By Marty Duren
Last week I had the opportunity to spend time on a medical mission in Haiti, arriving in the shaken country less than three weeks after the Jan. 12 earthquake. While the United Nations and the Red Cross have a large presence in Port-au-Prince, any kind of national reconstruction will take more than governments, the military or Halliburton can accomplish.
There is not a block in Port-au-Prince without a collapsed building. Not merely damaged, but fully collapsed. My unofficial estimate is 10,000 collapsed buildings in the capital city. Every single street we saw had rubble strewn across sections, or dust remaining where rubble had previously been. The power was off in most locations until the end of the week, when it was restored in some quarters. Lines are still down in other areas; we witnessed a transformer sparking and burning when too many lights were on in our place of residence.
Clean-up is painfully slow. Our team saw no more than four dump-truck loads of rubble being removed over the course of four days, yet saw 25 or more dump trucks sitting idle near the airport. There are simply not enough bulldozers and loaders to keep the trucks working. In multiple dump sites I personally saw no more than a few dozen mounds of rubble that had been moved. Rubble that our team removed was done over the course of five hours — with three wheelbarrows, taken down three stairs, across four lanes of traffic, through a makeshift car-repair shop and to the shore of the ocean and dumped on top of the other rubble and neighborhood trash.
Despite news broadcasts to the contrary, there is not a nationwide or even Port-au-Prince-wide shortage of food. If anything, there is more food than the people can consume. Fruit rots at the various markets because there is an oversupply of product and too much competition. It seems as if every other person has a booth or table where fruit or candy is sold. Fresh fruit is piled on top of the rotting fruit while hogs roam freely, eating as much of the rot as they desire.
The problem is distributing the food. Supply chains for getting food to the tent cities are weak. Desperation because of death, no money and no food sets a continual stage for panicked rioting when the United Nations or military personnel finally do arrive. The week before my arrival, a food-distribution attempt spiraled out of control when 200,000 people rushed the trucks — resulting in the trampling deaths of three people. When our team distributed food in a smaller area the stampeding effect was much the same, though the numbers were smaller. The fear of missing the blessing is a strong motivator for pushing and shoving.
A city already struggling with infrastructure sufficient to provide trash removal now has to deal with water from broken pipes flowing freely in the streets. Toilets have to be flushed with water collected from wells — in places where supply pipes even existed before the quake.
Haitian Christians are struggling. There is a sense of fear due to all that has been lost and, it seems, some feeling of inadequacy as representatives of Christ. Haitian believers need huge amounts of care and encouragement in these days.
They are, however, hopeful. At a tent village near where we stayed a church has already been established, with meetings on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Every night, hallelujahs rang out for an hour from gathered believers. The hand of God at work in the earthquake was already evident to many Haitian Christians. Despite the almost unfathomable number of dead, it could have been much worse. The earthquake hit at 5:10 p.m. on a weekday, a time when most Haitians are outdoors. Had the quake hit early in the morning or at night, thousands more would have been inside buildings that collapsed.
Jesus said in Luke 12:48, “To whom much is given, much will be required.” For Christians the world over, many of whom have been blessed beyond measure, this is a perfect opportunity to help a struggling church.
There are more than 800 Baptist churches alone in Haiti, many of which are very small. Though evangelical Christian ministry has been taking place there for decades, much of it is focused on orphanages and education, where Haiti’s needs are great. With the eyes of believers worldwide now drawn to this easily accessible but largely unknown nation, perhaps the church will respond with compassion toward our brothers and sisters in a way that will make a temporal and eternal difference. It would be a shame and, I believe, a sin to allow this time to pass unexplored and unused.