Hope Amidst the After Shocks: A Book Review
We walk past a charred skull. Bodies that were close enough to the surface to ﬁnd but too buried to extract had to be burned. Gasoline was poured down the cracks and lit with a match.
These words from Kent Annanʼs new book After Shock: Searching for Honest Faith When Your World Is Shaken (IVPress, 2011) describe some of what he saw in the weeks following the devastating earthquake that crushed Haiti nearly a year ago. That these words could even be written, let alone describe actual events, powerfully confronts us with the stark reality of a deeply broken world. This is the difficult gift that this book offers to its readers.
Kent Annan, co-director of Haiti Partners, a nonproﬁt focused on education in Haiti, has worked in Haiti since 2003, living there some of the time before moving back to the U.S., now traveling there regularly from Florida. Less than two weeks after the publication of his first book about his work in Haiti, Following Jesus through the Eye of the Needle: Living Fully, Loving Dangerously (IVPress, 2009), that already impoverished nation experienced the historic earthquake that left more than 200,000 dead and millions homeless. After Shock invites us to experience the aftermath of those events on the lives and faith of those left behind:
Faith can seem certain. A sense of peace or clarity, the mysterious beauty of life, or the transformations seen in yourself, in someone else, in a community—it couldn't be other than God. But there are also shocks to the system when God seems either absent or negligent. Do we ignore these shocks and their aftershocks? Sometimes a crisis of faith happens in an instant; other times it's a drift into uncertainty. Welcome confirmations of faith. And just as important, pay attention to the crises of doubt or unanswered questions. Honest faith doesn't deny God, but it doesn't deny the uncertain and painful reality of life either. (from After Shock)
Five months after the earthquake, I had the opportunity to join Kent for a week in Haiti, hearing the stories and seeing the lives of the Haitian people on their own terms. In the book, he introduces us to his friend Enel, a young man who narrowly averted death when the university building he was collapsed on top of him and his classmates. I met Enel on my first day in Haiti; he brought us to the site and told us his story. As he recalled the events of his experience, standing in front the rumble of the university building, a somber group of men carried five plastic wrapped bodies out of the ruins to be loaded into the back of a garbage truck. The suffering and death of the Haitian people suddenly became real.
After Shock is not an easy book to read. Don't misunderstand—it is very compelling. I read it through in one sitting. However, it was difficult to read because of the stark honesty of the author about himself, his faith, his doubts, and his search for God in the midst of suffering. Further, it is a disturbing book, confronting us with our all too common "easy-believism" and shallow (or absent) theology of suffering. Kent forces us to face these difficult truths with the prophetic voice of one who sees through the pretense to the heart of faith. Kent declares what I suspect most of us feel at times: "The monstrous gods we create in response to suffering leave me an atheist at times."
Jamie Arpin-Ricci, CJ, is a writer, pastor, and missional church planter living in the inner city of Winnipeg, Canada with his Aussie wife, Kim, and soon-to-be-adopted Ethiopian son, Micah. He is the author of the upcoming book, The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis & Life in the Kingdom (IVPress, Nov. 2011). He blogs regularly at "A Living Alternative" (www.missional.ca).