More than two hundred years ago, the country now known as Haiti experienced a devastating earthquake. In those days, the death and destruction, while significant, was no comparison to what took place just before 5 pm on January 12 of this year. Thirty-three significant aftershocks followed. Drive around Port Au Prince today and you will see huge piles of rubble in places that used to be homes. Not just in isolated areas, this type of devastation can be seen from just about any vantage point in the city. According to the locals, each one of those piles of rubble could be the unintended burial place of people unable to get out before the structure collapsed.
No one remains untouched by the loss, even if their homes are still standing, for everyone knows someone who lost family and friends in the quake. Their third world economy, weak at best and decimated by the earthquake, is just now returning to normal, such as it is.
But what is normal to Americans, who sometimes struggle to live from paycheck to paycheck, would be wealthy to the average Haitian family. They live in tiny, poorly constructed homes made from inferior building products. In fact, it is this the poor construction practices that caused so much devastation. As one Haitian pastor explained, “We do what we can with what we have. We would do better if we could, but we do not have the means to buy better materials.” It is hard for us to understand a culture where people live from day to day working for their next meal, live next to open, running creeks of sewage, and build their homes by purchasing individual blocks or rebar as they can. Little children, especially the girls, are taught to carry water first in plastic gallon jugs. As they get older they graduate to carrying open five gallon buckets of water balanced on their heads for long distances, just to provide water for the daily needs of the family.
Since the earthquake, many of these people, who had so little to begin with, are now left living in sprawling tent cities that cover seemingly every open space in Port Au Prince. The UN says there are some 400 such tent cities. While these offer temporary shelter from the heat, most of the tents and tarps will last only weeks or a couple of months at best. Then when the rains come, the misery intensifies. Only God knows what will happen when the rains come. Some talked openly of their concern for the upcoming hurricane season, which runs from June through November. Then of course, people are scared about the next earthquake or aftershock. Even the government has advised some not to sleep in their homes.
But Haiti is not without hope. Most of the missionaries agree that most people’s lives are about back to what they were before the earthquake. The street vendors are out again. While it is very slow, clean-up is progressing. Most of it is being done by hand. We spent four days in Haiti and saw only two pieces of heavy equipment only in one place-working on the presidential palace. Evidence of relief work is seen from the tents to water supplies to medical clinics.
And something wonderful is happening in Haiti amidst all of this. The Word of God is prospering. There is an army of Haitian pastors and Christians who are preaching the gospel – in some places it is going on every night- and people are coming to Christ in the voodoo dominated country. In fact, though virtually every church building is damaged or destroyed, these pastors report that although many of them lost as many as half their church members in the disaster, their attendance is stronger than before the earthquakes. As one pastor said, “Haitians are looking for answers, and they are finding them in Jesus Christ.”
Pray for the people of Haiti and for the pastors who are there sharing the gospel faithfully. Our church is planning mission trips to make a difference. Personally, I am still processing everything we saw. In some ways, the only way I know how to pray is, “Lord, what will you have me to do about what I have seen?”