Haiti: They Have What We Need
Picture: Colin Crowley
I wrote the following column for Alive Magazine after returning from a visit to Haiti in 2008. Since then, 2010’s devastating Haiti Earthquake and subsequent cholera epidemic has brought the impoverished country to its knees. But as images like these suggest, the premise of the article still holds: in the midst of our affluence, we lack the life-changing faith of Haitian Christians.
Haiti is difficult to describe. Words fail me.With 70 percent unemployment and 80 percent of its people living in poverty, Haiti merits its label as the most impoverished nation in the western hemisphere. The capital city Port-au-Prince is the size of Sydney yet has few sealed roads. Only four-wheel drives can negotiate the rubble and pot holes, and wrecks of small cars line the streets.
Electricity is irregular; so is the water supply. The landscape is baron, dusty, grey.
Ninety-seven percent of the trees have gone—the Spaniards and French taking all the Mahogany centuries ago, and the poor today using what’s left for fuel.
And the houses…Most Haitians build their homes over years, buying a brick or two when they have the money. Imagine your street made completely of incomplete, unpainted besser-brick and concrete shanty homes. That gives you an idea of Haiti.
Life for Haitian children is hard. One child in 14 never reaches their first birthday and another 1 in 5 doesn’t reach the age of 4. There are few public schools, and not enough teachers. Only 2 percent of Haitian children finish high school.
In Haiti I came across something I’ve seen nowhere else—children without dreams. I’ve met children in poverty-stricken India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines who dream of becoming doctors or engineers or singers. Some of the Haitian kids I met desperately wanted a different life, but had no idea what that might look like.
I could go on with the sorry side of Haiti’s story. But there’s another, paradoxical side. Amidst the destruction and destitution, Haiti has riches that we in the developed world know little of. In the midst of their hardship and pain, Haiti is undergoing a spiritual revival.
I was in Haiti visiting Compassion Australia projects where children are fed, clothed, given healthcare and education through sponsorship. Compassion programs are run by local churches, and all the churches we visited had no less than 1000 members each. Haitian Christians ‘pray-in’ every single meal and are thankful for whatever God provides (even if it’s one potato shared amongst the whole family late at night). Even the most conservative churches run deliverance services and see Haitians released from demonic spirits and spells.
The faith of the Haitians is passionate, persevering and powerful. As one pastor told me, ‘In Haiti, every day is a physical and spiritual battle. You simply cannot win that battle without Jesus.’
On the plane flight home from Haiti I flicked through one of the magazines in the seat pocket in front of me. It was one of those Sky Mall brochures, full of things to purchase through the airline. Oh, the things you could buy! ‘Gravity-defying shoes’ with a spring-loaded heel to give you bounce; a mini microwave for your desk, saving you that laborious walk to the kitchen when your coffee goes cold. There was a luxury mattress in there for your dog, and a portable foot spa in there for you. You could even buy a full-size 80’s-style arcade game, and a mini Automatic Teller Machine that doled out money to your kids.
I read, and I winced.
Because while we buy luxury beds for our pooches, Haitian children sleep on cold cement floors. And while we fill our empty lives with trinkets, Haitian Christians are meeting God in profound ways. It was then that I realised the developing world needs our generosity and we need the developing world’s faith. We have what they lack and they have what we need.
A great exchange needs to take place—we give up the consumer toys for the sake of the poor, so that we might catch the faith that makes them so rich.