Saturday, January 30, 2010


Darlene Etienne, a 16-year-old Haitian, was found alive Wednesday after 15 days of being buried under the rubble of her school in Port-au-Prince. Her entire community cheered as her weak body was pulled from the wreckage and whisked away for medical care. 

Jerome Sales, AP

One of her rescuers called it a miracle. 
While Darlene’s amazing and courageous rescue brings tears to my eyes, I’ve always struggled with the word “miracle.”  It’s a term we throw out liberally to describe any event we can’t explain, secular or sacred. People of faith often attribute such incredible happenings to God. 
The trouble with that, I find, is that it creates an image of God as a divine Magic Eight Ball. If properly shaken, God bestows miracles on some while others discover “outlook not so good.” In this case, Darlene and the 130 other Haitians who’ve been found alive in the rubble received a miracle. But we estimate there were 200,000 other Haitians who did not survive. Was it simply not their turn for God’s favor?
We need to dig more deeply to find a new understanding of "miracle," especially as it relates to Darlene's story. I believe the greatest miracle of all is the reassurance of presence -- the presence of God and the presence of others -- in spite of all the odds. In this case, French rescuers left their country and put their lives on the line to search for her. Her community never gave up. Her mother and brother never stopped praying, always believing she was alive.  Her mother trusted God was with them the entire time. 

Perhaps the true miracle here is God's faithful promise to be with us, so that even if the rescuers had come up empty-handed, everyone still would’ve known that Darlene was in God’s hands. 

Monday, January 18, 2010

Stealing or surviving?

Most of us have no idea what it means to be so desperate for food and clean water that we would do absolutely anything to provide for ourselves and our families. That’s why I have trouble with media images that describe Haitian women and children as looting and pillaging from devastated stores and markets. While I would never condone violence, I can understand that such desperation could lead men to join machete-armed mobs to demand relief supplies. Until we’re in that situation, I don’t believe we can judge them.

Damon Winter, New York Times

Nor can we label them the villains of their own disaster. Take, for example, this New York Times photo of a red-shirted boy running through the streets of Port-au-Prince clutching a plastic bag. The caption underneath attempts to be objective: “Haitians fled gunshots that rang out in downtown Port-au-Prince Saturday. Tons of relief supplies had arrived for delivery.” But the headline further down the page says: “Looting Flares Where Order Breaks Down.”

“So was the kid looting?” asks Natalie Hopkinson on The Root. Who are we to judge? She proceeds to describe media coverage from Hurricane Katrina where hungry, desperate white survivors were “finding” food, while hungry, desperate black survivors were “looting” for food. How long will our coverage continue to exploit and discriminate against people, simply because they are black and poor?

Dany Laferrière, a Canadian author with Haitian roots, survived the earthquake at a hotel in Port-au-Prince. He wanted out of the country immediately, not simply to escape disaster, but also to flee from the racist conversation embedded in it. He has grown weary of the language of a “Haitian curse,” a “pact with the devil,” “refugees” in their own country, and “pillaging” for survival.

“It would be better to speak of the incredible energy I saw,” Laferrière told Le Monde, “from women and men who, with courage and dignity, help each other. Even though their town is partially destroyed and their state is without leadership, the people remain, work and live.”

These people cling to the hope of survival in the most desperate times. Who are we to condemn?

Sunday, January 17, 2010


And some kind of help is the kind of help
That helping’s all about.
And some kind of help is the kind of help
We all can do without.
-- Shel Silverstein, “Helping”

The world has rushed to help Haiti after the Haitians’ world collapsed. While I’m thankful that Haiti is receiving much-needed support and aid, I worry that it is too much, too late for that devastated nation. I’m concerned about it reaching the right hands in a way that is culturally relevant and beneficial to the incredibly long rebuilding process that the Haitians face.

For too long, more powerful countries have assumed they know what’s best for Haiti. To be sure, their resources have been given in a spirit of harmless generosity. When I visited Lopital (Hospital) Ste Croix in Léogane, we received a tour through the basement of the hospital. The hallways were piled high with cardboard boxes of medical supplies. When we asked our tour guide about them, he laughed. “Those are all of the supplies that the Americans have sent us that we can’t use,” he explained. “Our equipment isn’t sophisticated enough. Our landfills are overflowing, so we stack the boxes here. I wish Americans would ask us what we need.”

It’s not only nations, but also individuals. A Mississippi senator believes we should send FEMA trailers to Port-au-Prince. Really? What about the health problems they caused in New Orleans, where someone nicknamed them “toxic tin cans”? Other Americans, untrained in disaster relief, are hoping to rush off to Haiti, not realizing that their presence will draw important resources like food and water away from the people who need them most.

I don’t pretend to have any answers to the Haitian disaster. The solutions to Haiti’s problems are incredibly complicated and will require a long-term commitment to create political infrastructure, develop health care, protect the environment, produce food, offer jobs, educate children, rebuild houses and roads, and heal their broken lives.

The Haitian people are incredibly resilient and resourceful. Most have abiding faith in God’s provision and goodness, despite the odds. One of their common phrases is degaje, which means making do with what you have. When it comes to creating something out of nothing, the Haitians are experts.  We need to listen to them -- their needs, abilities, aspirations, and ideas. If substantial foreign aid combined with good listening and political empowerment over the long haul, the Haitians could know a brighter future.

In the meantime, however, there is much work to be done. The suffering continues. We can pray, listen, and give our resources. We can commit to walking this entire road to Haiti's recovery. And most of all, we can promise to offer the kind of help that helping is all about.

Trustworthy places to give support:
Family Health Ministries
United Methodist Committee on Relief
Red Cross

Friday, January 15, 2010


We received the tragic news today that Jude, a toddler in Fondwa, didn’t survive the earthquake. He was killed with Sister Oudel, we assume as the guest house collapsed.
This photo was taken of him in November with Marjory from Greensburg UMC.

Precious Little Jude,

I wonder how life would’ve been different for you under other circumstances. You were born in the poorest country in our hemisphere, and you quickly became an economic orphan. Your parents were still alive, but they couldn’t afford to care for you. Instead, you were entrusted to a larger family – the Church. You were embraced by a circle of love from the Catholic sisters in Fondwa. Your cries and laughter echoed in the guest house halls as they took turns caring for you.

I met you once when you were four months old. Your pudgy cheeks and bright eyes captured our attention. I understand that you grew up to be an active toddler who was timid around strangers, especially those funny-looking Americans who stayed in your home.

Your namesake, the Jude of Holy Scriptures, is one of the shortest books of the Bible. It has only one chapter, much like your life. But it contains some very powerful words, including the blessing that God will keep us from falling.

Of course, it appears your life was one of falling – into poverty, distress, and eventually the trembling earth. One place you never fell, however, was into the abyss of loneliness or abandonment. You always had the sisters, the other children from the orphanage, and the community of Fondwa surrounding you. While we’ve yet to learn the exact circumstances of your death, we know that you had Sister Oudel watching over you, to remind you that you are a beloved child of God.

Rest in peace, sweet boy. You are never, ever alone.


Jezula making pates

My heart has throbbed for the past two days. A piece of it collapsed when the earthquake devastated Haiti. I’ve been consumed by worry for my Haitian friends and my friends in Haiti. My friend Jamalyn is leading a group of eight Hoosier United Methodists to Fondwa, a mountain village located 25 miles from the epicenter. Last night we received the wonderful news that an eye witness reported all nine of them safe and sound.  While we celebrate that good news, they still have a long journey home. The rest of that country has a long journey to recovery.

As I’ve watched bodies pile up like empty coconut shells along the Port-au-Prince roads, I’ve wondered about the lives closest to me. Were Jed and Remy playing on the orphanage path when the earth shook? Was Jezula cooking in her outside kitchen? Was Mme Chery calling for her great-granddaughter, Bervencia? Was the American team relaxing at the guest house, which collapsed soon after?

We’re still waiting for answers, just like the thousands who are hoping to hear news of loved ones. Meanwhile the media continue to bombard us with the horrific images, body count estimates, and the struggle for aid to reach the people’s dusty hands. How much can one battered nation possibly take?
My heart cries out for the Haitian people, for the world to lend a helping hand, and for that help to reach the hands that need it most. And with the ache of uncertainty, I sing again the ancient psalmist’s words:

“For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from God comes my salvation.
God alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall never be shaken.”
– Psalm 62:1-2

Want to support relief effort? Visit the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Slice of Life

Happy Epiphany!

On this 12th day of Christmas, we celebrate the arrival of the magi to offer their gifts and their worship to the toddling little Jesus. “Epiphany” literally means to “show” or “manifest,” for the Christ child was first revealed to the rest of the world on this special day. It’s a time to sing “We Three Kings,” to reflect on the gifts we have to share, and most importantly, to eat king cake.

In France, this type of cake is known as a galette des rois. It consists of a flaky pastry crust stuffed with a sweet apple filling. Hidden in the pastry crust is the fève, which is a ceramic figurine, most often of a saint. The person who receives the fève dons a gold paper crown and becomes king or queen for the day.

I love this tradition so much that I could not wait until Epiphany to celebrate this year. When I was in New Orleans, we stumbled on an authentic French boulangerie, where we bought a king cake in honor of the new year. My friend Anne-Lise found the fève, which happened to be a Betty Boop doll, and proudly sported the crown.

What I treasure most about this tradition is the joyful surprise of discovering that hidden fève. When you assume your piece of cake is as ordinary as everyone else’s, suddenly you uncover something extraordinary in the midst of it. Joy in the monotony of our days. Hope in the midst of despair. Peace in the depths of grief. Love in the wake of brokenness. Perhaps that’s the most that any of us can hope in the new year – that our slice of life will contain an extra dose of joy, hope, peace, or love to surprise us today.