January 12, 2011
One year ago, January 12, 2010, the world shook--both literally and figuratively--for the people of Haiti. In 35 seconds, nearly 300,000 lives were lost, millions were displaced and an already desperately inadequate infrastructure was largely destroyed.
Since the poor always suffer the most in times of hardship, Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, is enduring a catastrophe that remains unimaginable even for those who have been there to see for themselves. The toll on human life has been devastating. In Port-au-Prince alone, a million people are still housed in tents, a great many street-side. Need, injury and illness are constant specters. Now, a cholera epidemic looms with a legacy of more death and fear.
What can we do in the face of such horrors? To be sure, the sheer scale of it all is more than daunting. I've often heard comment that whatever groups or individuals might do is so little that it seems almost useless. All too easily we can despair of being able to be of help. On the contrary, I would argue that the need is so great that we--all of us--simply must become involved in any way possible. To be unconnected to the tragedy in Haiti is not a faithful choice. Our faith in the grace and sovereignty of God through Jesus Christ leads us to take action, both for immediate relief and long-term recovery and rebuilding.
In October 2010, I led a small group drawn from three of our congregations to meet with the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti, the Rt. Rev. J. Zache Duracin. Bishop Zache, along with the Rev. Kesner Ajax, his coordinator for partnerships, and Ms. Angela Galbreath, a missionary from the Episcopal Church, escorted us to see not just the destruction and the needs that exist but also the effectiveness of ongoing relief and recovery. The faithfulness, courage and dignity of the Church in Haiti are not merely impressive but absolutely indomitable. Despite the fact that the earthquake destroyed 80 percent of the diocesan infrastructure, children have been back in school since May, truly a remarkable achievement and testament to what the Church there can do even with so little. And I can tell you that our support does indeed make a difference in real day-to-day lives. It was great to be driven in two of the 13 pick-up trucks that have been provided to the Diocese of Haiti by the Diocese of Virginia, and then to see how the others are being used so much as well. In his Christmas letter to fellow bishops, Bishop Zache said that the donations of expertise, labor, food, housing material, medicines and money have helped the people of Haiti to "rise, stand and walk."
Still, as the bishop also made clear, it will take years to rebuild their structures and heal their spirits. So, I am writing this letter to encourage the congregations and individuals of the Diocese of Virginia to become involved in the recovery or to redouble your current efforts. There will be a lot to do over a long period of time. As the people of Christ, we should do no less together with our brothers and sisters in Haiti. There is a reason that we are all "the body of Christ and individually members of it" (I Cor. 12:27).
Begin with your daily prayers. Certainly remember the needs and despair in Haiti, but do not forget prayers of gratitude for the grace and strength of the Episcopal Church's ministry there. Pray that we ourselves would be moved by such a witness. You may wish to visit the Episcopal Church's Web site for various prayers to offer: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/haiti.php.
Other dioceses and persons have posted prayers to share with you at Haiti@episcopalchurch.org.
Consider a partnership between your congregation and one within the Diocese of Haiti. Please contact Buck Blanchard (800-DIOCESE x16), our diocesan director of Mission and Outreach, for more information about this program. Pere Ajax in Haiti will work personally and directly with you to discern the best way to create a mutually beneficial relationship. If, for one reason or another, a full congregational partnership seems like it would be too much then please contact us to discuss working through your region or with another Virginia congregation.
Money is always a primary need and is the most efficient way to get the appropriate aid to the places it is needed most. You may designate a contribution to the "Diocese of Virginia Haiti General Fund" for humanitarian efforts. Alternately, you may also designate a donation for the Diocese of Haiti's first rebuilding priority, the Cathedral complex.
Visit our Haiti table at diocesan Council. Several knowledgeable and involved persons will be staffing the table with material, information and encouragement. Go to the diocesan Haiti Web site for updated information about the Diocese of Haiti and the ongoing ministries for recovery and rebuilding there.
Last October, Bishop Zache told me that he was "overwhelmed" by the generosity of the Diocese of Virginia. I hope and trust that we're just getting started. May we be a light to the darkness where we find it and may we be illumined by the beacon that is the Episcopal Church in Haiti.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston