I cannot believe that it is our last morning. Our last passion fruit juice, pineapple, and Haitian coffee breakfast is looming before us. I think I can speak on behalf of the group when I say that though we are looking forward to breakfast (we have been truly blessed with gorgeous food) most of us would gladly spend another week here. The thought of going home is sad and somehow too sudden. But here we are on the day of departure nonetheless. My feelings about this…well, it’s complicated.
For me this has been week of fun, good fellowship and service with an amazing bunch of people. Though I felt very called to come on this trip, I had the least clear reason and purpose to make this journey. I am not medically trained but specifically asked to be on the medical team as that is where God drew my heart. I was pretty anxious that my time here would be useful, that I would have some way to serve this community. God provided that in what became know as “Filing For Jesus.” King’s Hospital, I am very proud to say, now has the first medical records in the country of Haiti that are filed to international standards. Monday we walked into a room full of piles of dusty manila folders and with the help of pretty much everyone on the team, we got the 4,000 or so folders in order.
The medical records room was a hot, stuffy and was where Stephen and I spent most of the first day sorting files. However, after the initial organization was over we would take individual piles out into the courtyard for sorting. This is where the kids from the orphanage were playing, where patients were waiting, or hot and tired teammates (both American and Haitian) were put to work in their off moments. Courtyard filing attracted a lot of attention. Curious kids stared, people smiled at my badly pronounced “bonjours,” and practiced their English with us. This seemingly arduous task became a time for conversations, contemplation, and ultimately connection.
We talked about everything from the mundane (You live by yourself? Don’t you get lonely? Doesn’t your mother mind?) to the complex (Vodoo and Christianity, can you believe both?). We covered it all. The more I learned, the more I listened, the more I realized that the healing of Haiti is far more complex and full of contradictions than I ever expected…it’s complicated.
The political situation is complex. Decades of corruption and oppression have led to devastating poverty. The earthquake compounded the situation by creating an overwhelming need and a cry for strong leadership. But instead of coming from the Haitian government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and missionary groups met those needs. What is their role here and what has been the effect? This has been the debate from visitors and Haitians alike and a hot topic for “Filing for Jesus.”
NGOs were in Haiti long before the earthquake, but their importance increased tenfold afterwards. They have met so many basic and desperate needs, but they have created problems of dependency as well. There are many stories of well-known medical NGOs that have come in and taken over Haitian hospitals to give free medical care. Sounds like a good thing right? Haitian hospitals (most of whom were charging a small amount) could not compete with free care and went out of business, resulting in jobs lost. Good intentions aren’t always enough…it’s complicated.
Are we missionaries any better? Our purpose is to serve God. To glorify Him through our actions. We met a team of American teenagers who had spent a week outside of Port-au-Prince building permanent housing for four families last week (praise the Lord!). A great opportunity for those teenagers to experience life in a developing country, to share God’s love through service, and to offer material help to families that were no doubt living in one of the many tent cities. Could they have used the money for travel to hire Haitians instead? Might this have created more jobs and resulted in more homes? Likely, and it leaves me conflicted. When we embark on short-term missions we should challenge ourselves to think about engaging in and supporting these efforts locally so that they lead to sustainability. Though I have been convicted that I need to be more diligent and thoughtful about where I commit my money and my time, I have also realized that I cannot be paralyzed by it either.
Where to start? The desperate nature and the vast number of people who need help may leave you scratching your head. It can be devastating, disheartening, and overwhelming if you spend too much time thinking about it, as you’re apt to do with 4,000 files to work your way through…it is so very complicated.
But there is hope…we saw people working to clear the rubble of a building, witnessed church members give with unbridled passion during the collection for repair of their church, befriended an orphaned little boy who wants to be a surgeon. I want to help. We all want to help. Now all we need to do is figure out how.
One of the best things about our team is that we had two complementary groups on the Port-au-Prince trip. Those of us on our short-term mission supported King’s Hospital in its mission to serve the poor, and Tracy and Janese worked on figuring out how Park Street can partner with World Relief and Haitian churches to help in the long term. From Tracy’s and Janese’s accounts it sounds like World Relief is staffed with incredibly knowledgeable, experienced and faithful people who specialize in the overwhelming: Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and Darfur…hope for the complicated.
Park Street Church has made a 10-year commitment to World Relief to partner with a church in Haiti to help with the rebuilding and development. Though I have been overwhelmed at times with the effectiveness of my meager efforts, the complexity of the situation, and the massive amount or work and change ahead and Haiti, I cannot help but want to jump in and be part of the solution to a problem so complex only God can fix it. I hope the Haiti team’s blog and stories of the week will help put this same desire in your heart too. Join us in helping to heal Haiti; you will not regret it.