God walks beside us as we struggle toward redemption

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The Catholic cathedral in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, stands in ruins, destroyed in the January 2010 earthquake. A glimpse of its past beauty can still be spied in the slivers of stained glass window that cling to crumbling archways.

Even before the quake, the people of Haiti had experienced more than their fair share of suffering: Severe poverty. Grossly inadequate education and health care services. A devastated natural landscape. A shaky national government struggling to find its democratic footing after years of a U.S.-backed dictatorship.

Jim Rice writes in the February 2015 issue of Sojourners, “The nation of Haiti was born out of a rebellion that overthrew one of the most brutal systems of slavery history has seen – creating in 1804 the hemisphere’s second independent republic and the world’s first nation founded by freed slaves. The U.S., wanting to squelch any hopes for freedom among its own enslaved population, saw its Caribbean neighbor as a threat and undercut the fledgling republic at every turn.”

Much (but not all) of Haiti remains in chaos five years after the quake that took hundreds of thousands of lives and left millions homeless; makeshift neighborhoods of shelters made with tarp and tin still stretch across the city. Women and children walk miles every day to collect potable water. Vendors wake before dawn to find a spot on the crowded sidewalk in the hopes that enough customers will buy their fruit or vegetables or other goods so that they can pay their bills.

The suffering endured by so many Haitians is not romantic; it is gut-wrenching and dreadful. It can also be placed squarely at the feet of an unjust economic system that continually rewards greed and that treats humans as nothing more than expendable capital. We must remain vigilant in our efforts to address the unjust structures and power arrangements that feed into this horrific reality.

The suffering, however, also can be a foundation for profound faith and strength – the determination of Haitians to move forward, to continue to choose and celebrate life in all its forms, knowing that God is with them in their sorrow and in their joy, is a tremendous gift to witness, and when possible, to accompany.

During a recent visit to Haiti, members of a Maryknoll delegation from the U.S. had the privilege to meet several Haitians who are committed to their country and who not only believe in their compatriots but strongly trust that God is with them and has not abandoned them – God has walked through the dark valleys, too, and knows their suffering. They include teachers who have not been paid for three months, a doctor who has rebuilt the clinic he lost in the 2010 quake, a priest who is committed to providing schooling for hundreds of children even if they cannot afford it, and young men who want to teach peacemaking and reconciliation skills to children in the most violent area of Port-au-Prince, just to note a few.

At the end of the visit, delegation members were urged by former Pax Christi International Secretary General (and also former Haiti foreign minister) Claudette Werleigh to tell their friends and family back home about Haiti’s resilience, its faith and optimism, and its determination to survive on its own terms.

On the delegation’s last evening in Haiti, a rainbow formed in the sky over Port-au-Prince. “This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come, of the covenant between me and you and every living creature with you: I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” What a message to receive – despite the pain, the incredible losses, our creator remains with us, and has promised to stay with us always.

Judy Coode, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

2 responses to “God walks beside us as we struggle toward redemption

  1. Thanks, Judy. I think that the hope comes from the women of Haiti who are amazing. I wrote this for our program.
    The Mother’s Club of Plaine Mapou, La Gonave, Haiti, April 2015
    Where do you get your strength to do all that you do for your children? In unison everyone answered “JESUS”! I asked this question to the 18 women in the mother’s club which our wonderful nurse, Mis Elisea has formed. I wanted to know, what was the source of their strength for raising their many children in homes without running water or electricity and are brought to the clinic so clean and well mannered? It is always inspiring to me to see how joyful these women are in this beautiful valley where are clinic is located. After affirming their faith, I asked them, what else gave them support? They credited the other women in the group who have given them much support.
    A lively discussion ensued after this next question: With all of the experience you have had, how would you respond to a young pregnant women who asks your advice on having a healthy pregnancy. There answers revolved around diet, immunization against tetanus, and coming to the clinic. As almost all of the pregnant women that I had seen at the clinic had not had breakfast, I emphasized the importance of eating something in the morning, especially in the later part of their pregnancies. They said that most people only have enough food for one meal a day at this time of year. This is a difficult problem to solve. On our next visit we will bring Moringa tree seedlings for them to plant.
    The pregnant women we examined at the clinic were delighted to receive the birth kits and baby hats which were made by the women of St. Paul’s. We were grateful to have their gifts to share with them.
    After our discussions they put on a “play” and sang songs which Mis Elisea wrote for them about the clinic and how grateful they are to St. Paul’s, Partners with Haiti. The women in the mother’s group are a great resource to their community. They are sharing what they have learned through experience and at the meetings at the clinic. They hold a lot of credibility with the local women and are becoming leaders in their community.
    Anne Richter, PWH team member

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  2. Pingback: HAITI: God walks beside us as we struggle toward redemption | PAX CHRISTI USA·

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