Wednesday, January 18, 2006

what is life like in haiti?

We are at the mid-point of our eight days in Haiti. This seems to be a good time to describe what life is like here. Providence, the church I serve, established a ministry here approximately 25 years ago, especially through the inspiration and prodding of Bill and Alice White. Harley Dickson has recorded the story in a book which is available through Providence UMC. This long-term relationship of shared mission (there are as many Haitians working on the project as U.S. folks) has nurtured a deep level of trust, and has resulted in the alleviation of enormous suffering.

Has Haiti changed for the better? Politically, the answer would be no. Economically, the answer would be no. Environmentally, agriculturally, the answer would be no. Spiritually, who can say? The Methodist Church where I have preached each year was full, and the sanctuary is not small. In fact, this year they brought in chairs (this would be due this year to the pastors' gathering). That doesn't usually happen when I am back home!

What is Haiti like? The following grim statistics, from the Episcopal News Service (12 January 06):

$440 per capita income (annual)
20% rate of inflation
80% unemployed
55% rate of illiteracy
42% of children under five are malnourished
One medical doctor per 10,000 people
In 2005,18,000 new cases of HIV were recorded
170,000 people are infected with HIV
68,000 children have lost both parents to HIV

The Providence UMC Haiti Mission sponsors six weeks of medical clinics each year. The typical team is composed of at least half physicians, although there is much to do for those without medical skills. The mission also sustains a minimal clinic presence during the interim months. In the clinic files are roughly 25,000 persons seen, and of course many have been seen who are not recorded.

This week, the clinic has seen a boy with anthrax, a child with malaria, and a woman with HIV, among others. There is a need for an HIV clinic as a part of this mission; I will write more about this when I am home in the states.

Two amazing ministries have morphed from the PUMC Haiti Mission, testaments to the movement of God's spirit in ordinary lives: an orphanage and a peanut butter nutrition program (a link and be found to the latter on this blog). The orphanage houses 50+ children and educates 300+ children. Four were diagnosed with tuberculosis this week, and are being treated. The children are happy and safe; they were enjoying a huge and nutricious lunch, singing, playing soccer, hanging out with their friends. Living a normal childhood. The nutrition program makes available a composition of peanut butter, vitamins, etc., that will help a child to remain healthy. These are two concrete responses, one by a pediatrician from Charlottesville, the second by a pediatrician from St. Louis. Both were inspired and can be traced to the original vision of Bill and Alice.

Today I will have lunch with Alice and about seventy Haitian pastors, including Raphael, who is their Bishop equivalent. Since I speak a little french and even less creole, I will miss most of what is said, and I will speak to them through a translator. It will be an honor to be in their presence, and to know in a slight way the conditions in which they live and minister. I am also humbled by this long-term relationship between Providence and Haiti, happy that young adults are finding their way to be a part of it (there are two college students and two medical residents on the team), grateful that other ministries seem to be morphing out from it.

I am especially grateful to Providence for birthing this mission and allowing me to be here for a week (I fly back late Saturday night). Returning to a place like Haiti is always interesting; people never expect you to return, because they imagine so many other places you might be spending time, and they see the U.S. as a paradise, only two and a half hours but a world away, a world of their dreams. Why would a person not stay in paradise? Why would a person come to Haiti?

I am sometimes asked this question by folks back home. The answer is that there is a need, and a call, and living tradition here of healing and hope, in the name of Jesus, the source of all healing and the fulfillment of our hope. I am not naive about what we accomplish here; over the long haul it seems to make very little difference. And yet, in the moment, I have that glimpse of a mother, usually, who brings her child, who has come from a long distance, and I remember those who brought their own children to Jesus, not that I am Jesus, by any means, but the work is in his name, and it is as if they are saying, "only say the word, and my child will be healed".


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