The Church of the Brethren in Haiti this week is remembering the earthquake that devastated the Caribbean island nation in early 2010. Tomorrow, Jan. 12, is the second anniversary of the earthquake.
The powerful 7.0 earthquake hit at 4:53 p.m. on a weekday afternoon. Its epicenter was Léogâne, a town 15 miles from the capital city Port-au-Prince. It caused the deaths of as many as 200,000 or more people, with thousands more injured. There were numerous aftershocks, as well as the aftereffects of injuries, illness, homelessness, lack of sanitation, and other privations that caused yet more deaths. More than a million people in Port-au-Prince and surroundings areas were left without shelter
. Rubble filled the streets. Tent cities and encampments sprang up. A cholera outbreak many months after the earthquake was linked to a continued widespread lack of shelter, sanitation facilities, and clean water. Two years later, many Haitians still struggle to regain homes and employment.
Since the earthquake the Church of the Brethren has been heavily involved in disaster response in Haiti. The collaborative response joins together efforts of Brethren Disaster Ministries and the Global Mission and Service program of the US church with Eglise des Freres Haitiens (the Church of the Brethren in Haiti).
At first, Brethren focused on immediate needs: food and water, medical care, temporary housing, and those suffering psychological trauma. Building of permanent homes for earthquake survivors then started, and longer term needs of Brethren congregations and their communities began to be addressed. The effort has included building a new Ministry Center and Guesthouse complex for Eglise des Freres Haitiens in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood Croix des Bouquets. Work groups from the US also have been traveling to Haiti to help out. In these two years, the Emergency Disaster Fund has expended $1 million in grants for Haiti, supporting both Church of the Brethren and ecumenical disaster response. (See accompanying articles for an overview of Brethren accomplishments in Haiti and reflections from leaders in the effort.)
Tomorrow a number of Haitian Brethren congregations will fast and hold prayer meetings, said Pastor Ludovic St. Fleur of Miami, Fla., who has been a guiding force in establishing Eglise des Freres Haitiens. The Brethren in Croix des Bouquets, whose church building is located at the new Ministry Center complex, for example, will remember the day by fasting from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., reports Ilexene Alphonse, who is managing the Ministry Center and Guesthouse. “They said they will spend the time thanking God for life,” he reported by e-mail.
The Haitian Brethren prayer and fasting will “thank God for those who are alive, saved from that tragedy,” said St. Fleur.
Haitian Brethren in the US commemorating the anniversary will include members of Haitian First Church of New York. The church, located in Brooklyn, also houses the Haitian Family Resource Center that started up two years ago to aid Haitians who had lost loved ones or were otherwise affected by the earthquake. The center is continuing to offer services to the Haitian community in New York, Pastor Verel Montauban reported by telephone.
Haitian First Church is holding a prayer service tomorrow evening, 7-10 p.m. Visitors are welcome. During the service, pictures of the earthquake and damage will be shown on a large screen, as the church did for the one-year anniversary last January–but images like the removal of bodies won’t be shown because they would be too disturbing for a congregation that had at least 50 relatives in Haiti affected by the earthquake, Montauban said. “Some of them are still in crisis,” he added.
For IMA World Health the anniversary is a special occasion. The organization, which has its offices at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md., is holding a “Happy Hour for Haiti” hosted by CEO and earthquake survivor Rick Santos. Santos and two IMA colleagues were in Port-au-Prince at the time of the earthquake and were trapped for days in the rubble of the Montana Hotel, before they were rescued without serious injury. The IMA gathering is 4:30-7 p.m. tomorrow, Jan. 12, at Hudson Restaurant and Lounge in Washington, D.C. A $10 suggested donation will support health and development programs in Haiti.