Seeking God in Haiti

Kent Annan’s new book on Haiti, After Shock: Searching for Honest Faith When Your World Is Shaken, records his deeply personal search for God — for the reality of the Christian God — in the rubble of Haiti. Kent has been connected deeply in Haiti for nearly a decade, had returned to the USA not longer before the earthquake, and six days after the earthquake was back in Haiti. He’s since carried on an active ministry in Haiti.

What are we doing for folks who experience tragedy?

His voice is one of the most authentic and accurate when it comes to the conditions of Haiti, so when he is book came out I was excited to read it. I knew it would be a serious read — not the sort of “look at all the good we’re doing, praise God!” books. Kent Annan is simultaneously ministering and absorbing at the existential level the suffering of Haiti. As a result, this book is about his search for God — and his faith struggle — and his ongoing faith — and his reflections on what happens to the person who cares and who absorbs and who ponders in light of his or her faith what we believe in light of what we experience in tragedies like Haiti. I want to draw attention to two little snippets of his reflections and hope that you will pick it up and read and ponder and pray.

At one point Kent Annan brings to the surface what many of us have either not put into words or not been willing to admit. He ponders what he wished God were like. He calls it “An Annotated Wish List for Changes in/by God.” Here are his wishes:

1. Rather than a God of occasional disaster-rescue miracles, I want a God whose miracles prevent the disasters in the first place.
2. Rather than a God who needed to retreat in order to give humans freedom and love, I want a God who finds a less painful way to make freedom and love work.
3. Rather than a system where the most vulnerable suffer, I want the wealthy to be the most vulnerable.
4. Rather than children being at the mercy of nature and of other people, I want no one to be traumatized before the age of twelve.
5. For every unethical action I want an immediate equal and opposite reaction.
6. I want a small indicator button the back of every human that informs us forty eight hours before death so we can say our proper goodbyes.

The crosses in Haiti… Kent Annan reflects on the two crosses in Port-Au-Prince: one a crucifix, teaching us about God entering into our suffering and about God’s being with us, and one an empty cross, teaching us of victory over death and of God being gone. He goes down to the location and prays to Jesus near each cross, his prayers reflecting the Jesus of each cross.

I like these words of his, words that in some ways sum up this whole book: “With every crisis of faith, what we believe is crucified, and then we wait expectantly, whether in defeat or in joyful hope, to see what part of our faith is resurrected.”

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  • Susan N.

    “With every crisis of faith, what we believe is crucified, and then we wait expectantly, whether in defeat or in joyful hope, to see what part of our faith is resurrected.”

    This insightful quote convinces me to read Kent Annan’s book! So much truth in this…

  • Having had the privilege of visiting Haiti with Kent only 5 months after the quake and meeting many of the people he introduces us to in his book(s), I can say with deep and passionate certainty that this is one of the most important Christians books to come into print this year. Glad you liked it, Scot!

  • EricG

    This looks like a bood I’ve got to read. I like the quote Scot and Susan N. like as well. I’d add that sometimes our own, prior conception of God is what is crucified when we face serious challenges to faith.

    I don’t know how to answer Scot’s question — “What are we doing for folks who experience tragedy?” Seems like a question every church should think long and hard about.

  • T

    I know Kent from highschool. We played on a couple teams together, but were never close. We’ve talked a couple of times since, though, as adults.

    I’m glad for his continued pull to keep the realities of Haiti and places of similar wreckage before us. He and I are both from (and currently in) South Florida’s east coast. Our area is one of the wealthiest in the world; but like many similar places, there are gulfs of separation b/n rich and poor. We are a divided community. The desire by the rich to separate themselves from the poor, except on a professional basis for food service, lawn care, and housekeeping, is not only a cultural given, but it is literally built into our buildings and community regulations. The economic extremes here and the materialist assumptions are impressive in their depth and subtlety.

    Thanks Kent reminding us we can’t narrow “neighbor” as much as we’d like. Lord, have mercy.

  • Susan N.

    EricG @ #3 – I, too, had no good answer to the question. My gut says, “Not enough.” But I think first we need to consciously seek awareness of the needs in the world and in our immediate sphere of influence. Once one’s spiritual eyes are opened, it is tempting to shut them tightly against the overwhelming pain and suffering all around. I often feel overwhelmed with grief over what I see. This also challenges my faith. To learn and grow in compassion (sympathy leading to concrete action), I don’t think there’s any other way around this. Christ, the Suffering Servant — we’ve got to go there in order to also share in the Resurrection Life; we identify with Him when we enter into another’s pain to embody Hope.

    The little bit about Kent’s experiences in Haiti that are shared in this post reminds me of Henri Nouwen (the “wounded healer”). The sympathy is easy. Not getting stuck at grieving, and also having a sense of purpose with the accompanying energy to help in concrete ways is the challenge, for me at least. Lots and lots of prayer and no doubt help from the Comforter/Counselor (a/k/a Holy Spirit)!

  • Susan N.

    I’m also remembering a news piece I watched about an orphanage in Haiti and how they responded after the quake. The missionaries at first fed and sheltered everyone who came to them for help. Then, they realized that there was not enough food or space to care for all. They had to make the painful decision to turn many away, and just care for the ones they could. The woman (husband/wife team) said that she had to accept the limitation of helping the few they could, and let that be enough. It was an agonizing decision for them to make. We pray, we do what we can, and often I will ask God to please. just. multiply that help so that it is enough. Images of Port-Au-Prince after the quake, downtown Detroit, haunt me nonetheless.