Moderator Mardi’s Blog: Home from Haiti

This afternoon I arrived in Toronto following a five-day visit to our church partners in Haiti. What I witnessed there is beyond anything I could have imagined—unbelievable destruction and suffering on the one hand, and amazing hope and faith-filled action on the other.

This is the first of several reports we will make about our visit. (More in a moment about who travelled with me.) You can see my video message from Haiti on YouTube.

The Rev. Marco Depestre is the District Secretary for the Methodist Church of Haiti, and was one of our guides over the past few days. On Thursday he took us to the former St. Martin’s Methodist church and school in Delmas 2.

There I met 6-year-old Richard Lyon, who explained to me that he was working. He was with his father, who was shovelling rubble. Pieces of broken concrete are all that is left of church and school, both flattened in the earthquake. Mercifully, classes had ended and no children were in the school when the building fell. Tragically, three women of the church women’s organization were holding a meeting inside the church at the time. They lost their lives in those 35 seconds of horror.

Grief hangs heavy in the air, and yet all Haitians are working alongside Richard. They are working hard to rebuild their lives and their society—children, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, farmers, pastors and lay leaders, vendors, professionals—everyone who is able. Haitians are determined to do this work together to build their own society. They are determined to use this moment to begin building a new foundation with the strength, faith, and vision that Haitians themselves can best bring to their land.

As members of The United Church of Canada, we too have worked, to raise $2.7 million so far, helping our partners meet the most immediate and urgent needs for water, food, and shelter. I have seen the life and death difference that our contributions have made. These include ACT (Action of Churches Together)-supported projects in Pétionville (supported by the United Church through the Lutheran World Federation component of the ACT Appeal), by which we have provided and are providing food, water, toilets, and showers in temporary tent settlements.

I have also seen how our partners are beginning to move beyond emergency response, taking the next steps to rebuild. Schools and related educational programs are, for instance, getting started again, often outside under tarps where teachers and students are living with their families in the tents.

It’s been a privilege to get a glimpse as well into the dreams Haitians have for the longer term—for a strong, resilient society where ecology, economy, and social and political life are interwoven, rooted in realities of rural life as well as in cities.

We have assured our partners that we will not abandon them as they work to meet the longer-term challenges of strengthening their society. The Rev. Gesner Paul, President of the Methodist Church of Haiti, told us that those who survived the earthquake live now with a deep sense of purpose, making real their belief that they must have been spared to rebuild their country with a deep faith.

With the Rev. Gesner Paul, president of the Methodist Church of Haiti, during a visit to the ruins of the Methodist church and school in Mellier, near Leogane, Haiti. Photo by Jim Hodgson.

You and I know how our hearts have been opened and our lives thereby blessed in our relationship with Haitians through this disaster. By acting with purpose like our Haitian friends, we have come to know a truth that is stronger than any earthquake.

The St. Martin’s congregation is practising resurrection. This morning they worshipped where the stones have been moved away.

The Rev. Bill Steadman, one of our small group of visitors, was invited to preach at this morning’s service, and this afternoon he sent an e-mail including this report:

“At the end of the message I presented the St. Martin cross on your behalf. They were touched, especially when I said this is a gift to hang on the wall of your new church from our Moderator.”

Spirit was clearly at work when I packed Heather Burton’s painting of St. Martin’s cross to give to “someone” on behalf of The United Church of Canada. I didn’t know who that someone would be, and I hesitated to take up baggage space with a gift that was less useful than the others. However, it stayed in the knapsack, and when we met the good people of St. Martin’s it was clear who was supposed to receive the painting of the cross.

We have assured our friends at St. Martin’s, and others, that we will continue to pray and work along with them as they move stones away and build for their future—a future for all Haitians, including Richard and his father.

Our small United Church group will have more stories to tell in the days to come. I needed to return before the others, who will remain in Haiti until Tuesday:

  • Jim Hodgson, regional program coordinator for partnerships in the Caribbean, Central America, and Colombia, made arrangements for this very fruitful visit that enabled us to meet with our partners and the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of churches and agencies engaged in development, humanitarian assistance, and advocacy.
  • The Rev. Pierre Goldberger is responsible for the United Church’s Ministères en français, and brought extensive experience with the Haitian community in Montreal and beyond. With Jim, Pierre’s French-language skills and contextual knowledge of Haiti and partners helped ensure good communication and mutual understanding.
  • Justine Kiwanuka, an elected member of the United Church’s Justice, Global and Ecumenical Relations Unit, brought expertise in human rights issues, particularly with people with disabilities. Justine works as an interpreter in Winnipeg’s regional health unit and brought valuable related experience with international networks, including the United Nations, supporting people with disabilities.
  • The Rev. Bill Steadman serves the General Council Office as Executive Minister of the Financial Stewardship Unit. His responsibilities include interpreting the need for and the application of donations given for relief and rebuilding in Haiti.

How have you contributed to our church’s Haiti Appeal?