A Reflection on the Haiti Earthquake: Two Years of Recovery

Photo by Jeff Boshart
Roy Winter (left), director of Brethren Disaster Ministries, traveled to Haiti just days after the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake with a small delegation from the US church. He is shown here with Pastor Ludovic St. Fleur (at center in red) of Miami, Fla, meeting with members of Eglise des Freres Haitiens (the Church of the Brethren in Haiti) who were affected by the disaster.

Roy Winter is associate executive director of Global Mission and Service for the Church of the Brethren and director of Brethren Disaster Ministries. He provided the following personal reflection to mark the second anniversary of the earthquake:

When I learned of the terrible earthquake in Haiti my mind started racing, while my voice trembled and emotions peaked. I searched the Internet, e-mails, and news for more information. My heart wept as I thought of the fledgling Church of the Brethren in Haiti, some members whom I had the pleasure to work with. Did the church leaders survive? Would the church survive?

Yet, in the midst of this chaos that quiet voice repeated: “Respond boldly, be creative in the response, but do no harm.” Don’t let the response, all the finances and all this activity, harm the Haitian people or this fledgling church.

The Haitian Church of the Brethren not only survives, it has continued to grow and share an uncommon faith found in a land filled with hardship and poverty. The church leadership has grown from victims of the earthquake to leaders in the response, while still leading the church. So often I am surprised, even astounded, and completely inspired by the Haitian Brethren. They come to God with thanks, with hope, with a deep faith, even as they live in the deepest poverty and unemployment found in the Americas. They want to thank me for the support from the US church, but I thank them for their faith, which has touched me in ways I can’t describe. It gives me a whole different perspective on life.

Another surprise has been how smoothly the early disaster relief and now recovery programs have gone. When working in Haiti we expect to encounter major obstacles with supplies, logistics, leadership, the government, local town officials, and even the real possibility of violence or theft. Under Klebert Exceus’ and Jeff Boshart’s leadership so many obstacles have been avoided or navigated without major delays, and I am astounded.

When other agencies are seeking expensive housing for expatriate staff, we are hiring and mentoring unemployed Haitians. When a shortage of US dollars means other relief agencies can’t pay staff, we continue to pay staff in Haitian dollars. When Klebert was under threat of kidnapping or violence, the local Brethren helped him leave by a different route. He knew to send others to supervise the home construction or travel in unexpected ways.

Our work in Haiti is sometime dangerous, always challenging, and in an extremely difficult setting, but each step of the way guidance has been provided. So once again I am amazed at how God is working through people to make all this possible!

So often North Americans rather arrogantly believe they have the right answers for people of developing countries like Haiti, especially on issues of faith. While certainly education, medical care, food security, and jobs with dignity should be shared with all people, we are the ones with much to learn. Even more we need to experience the extraordinary faith of the Haitian Brethren.

I have much gratitude for the Haitian people and especially the Haitian Brethren in how they have embraced us North Americans. I have been impressed with the humility and faith of US Brethren workcampers as they work beside and under the leadership of Haitian “bosses.” I am profoundly grateful for all the material, prayer, and financial support of the US church; this is the foundation for our response. We should all celebrate the inspired leadership of Klebert Exceus (response director in Haiti) and Jeff Boshart (response coordinator based in the US). It is their leadership, guided by faith, respect, and wisdom, which sets us apart from other response organizations, and really made this response possible.

We can all celebrate and thank God for what has been accomplished in these last two years, both things of the world and of faith. However, the greatest tragedy in Haiti continues: extreme poverty. I wonder if we, the US church, will walk away as response funds dwindle and the headlines are long forgotten? Or will we feel compelled–or even better called–to continue this journey of faith and hope with the Haitian people?

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