Letter From Haiti: Reflection from a Maryknoll Immersion Trip

Offered for your reflection by Thomas Hutter based on his visit to Haiti February 4-11, 2015 with Maryknoll and Outreach to Haiti

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“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Lilla Watson, Aboriginal Elder

I am your neighbor. I have come from a history of enslavement and oppression, dictatorships, hurricanes and earthquakes. Yet, I bring forth a people of remarkable resilience and a deep faith in God.  A people who conduct themselves with great civility, humility, respect and patience. A people who have endurance, hospitality, share all they have, and always offer a ready smile that will brighten any heart.

Thomas (in blue) learns about a school
in Latremblay, Haiti (K. Foy)
Just like you, we do for ourselves what we can. We do not need your pity or your judgment. We do not really even need your mission trips to come and “save us”, as well intentioned as they may seem. However, if your feelings arise from your desire to be in unity with the plight of the poor, than we welcome that. If you can understand that we want to create a better place for our family and our children, than please be a part of that, too, with your solidarity.

If you can imagine what it is like to suffer from over 50% unemployment and to be thankful if you get even one meal a day of rice and beans; if you can fathom life in a 5 x 8 foot makeshift shack with your spouse and 4 children—with no electricity, no indoor bathroom, and no running water, than you can begin your journey of solidarity with us.

If you can challenge yourself to trust in God alone, as we must when our beloved family member is ill, knowing there is no medical aid available or afforded—our first and only option is to pray to the Lord. It is this absolute reliance upon God for our every need of every day that amazes those who come to visit our island. And challenges this same visitor to embrace our all-loving God more fully. In fact, we cling to Him! This is the source of our joy, our patience and our big smiles despite our nearly insurmountable challenges.

Street scene in Port-au-Prince (K. Foy)
If you can come to understand that “purchasing is always a moral—and not simply an economic—act”  (Pope Francis), you will better understand what it means to be a good steward of all the rich material blessings God has bestowed upon you in the United States of America.

You see, when a visitor to our land approaches any artist kiosk, and purchases just one of their paintings, that will mean his family can eat that night. And his having walked for two hours across town to set up his stall outside your mission house will then have been worth it.

If you wonder why we have piles of rubbish on the street, or why so many of our streets are still gravel and full of pot holes with washed out ravines, even five years after the horrible earthquake, you will ask questions to come to understand how little there is to tax here and so little with which to create any revenue to handle basic community functions.

If you would listen, you would hear the stories of so many of our “Haitian Heroes”. You would hear about our school teachers who show up to work each day even though they have not been paid any salary for over three months. This is an expression of the depth of the teacher’s love for the student and belief in the power of education.

You could hear about Dr. Michele Brutus of H.E.L.P. Foundation talk about his return to his beloved native Haiti as a commitment to Christ present in his fellow Haitians. How he built up a medical clinic and hospital in the poor neighborhood where he grew up. How this was all reduced to rubble on January 12, 2010 in the horrific earthquake. And how he went ahead with resolve and understood that education was so greatly needed. From the destruction, Dr. Brutus built a new school and medical clinic. How this same visionary, in conversation said he has no money to pay his staff of 25. “Yes, I am concerned. But I know God will provide. He always does. Therefore, I am not discouraged. The word discourage is not in my vocabulary.”

You would see Pastor Jordan and his protégé Kikinu walk amidst the poor village of Vaudreuil, building up hope by offering school classes for 70 children and numerous church services each week—all in an outdoor decrepit pavilion. And how these same community visionaries in conjunction with Sr. Diane and Sr. Susana (a Sister of Charity from the US and a Maryknoll sister from Kenya) have just created a co-op for 14 women. They will also show you the newly secured plot of land to create a community garden, too. This to try and counter the malnourishment that is all too evident in Vaudreuil.

Replica of "Neg Mawon", a symbol of Haitian liberty (K. Foy)
If you could spend even more time in a listening presence, you could hear about the self-sacrifice of Felder and Gerolde of the local Pax Christi work of Sakala (“This can be there”). Learning how as volunteers they work tirelessly to secure peace in the spirit of Christ amongst the poorest in Port au Prince’s slum of nearly 300,000 who call Cite Soleil their home. They work with youth to involve them in education and awareness, sports, and a community garden—all directed towards keeping them from joining the violent youth gangs that bring so much fear into the slum of Cite Soleil.

If you could come and join us in our all-important Sunday worship services, you would find that we are dressed in our very best. We often have to start our walk to the church before 5 am to for the 6:30 am Mass. You see, if you get there after 6:15 am all the seats are taken. Many who see us are stunned at how we can be so well dressed and pressed and clean, when we have no running water! And our sheer joy all throughout the two hour long Mass—fully singing, fully participating, and sharing out limited resources at the offertory. We know that our very existence is reliant upon God’s favor. Our praise flows to Him above in all things good or bad. People are in disbelief to hear that just after the earthquake in 2010, many of our people were in the streets on their knees singing praises to God Almighty. That is what the psalmist meant when he wrote “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!” These are all reasons why we make Sunday Mass the center piece of our day.

Sometimes we hear from visitors that they do not realize how much material trappings can get in the way of a pure relationship with our Creator, a loving and personal Savior. We sometimes hear from Americans that success is created by being “in control”…of finances, retirement planning, and household. How paradoxical then that the Americans approach centered on self and independence is what leads you away from the true fulfillment and abiding joy of a total trust that God provides for everything. You see, without all the “stuff” that can clutter your life, you must trust totally in the Great One above. “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:26

Boys at Ft. Jacques (K. Foy)
So with humility and encouragement, we write this letter from Haiti. To seek your union with us in this regard, too. To come to our embrace of God in all things and our knowledge that ultimately we are not in control. And that our Creator has all things in His great plan—all well taken care of. So, you can let go of your worries about things that do not matter—and release the joy and peace and ability to smile like us, even amidst the tremors of life, the hunger in your belly (or soul), amidst unemployment or under-employment, in going home to a small tent filled with a large loving family.

So when your hospital is destroyed, or you have no food, or sit without work for another month, or cry out in pain, or walk to church for two hours—you know deep inside you are not alone. Nor is it in vain. You are intimately united with the Christ, the Savior. We invite you to be united with us in this one great Body of Christ.

The Haitian Heroes then are why the former prime minister of Haiti [Claudette Werleigh] would tell you that the message to share about our Haiti is one of hopeful encouragement, and not so much images of despair and squalor. 

Will you give my Haiti your solidarity, your prayerful support, your sharing in stewardship, maybe someday even your own presence? Come and see for yourself! In Christ, we are one body, you and all of us in this special place called Haiti.

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Following are some agencies that provide critical support in helping Haitians help themselves. Please consider them in your giving decisions.

Food for the Poor www.foodforthepoor.org
Catholic Relief Services www.crs.org
Medical Aid to Haiti www.medicalaidtohaiti.org
Outreach to Haiti www.outreachtohaiti.org
Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers www.maryknollsociety.org
Maryknoll Sisters www.maryknollsisters.org

All content in this reflection is solely that of the writer. Photos provided by Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers.
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