Haiti Dispatch #4 (October 7, 2017)
The Reverend Sandy Webb
Good fortune does not seem to smile on Haiti very often, but some here still hope it will.
The most common advertisement on the short drive from the Eucalyptus Guest House to St. Vincent’s Episcopal School is brief but clear: “Loto.” There are at least half a dozen lottery sales points on that stretch of road, and we passed dozens more on Saturday when we journeyed to the coast. Religious-themed signage is even more abundant: The Dieu est Grand Photocopy Center, the Glorie a Jesus Taxicab Service, Bethel Window Glass, Almighty God Auto Parts, and the Mount Carmel Boutique, just to name a few. One creative entrepreneur married the two themes in the name of his business: “Pere Eternal Loto.”
A scripture reference painted onto the back of a “tap tap” – a fleet of covered, jalopy pickup trucks that serve as a privately run public transportation service in Port-au-Prince – helped me understand the feelings behind the signs. Exodus 14:14: “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”
Pharaoh has second thoughts after he lets the Israelites go. He deploys his army to overtake the Hebrew people and bring them back as slaves. The Israelites make good time on their way out of Egypt, but their journey is blocked by the Red Sea. They see the Egyptians advancing behind them, and they assume that all is lost. Moses says, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today…The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” Moses’ statement was true in his day, but is it true for Haiti in our day?
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Many of the people here are looking for deliverance from their poverty. Whether through a relationship with a good God or through an experience with good fortune, the people on the streets in Port-au-Prince seem to be waiting for their ships to come in.
Historically, ships arriving in Haiti have not been a harbinger of good news. At the National Museum on Friday, we saw the anchor of the Santa Maria, Christopher Columbus’ ship, which landed here on December 4, 1492. The Spanish did not treat the Haitian people well, nor did the French who followed, nor did the slave traders who followed them, nor did the dictators of more recent times. According to our museum guide, none of Haiti’s indigenous people survived the arrival of European diseases. Today’s Haitians descend from the African diaspora.
What does deliverance look like for the people of this land? Is it aid from beyond its borders? Is it the arrival of the New Jerusalem, the heavenly city that God promises us in Revelation 21, the city in which there is neither crying nor mourning nor pain? Or, might deliverance come from within, from some form of new life that has yet to be nurtured?
When I visit foreign countries, particularly for short stints, I try to listen more than I speak. I do not know the way forward for Haiti, and I have no right to speculate after only four days in residence. However, I have met some wonderful people who live out their faith in both word and deed, who respect the dignity of all people, and who roll up their sleeves to get things done. I have to believe that faithful and hard-working people like these will be part of building a bright future for their country, and I want to support them in doing it.
God will deliver us all, but we need not always be still.