"Americans Know Nothing of Suffering"

I think we all get our turns in the crucible and suffer in different ways, but G. Dalrymple, writing of his experiences in Haiti, puts the complaints of day-to-day living into context:

* I was approached by an elderly woman on our first day at Petionville, asking for some food. I had none to give her, so I approached a US soldier who was there and asked him about where there might be a food distribution so the woman could get food. He said he had no idea…the UN used to do that, but the Haitian government stopped them, telling them that they wanted the UN to give the food to the local food distribution organizations to distribute. The UN complied. As it turns out, the local aid organizations took the free food that came in from all over the world and were not selling it; they were hoarding it in order to sell it. But the people, for the most part, had no money to buy it with. The Haitian government is so corrupt and I’m sure they’re in cahoots with the local distribution organizations. Someone will get rich off the backs of the poor, and many will die for someone else’s greed.

The stories could go on and on forever. Sadly, it isn’t only the Haitian government and food distribution organizations that aren’t getting the job done in Haiti. We saw very few organizations that were effectively doing anything. It is the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that are caring for the people.

Suffice it to say: I hope never again to complain about anything in my life. The huddled masses, living 6-8 people in a “tent” that is about 6×6, the smell of the tent cities, the disease (malaria, dengue fever, tuberculosis, typhoid, diarrhea, HIV/AIDS) is beyond belief. I foresee no end to the misery in Haiti short of the return of the Lord. […] Americans know nothing of suffering. If that devastation had happened in America, we would at least have a government with the means to provide equipment to move rubble, dig out bodies, provide food and water and shelter, but there is no such government in Haiti. I struggled with my parishioners who complained about the value of their stocks going down in the midst of the economic crisis. I wanted to literally grab them by the collar, slap them, and say, “Wake up! You have nothing to complain about! Nothing at all!” Not very compassionate for a pastor, but that is how I honestly felt.

But I also learned that Americans are perhaps far poorer than the Haitian people when it comes to faith. I saw people who had lost everything. At night, as dusk would fall over the Petionville camp, one could hear tens of thousands of voices rising up from the tent city in the valley below, singing songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. It was eerie, beautiful, and otherworldly. They were thankful for the gift of life itself. It wasn’t much of a life, by American standards, but it was the only thing they had left. And they were earnestly grateful for it. They were thanking God that they were spared from death in the quake and that they’d made it through one more day.

This piece is really much too long to excerpt justly, but I urge you to read it and pass it around.

I know some people hate looking at Haiti because of the overwhelming feeling of powerlessness that accompanies all of our sympathies; “my church should do something, maybe we can raise funds…” but even if a parish can raise thousands of dollars–even if they could purchase a boatload of the basic necessities of life, and toys for the children–getting the goods and provender into Haiti is staggeringly difficult, and distribution even more so.

Dalrymple says he cannot see Haiti being helped by anything but the coming of the Lord, and everything I read about Haiti, everyone I speak to of Haiti, expresses similar sentiments.

This makes all the more inspiring the life-commitments made by people like our friend “Missionary Ed” and Fr. Rick Frechette and Kent Annan–people who make their lives a prayer with Haiti

If Haiti can only be saved by the coming of the Lord, in the meantime let us pray for the people who are able and willing to “be” Christ for others in such a way, such a small, limited way, and support them as much as we can. I think of Mother Teresa’s notion of doing “small things with great love” and realize that even if the help and aid they can render is limited, their presence–their willingness to be present to others and to literally “set their tent” among them, as Christ did–is the great love that will last beyond their days, weeks or years of service.

On January 24th, Team Rubicon–that intrepid organization formed by ex-Marines and Jesuits, after the Haiti quake–will be reactivating to Haiti. From their newsletter:

Team Rubicon, in partnership with the International Medical Corps, will be returning to Haiti January 24th to establish and run cholera treatment centers on the periphery of Port au Prince. The IMC recently reached out to Team Rubicon, seeking TR’s assistance in the establishment of clinics following the election and anniversary. Recently, NGOs have been reducing their presence inside of Haiti because of political turmoil and an escalation in violence; this has created a gap in aid that Team Rubicon will help the IMC address.

I donate to Team Rubicon because they are bringing fresh energy and new ideas to this land-of-ongoing-crisis. Perhaps you could talk to your church or your bowling league or quilting club, or your work crew, about doing some fundraising to send their way. Or buy this book to aid Haiti Partners, or consider a small donation to Fr. Frechette’s Medical Aid endeavor.

Small things, we can do. Small things with great love–they make a difference, because real love lasts.

One year later, Letters from Haiti.


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