This week’s earthquake was a natural disaster, totally unexpected by everyone except for professional seismologists. Of all the causes of Haiti’s suffering, only the earthquake itself does not have human fingerprints on it.
Haiti was once a fertile island paradise (well, half an island: it shares the land mass with Dominica). The French colonized the western half of the island of Hispaniola. The indigenous population was quickly destroyed by exposure to influenza and other infections brought by the Europeans. They were soon replaced by slaves kidnapped from Africa. The French fed their country with food grown on Haiti’s rich soil.
The French and the corrupt rulers who followed them over-exploited the land and destroyed its fertility. There are few trees left on Haiti–there are a few-oranges, grapefruits, avocados, mangoes–they are sweet but rare. A few people make a living selling their fruit. But there are not enough trees left to prevent erosion, which makes flooding and other natural disasters worse. I visited Haiti 20 years ago, and I don’t recall seeing a bird. I do remember seeing the local Haitians recycle used motor oil–they poured it on any pools of standing water to kill mosquitoes.
In 1804 Haiti became the second nation in the Western hemisphere to declare its independence. In a glorious revolution that should have made the French proud, they killed every white person on the island. Tragically, since gaining a form of autonomy, Haiti has been ruled by its own dictators and corrupt leaders. The notorious Duvaliers used the fear of voodoo along with old-fashioned terror and brutality to keep its citizens from enjoying the fruits of freedom.
Who is Helping?
I doubt there is any group of people subject to more negative stereotypes than missionaries. (Read The Poisonwood Bible, which one of my students who group up as a missionary kid thought was “funny.”) The people of Haiti know different. They know that the missionaries are not bigoted, proselyting zealots–they are there to help. The missionaries run schools, children’s homes, and clinics. They assist people in farming projects and micro-enterprises. I will admit, sometimes they tell the people things like–
You are beautiful, you are a child of God.
Hold your head up, God loves you.
There are, of course, many people working with non-governmental aid agencies that are not religiously affiliated. Usually the missionaries and “secular” aid workers respect each other and work side by side. They are all there to help the people of Haiti.
One mission trying to help the land of Haiti with long-term recovery is “Eden Reforestation Projects.” Two missionaries from the Free Methodist Church working with Eden Reforestation are reported in critical condition, and three are missing, after the earthquake, according to our local Eden Vigil representative Lowell Bliss.