January 12, 2012
Honest Faith & Survivor's Guilt: On the Second Anniversary of the Haiti Earthquake
Two years ago today IVP was still celebrating the successful December launch of Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle, Kent Annan's mission memoir of his time living and working in Haiti. We had introduced Kent to the world at the Urbana Student Missions Conference and launched a contest for a small group to win a trip with Kent to see the work of his organization, Haiti Partners, up close and personal. And then the earth shook.
Early estimates put Haiti's death toll at 230,001 (Kent adds the one as a reminder that these were people, not estimates), and while those estimates have since been revised lower, more than a half-million people are still living without homes amid the rubble two years later.
Kent wrote his second book, After Shock, to wrestle with the goodness of God in the shadow of this already-struggling country, now defined in the global imagination by death and dislocation. To contribute to Haiti Partners' work in rebuilding the country and specifically the education of its children, click here. To grapple with Kent's insightful witness, read on.
Then there's posttraumatic stress disorder. . . . Part of the definition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (the standard guide on these things) is that a person faces a physical trauma (themselves or as witnesses) and that their response involves "intense fear, helplessness, or horror." . . . Not to minimize the extreme nature of what people in Haiti (or soldiers coming back from combat, for another example), are facing, but I'm struck by how, in a less acute way, this definition applies to almost everyone alive. Granted, some people can experience traumas and, through the difficulty, flourish. But others are crushed. Suffering becomes the sole arbiter of truth. And many of us, I think, are tempted to respond by walling off our hearts or ideals.
. . . Being shell-shocked by the traumas of life is a right response. Guilt is often a right response to being alive too, when we fail to love as generously as we should. But guilt and trauma shouldn't close us down. Being open to life is also the right response to life. It's what survivors should do as long as we can.
The church is a pile of rubble. Nothing left. The school beside it is damaged but standing. Nobody had been in the church when it collapsed, but one teacher died in the church school when the roof partially collapsed in his classroom. . . .
Andre pulls out the Communion wafers. The only part of the building or furniture in the church that wasn't smashed to pieces, which I hadn't noticed when I'd been here before, was where they kept the Communion wafers. . . . We line up to go forward and receive. In front of me is a grandmother. She's lost everything and sees her family and community devastated. She's frail. She moves forward without hesitation in the line. A young man behind me. What dreams can he dream now? He keeps moving forward for the bread.
"This is my body broken for you."
I arrive and the jagged Communion wafer--Christ's presence, yes, Christ's presence that did not stop the church from falling, that did not protect the teacher in the school or the dad on the porch, but Christ's presence here in the pile of rubble and here in this group of people in a sun-struck yard--is placed on my tongue.
For the rest of the service I sit on some rocks, still without shade, next to Jean, whose legs are atrophied and folded under him. He can't walk. He's led a tough life with his disability. Before the earthquake, he always sat on the aisle in one of the front rows. When the first chord of the Communion song was struck, the song signaling we could come up front to receive the bread, the song whose chorus is "Vinn jwenn Jezi, Vinn jwenn Jezi," Come find Jesus, Come find Jesus, Jean would swing out and, using his hands and arms to propel himself, be first in line. He was always the first to come find Jesus.
And here in the rubble, come find Jesus. . . .
Here, week after week, people come to find Jesus. The rubble may make him harder to find, but maybe, like the wafers in the center of this leveled church, he never left and never will.