personal reflection on haiti

My wife, Pam Carter,  is in Port au Prince, Haiti.

She serves in our church as a volunteer staff leader of a multi-faceted mission partnership in Haiti that includes a medical clinic, a school, and a microcredit initiative; our work is in Cap Haitien, the second largest city in Haiti, located in the north.  She was in PAP for a one day meeting that brought together leaders from churches across the U.S.  The earthquake hit late in the afternoon of that meeting.

We are attempting to get her out today. Two Delta flights have been cancelled, and we are working on a couple of promising leads for Thursday--one, a friend of a friend who has a plane with Habitat for Humanity that will come from the Bahamas; the other, the superintendent Methodist minister of the Cap Haitien circuit, who will drive her there. 

Pam's detailed description of the surroundings in Port au Prince were posted in the Charlotte Observer on Tuesday, and I have only received email messages today, more frequent but always brief---the house is fine, she is safe, she is looking forward to returning home.  I have the sense in reading some of her notes around the edges that things are worse than she is expressing: there is a great deal of death and destruction around her, and she is responding to this, along with others.  

Three United Methodist Committee on Relief staff (two of whom I know, Jim Gulley from Colorado and Sam Dixon from New York) have not been seen since the quake and there are fears about what happened with them. The eleven persons who were scheduled to depart on Wednesday for Cap Haitien  from Providence UMC have postponed their mission; they will make the journey later. 

What can you do now? UMCOR is a great mission: it is "on the ground" and all proceeds (100%) go the need; all overhead is absorbed by local United Methodist churches in their apportionments. I  imagine other denominations have similar vehicles for response.  Stop Hunger Now is also great; our church has experience in putting together these meals, which are inexpensive and nutritious. I know there are other worthy avenues for giving.  I have not watched a great deal of the television coverage. 

My experience with Haiti over a number of years is that they are not so much the victims of bad government as the victims of almost no government, meaning no infrastructure. Their lives are so precarious---at the mercy of the goodwill of friends, and yes often volunteers--that they have little margin for error---no surplus food, few structurally sound buildings, inadequate healthcare, even if it is provided by heroic volunteers.

If you want to learn about Haiti, the classic work is "Mountains Beyond Mountains" by Tracy Kidder, a biography of Paul Farmer. It is a truly remarkable book. If you want to read more deeply, Paul Farmer's "The Uses of Haiti" explores how various countries, including the French and the U.S., have used the resources of this country for our own purposes. 

Providence's work in Haiti has been for the long haul--thirty years--and with many partners. There is room for partnership in the future; we have good experience in healthcare, education and, most recently, microcredit, and many of our teams have active leaders from other Christian traditions and also people who claim no faith, but nevertheless honor God by loving their neighbor. There is much to do in Haiti, and perhaps the televised experience and the wrenching trauma of the Haiti people will motivate us, as U.S. Christians, to see our brothers and sisters, only two hours and forty minutes from our border, and their needs, but also their gifts. 

Thank you for reading this, and for saying prayers for all concerned.  I remember a prayer sent to me by a friend: " O Lord, we ask you for many things, but what you give us, over and each other." Today I know that this is true.