6:30 AM. Mercifully, the alarm goes off and I climb out of bed more weary than when I got in last night. I saw the time at least every other hour throughout the night…12:30…2:30…4:30. Ever since the earthquake in Haiti a week ago I’ve been having trouble sleeping. The images of broken bodies, broken buildings, and broken people circulate through my mind as I lie in bed reviewing all of the media coverage of the disaster. And now added to the images are the stories – stories of those who lived and those who died. Stories of people I know…and knew.
Yesterday I heard the story of Willard Metzger, our Director of Church Relations, who was in Haiti with a small team when the earthquake struck. Like so many of the other survivors, Willard talks about the incredible noise that accompanied the quake, likening it to a freight train in the room or an explosion just outside the hotel. The team was in Petionville and were in their rooms waiting for their orientation meeting when the ground started shaking. They had discussed meeting earlier since they were a bit ahead of schedule but decided to stick with the plan as originally laid out. That decision, made on the spur of the moment, may have been the difference between life and death.
Also yesterday, I attended the memorial service for Yvonne Martin. As has been well documented, Yvonne was the first Canadian killed in the earthquake. I didn’t know Yvonne well but we were in the same study group together last spring and she struck me as a humble, thoughtful follower of Jesus who sincerely took her faith to heart. As our pastor said yesterday, “The stirrings in Yvonne’s heart were the same stirrings of Jesus’ heart…that’s what led her to Haiti.” After arriving at their guesthouse 90 minutes prior to the earthquake, Yvonne had decided to go for a swim in the pool to cool off. As suppertime approached she went up to her room to get changed. Again, that small, seemingly innocuous decision made on the spur of the moment was the difference between life and death. Unlike the team from World Vision, this decision ended in Yvonne’s death in the rubble of a collapsed building in a country she loved and had come to serve.
Two stories. Two simple decisions. Two remarkably different outcomes. Yes, our lives really are that fragile.
I hadn’t shed a lot of tears over the situation in Haiti, which is fairly uncharacteristic for me. Perhaps it’s because I’d been so wrapped up in my work connecting with groups to assist them in their fundraising. Or maybe it’s the result of following the incoming news of the quake so soon after it took place (see my previous post) and going immediately into response mode. Whatever the reason, that changed yesterday as the tears began flowing in the morning and didn’t stop until we went to watch my nephew play soccer last night (a welcome reprieve from the heaviness of the last seven days.)
I’ve wrestled with a lot of emotions and thoughts this week…guilt at not doing more to help…wanting so badly to be “on the ground.” camera in hand, to document what was happening…longing to hold those terrified children and help them find their parents…anger at not seeing a change of heart in my local community (shouldn’t we all stop shopping and ordering our grande extra-hot cinnamon dolce lattes-at least for a couple of days?)…and horror at the sight of bodies stacked on top of each other waiting to be dumped into a mass grave never to be identified or reunited with their families again.
And on top of all of this came the question that so many people have asked: Why? Why does one of the poorest nations in the world, who was just beginning to see some positive signs of recovery, have to suffer like this? Why should those who are already so poor be subjected to such a greater tragedy? Where is God in all of this?
I’ve never asked that question before.
Like the cracked walls of an earthquake-ravaged building, for the first time in my life I've felt my faith shaken. Nowhere close to the point of doubt or disbelief, but to the point of questioning God’s motives, God’s concern. I understand the theology of natural evil and how the falleness of mankind has caused all of creation to fall into disarray, but still, why does this need to happen?
I don’t have an easy answer to that question. As a matter of fact I don’t have any answer to that question. But a story Willard shared yesterday about the immediate Haitian response at least provides some insight, some comfort at the difficult implications. You see, as Willard and the rest of the team were treating the wounded that were streaming into their hotel, which had transformed into a makeshift medical clinic (and would later become a morgue), a wail could be heard rising up in the middle of the night from the Haitian people in the valley below. A wail that was in fact a prayer:
"God forgive us...God we forgive you."
That prayer is so deep and so rich and so filled with the petition of the suffering. Despite the fact they have lost everything, they still cry out to God. But it’s not a cry of rejection, it’s a cry of forgiveness, yes, even forgiveness of God, which is more than most of our North American minds with our theological boxes, can even comprehend.
If I’ve learned anything from this ordeal, it’s that we who are rich (by the rest of the world’s standards) tend to turn away from God at a time like this. ”Where is God?” we ask. People will even turn away from their faith claiming that there can be no God if tragedies like this can occur. But the poor…oh we have so much to learn from the poor…the poor will turn to God as their only hope.
St. John Chrysostom, one of the early church fathers wrote, “The rich exist for the sake of the poor. The poor exist for the salvation of the rich.” Would you cry out to God in a similar situation to what Haiti is experiencing right now? Would you turn TO Him instead of AWAY from Him if faced with total devastation? I like to think I would, but until that time comes, I can only fall on my face before God asking Him to continue showing me the way of salvation so that when my own world shakes I can cry out the words of Psalm 121:1-2,
I lift my eyes up to the hills
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD
The Maker of heaven and earth.
From Yvonne’s funeral to Willard’s stories to opening an envelope yesterday with the handwriting of a little girl named Rebecca who had donated $5 to the relief efforts, I cried and I’m crying still. I can’t quite put a name to what I’m feeling and surely it is nowhere near the suffering of the Haitian people, but in some miniscule way, I feel like I’m sharing in their pain. Perhaps that is the very best thing I can do for them. To feel, to share, and to pray to the God of the universe who is weeping too.