What the people of Haiti have to offer us...

I've been to Haiti several times and although I've seen the poverty there, I would never say that I have experienced it. Certainly, being in Haiti is different than watching scenes of Haiti on television but my trips to Haiti began in the comfort of the first world and I knew that 10 days later I would return to the security of the first world in which I live. In some sense, I toured Haiti's poverty the way one might visit any foreign place where one had not intention of settling.

I don't even believe I can imagine what it is like to live the poverty of Haiti. Born and bred in the United States, I can't imagine living in a country whose history is oppression, political violence and poverty. I can't imagine living in a place where hunger and homelessness are everywhere. I remember thinking, while in Haiti, that you can always drive through the very poorest neighborhoods in the U.S. into more comfortable neighborhoods. In Haiti, you never drive beyond the poverty: it is around you, beside you, behind you and before you.

My connection to Haiti is largely through the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation whose primary mission is health care. Because of that connection I have seen the best and the worst of health care in Haiti - and I have seen its absence.

I'm on vacation this week, visiting my sister and brother-in-law in Colorado. I'm staying in their comfortable home where I have much more time than usual to watch the unfolding story of the earthquake in Port au Prince, on my choice of two televisions or my lap-top. In a real sense, we are able to tour the experience of the Haitian people without ever leaving our living rooms. As I watch the video of buildings falling and trapping people, of people running in the streets in clouds of dust, of bodies of victims shrouded and lined up in the streets, I try -and fail- to understand how the Haitians absorb this latest insult to their dignity as human beings, sons and daughters of God.

And in the last word of the previous paragraph lies the greatest mystery of all: God. God has no desire to punish his especially beloved, the poorest of the poor - and yet we call this a natural disaster. A prayer and a post I published yesterday grapple, as we all do, with the "Why?" of this catastrophe - and at least for believers, that simple question, "Why?" is a cry to the Creator.

But a greater God-mystery threads through this week's story. And that is the mystery of the faith of the people of Haiti.

I remember asking in Haiti, "How do people keep their faith after living for generations in such dire circumstances?" The answer came right back: "When God is all you have, you do not let go of your faith."

When God is all you have, you do not let go of your faith...

How often do we get that backwards? How often do we place our faith in the things we have and, when we lose them, question if God is still with us? Yet here is a people who have lost all and cling to God and faith as their most beloved possessions.

Just a few minutes ago, I saw video of hundreds of Haitians processing through the streets of Port au Prince singing hymns and clapping their hands. The commentator mentioned that all through the night you could hear groups of people throughout the city gathering and singing together...

When God is all you have, you do not let go of your faith...

The faithful Haitian people are human beings. This week we've seen them bleed and die; we've heard their cries of anguish, their weeping over the loss of loved ones; we've seen them beg for something to eat, something to drink, for a place to go... but they know in Jesus a God who chose to suffer with his people and they believe their God is with them...

When God is all you have, you do not let go of your faith...

Don't for a moment think that I'm trying to "spiritualize" the plight of Haitians this week. Their loss and pain are real, as real as their faith in God -and conversely- their faith in God is real, as real as their loss and pain.

If anything, we may be the ones in need of a deeper spirituality in the face of this tragedy.

The financial support we can offer obliges us to give and to give generously but in addition to that assistance, we can be with the people of Haiti in their prayer. The distinction here is subtle but important: rather than pray for the Haitian people, we might do well to pray with them... pray for an end to the suffering, an end to the poverty, an end to the chaos before violence enters in - and the beginning of a new day for these beloved people of God.

Here's the Lord's Prayer in Haitian Creole: you can be sure our sisters and brothers in Haiti are saying and singing this prayer as we read it and pray it:

Papa nou
Ki nan syèl la

Se pou yo respekte non ou

Se pou yo rekonèt se ou ki wa

Se pou volonte'w fèt sou tè a tankou nan syèl la.

Pen nou bezwen an
Ba nou li jodi
Padone sa nou fè'w
Tankou nou padone

Moun ki fè, moun ki choy

Pa kite nou pran nan pyèj

Men delivre nou anba sa ki mal

And here's a simple prayer from reader MS whose words might speak for many of us:

I Can Pray

a great tragedy
too big for many
to really understand
too many emotions
what can I do?
what can I say?

I can pray.

but it seems so little
I feel so little
so insignificant
so far away-
what can I do?
what can I say?

I can pray.

For a third time this week I'm posting this well-known musical setting of Psalm 34.

The banner at the top of this post and the poster of butterflies came in an email today from JF who wrote:
As the news comes to us from Haiti I am reminded of my Haitian Outreach experience, especially my art project to teach an art class for the girls being sheltered by Sister Cadet and the nuns (Daughters of Mary Queen Immaculate of Haiti).

For this project I brought art supplies such as "magic markers" and piles of colored post-it paper. The theme of the first class was "Butterflies" - one butterfly is beautiful, many butterflies are awesome! To help get them started I passed out fake butterflies, the kind used for decorations. Then I demonstrated how to draw one butterfly and how to add colors, dots, lines to make a unique butterfly. The girls loved the markers, colored paper and the fake butterflies.

They concentrated intently on their creations girls and were delighted to show them off to me. They returned again and again for more paper. At the end of the class I posted all their joyful drawings on the wall. As their way of helping to continue the art project the girls gave me their artwork.

Perhaps this is a good time to share their joyful butterflies with volunteers and donors.
It's a very good time indeed, JF, to share these signs of hope, to hope, to give and to pray with our brothers and sisters in Haiti...


  1. I, too, cannot imagine what it is like to live in the poverty that Haitians experience...

    even as a peace corps volunteer in the eastern caribbean, where there was much poverty, I still was sheltered, in a way, protected, if you will, by being an american and having the safety and support of peace corps staff...
    even a plane ride away- but, I had that support...

    these words: "when God is all you have, you do not let go of your faith"...

    these words have touched very deeply in my heart-
    in some ways I understand but in others it is too large, too abstract...

    no matter where we live, or what our experience is and has been, these words, I believe, have the great power to touch and inspire and transform all of us.

    I pray, and I believe, that God loves and hears each one of us...

  2. I find comfort in your words Father, and I know from personal experience that when all you have is God you don't loose your faith. I also know when all I have is God then I am very blessed.
    I am praying so hard for these people, my heart breaks for them, but I continue to pray....Thank you

  3. I've twice went to Honduras for service work and saw some real dire living conditions and poverty.

    Each time I too had that feeling that in 10 days I'll be back to my world.

    Your absolutely correct in your statement, When God is all you have, you do not let go of your faith...

    I saw it in when I was in Honduras, the people's faith was impressive.

    On both occasions I'd like to think that I really helped the people I touched, but in reality it was probably the other way around.

  4. CC: I very much relate to what you said in your last paragraph...
    even not knowing about your service work, I would say that it was most likely equal- you helped them as much as they helped you- that was what I realized after my experience- and I think that is probably the usual (or ideal) outcome when one's heart and soul and mind is in what they are doing...

  5. On the right hand side of the page you have Psalm 134 instead of Psalm 34 - The Lord Hears the Cry of the Poor.



Please THINK before you write
and PRAY before you think!