Can I level with you? Most of you know that the masses in Haiti have created a path to live by each day, finding the courage to walk forward in the midst of challenges you and I rarely face. Trickle down aid from the estimated 10,000 NGOs (non- government organizations, including mission organizations) present in Haiti have had little impact in the midst of the crushing despair. Then along comes Hurricane Matthew, which seemed like another twisted fate imposed on a lovely, strong, energetic people that we love deeply.
Last month, Jeff, Danny, and I headed to Haiti meet with Jules and Lenord. We were not prepared for the devastation that we encountered.
In St. Martin, the small picturesque houses that we remembered lining the ocean side of the road were, for the most part, gone. In many cases, a cement pad was all that remained of homes that once were places of births, celebrations, laughter, and life. Lenord, a.k.a. “The Basket Man,” was right in his initial estimate that eight of every ten trees had been pulled out of the ground. Mango, coconut, avocado, and breadfruit trees were gone. So were the leaves that used to offer shade from the hot Caribbean sun.
As we traveled from home to home, families shared their own stories of the terror brought on by Matthew.
One old man spoke of his family running from his home after the tin roof started to lift off. In the chaos of 140-mile-per-hour winds, he became lost in the dark and sat in the pouring rain in a field, clutching his knees while his family searched for hours trying to find him. Still, with his garden lost and his home in ruins, he found the strength to keep moving into another day.
We encountered a young mother sitting on the side of the road in Plain Matin, pregnant with a child that was due any day now. She told of her grandmother running from her home to find safety while holding onto the hands of her two small children. In a gust of wind and debris, this woman’s four-year-old son was wrenched from Grandma’s grip and was blown into the ditch on the side of the road, filled with wreckage and raging water. He was swept away, never to be found. This young mother’s home was destroyed; she must now find a place to give birth to her child.
Goats and pigs, once used to pay school fees, were swept away. Trees and gardens vanished. Homes were leveled. Children and loved ones disappeared. There is no shade to protect the people from the hot sun and no roofs to protect them from the rainy season.
Where do we begin?
Ironically, in the words recorded by a different Matthew, Jesus offers us direction which is found in the wake of love. He invites us to look for him those in places of despair. As it is written in Matthew 25:37-40,
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
Hurricane Matthew left despair. The Gospel of Matthew records the Master’s instructions for meeting others in places of despair.
As we continue to partner with our brothers and sisters in Haiti, let’s remember that we have an opportunity to respond to a Jesus who is without home, a Jesus who is with child while mourning the loss of another, a Jesus who is grateful to be found by his family in the flood—a Jesus who is waiting for you and me to demonstrate our love.
Please give generously towards the recovery of these three villages: Bassin Caiman, St. Martin and Plain Matin. We at Haiti H20 are working together with our partners—the church and community leaders who are present and doing the first steps of organization and planning needed to bring hope out of these opportunities. They face unimaginable daily challenges, and they remain resolute and determined to lend courage as they lead in the rebuilding of their communities.
During this season of Thanksgiving, we are especially thankful for all of you who have supported Haiti with your time, talents, financial gifts, and prayers.