, that’s the word: hard.

“There’s nothing else to say, no other word to use, my friend. It’s simply hard, very hard.

And yet the Haitians continue with their lives, as best they can.

They rescue whatever they can from buildings – blocks, stones, rebar, wood, nails – so those items can be used again. They stand atop collapsed buildings, trying to determine how to remove the next piece.

Two weeks ago at the Holy Trinity Trade School, another layer of debris was removed. Under it, the workers found 200 of our students who never got out.

The students were buried in situ – there was nothing else that could be done.

It had been six weeks by the time they were found. Six weeks.

Yes, this is hard. Very hard.

There are no other words.

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Urgent times, with more blessings

Dear Beloved in Christ:

My first full day in Haiti started with my first phone call at 6:30 a.m., from Bishop Duracin. Since so many of us lack electricity, our days end a bit earlier and start MUCH earlier, with the sun’s rising. There is so much to do we simply cannot wait for regular business hours. It is now well past dark, and the day is not yet done. Through the kindness of my friends at the hotel across the street, I was able to charge my iPhone, so it is possible to get more news out.

The good news: We were able to get some things done today, through a series of meetings. I met some structural engineers on the plane on Sunday (was that only yesterday?). Today they called and said they wanted to work with the Episcopal Church. Once I told them, on the plane, of the work we do in Haiti, of our 254 schools, of our clinics and hospitals, of our trade schools and community college, of St Vincent’s, of our churches that are also community centers, of our working of miracles here, they decided to partner with us. Thanks be to God that by the grace of God, a bunch of strangers met at 37,000 feet and talked together. How this new partnership will develop only God knows, but that is good enough for me.

We had no luck getting Bishop Duracin’s visa or his daughter’s, but we continue to work on that. Many are striving to make that happen, and we pray it will happen soon, so that Bishop can come to the U.S. to see his wife and to attend the House of Bishops meeting later this month. Your prayers are asked for this.

At the airport today, waiting to pick up The Rev. John Talbird of East Tennessee, who is the head of the Board for Hopital St. Croix in Leogane, I met a Turkish policeman who is with MINUSTAH, the U.N. peacekeeping force in Haiti. He has been here since October, and brought his wife and now 8-month-old son with him. They all survived the quake, but he was able to send his wife and son home. Their home was damaged and he is now living in a tent near the U.S. Embassy. His devotion to his work here, his obvious care for the people of Haiti, his willingness to sacrifice a year of his life to live in a foreign land to help others in need, even his willingness to think about how to REALLY help the Haitians – “they need factories, they need jobs, then they can help themselves” – struck a deep chord in me. We truly are all related to each other, and when we work to help each other, at a cost to ourselves, we are building up the Kingdom of God.

I also met my porter from yesterday, who stood watch with me while I waited for my ride. “007” – that is his license number – got me inside the gate so that I could more closely watch for my friend, John. He remebered me from yesterday, and wanted to make sure I was cared for today.

At the same time, I met a woman who lost several of her children in the quake, now has nothing, and wants help with her remaining children, to feed, clothe them, give them shelter and send them to school. These are the times I repeat my cry to the Lord: I need more money! I dearly wish to help all I meet, and I try to do so, but the need here is so great. We all will have to sacrifice to help those in need.

But mixed in with the anguish is more joy, one person at a time. Today I found yet another friend on the street, the woman who sells me my fruit drinks every day. I don’t always need or even want them, but this is how she makes her living. She calls me “friend,” and I call her “friend,” and now we have found each other again, and I can only rejoice at this discovery. As yesterday, we laughed and hugged and stunned others on the street who do not know me and are amazed to see such joy between us. But always, even when they don’t know me, they rejoice as well, because they understand what it means to be reunited.

I cannot believe how blessed I am to find so many I feared lost to be found. I shall continue to look and rejoice, even as I know that I will not find everyone.

And we will continue to do our work, hoping that we can, each day, do a little more to help the people of Haiti, to rebuild this place bit by bit, to recover our dead and bury them with prayers and dignity, to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, cure the sick, make the lame (oh, Lord, we have ao many more of those now!) leap for joy, to give sight to the blind and speech to the mute and hearing to the deaf. These are still urgent times and the workload is enormous and there are so many decisions to make (are we making the right decisions at the right time?). But the people are people of faith, and they know that God is with them. They are doing their part, as God does God’s.

In addition to asking your prayers for the people of Haiti, I ask them as well for the people of Chile and of all those affected by the earthquake there on Saturday. More urgency, more need. My prayer is tha we can and will respond to all who need our help.

Blessings and peace,


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