A friend of mine asked me about Haiti and Pat Robertson’s claim that Haiti had signed a pact with the Devil. While I do not believe Mr. Robertson’s unfortunate claim, I have seen evidence in Haiti that Satan is alive and well. I attribute that to a lack of hope, a tremendous lack of opportunity, a lack of basic infrastructure, structure, and weak greedy leadership.
During a mission trip to Haiti in 1999, I learned that in desperation, all of the fruit trees had been eaten bare, many of the trees had been burned as firewood for warmth and there were no birds because they had been eaten too. Aid to the Government from other countries had been pocketed by greedy leaders instead of invested into working water systems, electric plants, or sewer systems and people were often on the edge of all-out riot in response to the difficulty they were living in. When we traveled we would see tires being placed in the road and lit on fire to protest the conditions and the lack of government response. We learned that many of the men had several wives and households, and they would sit and play dominoes while the women and children went hungry or depended on charity as there were not many prospects for employment. I tried to use an outhouse at the Missionary compound that we stayed in and when I walked in it was filled with large tarantulas-over 100. I did not stay to use the facilities! I saw evidence of voodoo worship throughout my visit, Mardi Gras parades filled with raucous crowds and violence, and at one point I was even threatened by 10 spear wielding men who had painted themselves with tar and colorful paint. I still have the video. It was a very scary, hopeless place that appeared to be on the edge of violence at all times.
Recent news reports from Anderson Cooper on CNN show that not much has changed since my trip in 1999. Haiti is so troubled that while thousands of people were trying to rest in an open park, others were screaming, “Flood, Tsunami” causing the poor resting souls to panic, run, and drop what little goods they had. Then the opportunists would run in and take the dropped precious goods.
Haiti reminds me of the condition Skid Row LA was in when I arrived, but on a much larger scale. When I came to Skid Row there were over 2000 desperate people on the streets and Commander Andy Smith of the LAPD described it as Mardi Gras on crack. Skid Row had not signed a pact with Satan, but was severely lacking hope, opportunity, structure and strong selfless leadership. The change brought about on Skid Row through the investment of resources, the Safer-Cities Initiative of the LAPD, the building of new permanent supportive housing, the renewed outreach efforts, our own welcoming of over 600 more guests into URM, and some self-less leadership gives me hope that things can change in Haiti, even after this devastating earthquake.
What I learned early on in my work in difficult neighborhoods, Haiti, and Skid Row LA is that the desperation, misery, hopelessness, and even destructive behaviors present were not caused by the sins of the people in these areas, but the sins of all.
Romans 3:23 (NIV)
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
This includes Pat Robertson and me! Most folks on Skid Row LA have been abandoned and forgotten by the world. Some have actually been dumped on the streets by others, including hospitals! Others were born into circumstances without opportunity and were never given a chance of success, while many of us took every opportunity to care for ourselves and not look back. This is true regarding the world’s relationship with Haiti as well. Likewise, I left Haiti in 1999 and did not have the courage or wherewithal to return to try to offer hope and change things. This is more a reflection of me and the rest of the world’s shortcomings than the people of Haiti.
If we leave one precious person on the streets of Skid Row, or if we turn our back on the people of Haiti, in their time of need, the sin and shame of that will be on us.
Charity alone will not change things. Charity alone has left the people on Skid Row and in Haiti dependent on others for daily sustenance just to survive. We must move beyond that. We at URM are pursuing the creation of a grocery store, business center, and the building of additional housing on Skid Row, in a pursuit of our 3 year goal to cut the number of people living on the street of skid row by 90%. We need to have a holy discontent and not tolerate one precious human being left on the streets of our city. We need to have that same holy discontent and no longer tolerate the conditions that the beautiful precious people of Haiti are living in. Before this devastating quake, 80% were living below poverty, 50% were illiterate, and they were living 5 persons to a room. I can’t even imagine the conditions or numbers now. This is the time to take action and make sure that no one in our hemisphere has to tolerate these unbearable living conditions.
Like we are seeing on Skid Row, the transformation of Haiti will take someone, some entity to come in with capital invested in opportunities that will both provide servant leadership, needed resources, and the hiring of the people themselves to build the needed homes and services. Haiti needs someone to come in with resources, hire the Haitian people, and build affordable safe housing, electrical and water infrastructures, and restore the food infrastructure.
Despite the despair and hopelessness I witnessed during my trip to Haiti, what has stayed in my mind is the tremendous beauty of the people and the hope, courage and strength they possessed.
I am compelled by Jesus Christ and the Gospel to do all I can to act now to help these precious ones. My heartfelt prayer is that many will join me. Together, we can bring hope to their land.
Job 31:16-40 (NIV)
16 “If I have denied the desires of the poor or let the eyes of the widow grow weary,
17 if I have kept my bread to myself, not sharing it with the fatherless–
18 but from my youth I reared him as would a father, and from my birth I guided the widow–
19 if I have seen anyone perishing for lack of clothing, or a needy man without a garment,
20 and his heart did not bless me for warming him with the fleece from my sheep,
21 if I have raised my hand against the fatherless, knowing that I had influence in court,
22 then let my arm fall from the shoulder, let it be broken off at the joint.
23 For I dreaded destruction from God, and for fear of his splendor I could not do such things.
24 “If I have put my trust in gold or said to pure gold, ‘You are my security,’
25 if I have rejoiced over my great wealth, the fortune my hands had gained,
26 if I have regarded the sun in its radiance or the moon moving in splendor,
27 so that my heart was secretly enticed and my hand offered them a kiss of homage,
28 then these also would be sins to be judged, for I would have been unfaithful to God on high.
29 “If I have rejoiced at my enemy’s misfortune or gloated over the trouble that came to him–
30 I have not allowed my mouth to sin by invoking a curse against his life–
31 if the men of my household have never said, ‘Who has not had his fill of Job’s meat?’–
32 but no stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler–
33 if I have concealed my sin as men do, by hiding my guilt in my heart
34 because I so feared the crowd and so dreaded the contempt of the clans that I kept silent and would not go outside
35 (“Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defense–let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing.
36 Surely I would wear it on my shoulder, I would put it on like a crown.
37 I would give him an account of my every step; like a prince I would approach him.)–
38 “if my land cries out against me and all its furrows are wet with tears,
39 if I have devoured its yield without payment or broken the spirit of its tenants,
40 then let briers come up instead of wheat and weeds instead of barley.” The words of Job are ended.
Isaiah 58:6-12 (NIV)
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
Rev. Andy Bales & Team