I’m finally in a position (phew! a little time) to start to roll out some of my thoughts and feelings following the recent visit with friends to the Compassion projects in Haiti. It was a week that felt like a month. I’m doing something of a stream of consciousness rather than a day by day recap.
Short summary? (People generally don’t know about Haiti and ask if it was nice). I told a friend “Haiti is hell on earth, with heaven breaking in.”
The poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Home to 9 million people. 40% live in the cities, 80% below the poverty line. Read that again before it just washes over you, think of the implications for those fellow children of God. Mums and Dads who love their kids the same as I love mine.
54% of the people in Haiti live in what the UN describe as ‘Abject Poverty,’- less than $2 a day. There’s not even any credit to crunch there.
I think I have seen worse poverty on previous mission trip in India in the wake of the tsunami, but that’s because our hosts from Compassion were wise enough to shield us from the very worst places – slums where gangs rule with fear and machine guns. A UN peacekeeping force is now in charge of Haiti’s security, guns, sandbags and blue helmets galore in all urban areas. No planes are allowed to say overnight at the airport in Port Au Prince in case they’re hijacked.
Everywhere we travelled we had three armed guards. Overkill? No. One Compassion worker was kidnapped with his 8 year old daughter last year. They’d kill him to show they were serious and leave his wife to raise a ransom for the girl, so he made the decision to roll out of the moving car – leaving her with the captors, so he could raise the funds for her release. It worked, but the decision to leave her so haunted him that he had a breakdown and had to move out of the country.
How’s that for a father’s choice?
The photo above was taken as in Gonaives we filmed some short clips for You Tube (I’ll post the links when they’re up) to appeal for you to sponsor a child through Compassion. If you do already, you probably have no idea how important that is as I’ll detail in a future post. If you can’t wait to do it – click here, but please email me or comment so I know and can pray and thank God for your decision.
That day we’d travelled hours to this, the second largest city in Haiti, worst hit by the most recent hurricanes in September last year. 800,000 were affected across the country but 85% of this city was totally deluged by seven to eight metres of flooding. I heard at the time news reports of corpses from the morgue floating along next to fresh dead bodies so that the true number of fatalities was uncertain. It’s the kind of story I couldn’t get my head around at the time. But when you see the devastation still so apparent, and hear the stories of how the flood affected real people; how Compassion saved so many lives it’s heaven vs hell, again.
Ashley, a pastor at the church we visited who also works for Compassion, told how he’d received a call from his brother to warn him too late that the floods were coming. The family lived on the roof for three days and nights without food or water, watching neighbours floating past dead, until another deluge overwhelmed them. His wife couldn’t swim. Our interpreter began to cry as Ashley told of putting his five kids in an overturned fridge, with his wife who couldn’t swim hanging on too – they all floated along until they were, thankfully, rescued.
Another man in checked trousers stood up in the church (all Compassion’s work is done through the local church) to tell how grateful he was for us coming to visit him. He also had no time to prepare for the hurricane, living in a three room single storey tiny house. He was with his 13 year old daughter when the floods hit and had to survive a week without food. He only survived because Compassion relief had brought food and helped rehouse him after he lost everything. The house was swept away and he hung onto a tree branch with his wife.
Others danced and sang and gave us presents as they told how Compassion gave many people money for recapitalisation of businesses, or vouchers to repair 0r rebuild their houses. I thought it was just about child sponsorship, but they do so much more! They distributed seed, though the top soil has gone and the harvest looks to be very sparse this year. Hundreds had come to greet us, all had received food packages within 2 days. I felt a phony because they made us feel like VIPs. I was just there a day, Ashley had chosen to remain, though the hurricanes will probably be back next year.
Mister checked trousers had sat down, but we asked him, “How is your daughter now?”
“She’s dead.” It took him three days to find his other two girls. He’d come to say thanks, not for sympathy.
We heard of another man had two children, one under each arm. When the water came over his head he had to make a choice as to which to let go, so he could swim with one.
Such stories show how desperate this world can be for the poor. As a Pastor myself my heart moved, I couldn’t just sit there. The Holy Spirit was moving so strongly in this place of tears and pain and thanksgiving. I stood – but what to say?
“Some will say, ‘Where was God when the hurricane hit?’ They will shake a fist at heaven. Or we can open our hand to God. That’s the choice we make.”
I talked with them of God’s love, that he was present in every piece of help given through in Compassion’s work as so many of them had, praising through their grief. Many women wept as I prayed for those who had died and those were were left, and read from Psalm 46:God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
I told them that God knew their names, and all their stories, and God knows the ones they loved and could see no more.
But later that day as we drove away and I reflected, and realised that our Father God knows even more than that. He knows the Father’s choice, because He let go of his only Son at the cross – to take hold of and save you and me.