David Vargas Reflects on Recent Pastoral Visit to Haiti: Reconstruction with Dignity
“‘Please help us to reconstruct with dignity,’ could very well summarize the message we all heard again and again from our church partners in Haiti,” affirmed David Vargas, President of the Disciples Division of Overseas Ministries and Co-Executive of Global Ministries, as he reflected on his recent visit to Haiti as part of a Disciples/UCC delegation headed by the Disciples General Minister and President, Rev. Sharon Watkins, and the Rev. Geoffrey Black, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ.
The delegation, which also included the Rev. Cally Rogers-Witte, Executive Minister of Wider Church Ministries of the UCC and Co-Executive of Global Ministries, and the Rev. Felix Ortiz, Global Ministries Executive for Latin America and the Caribbean, and former missionary to Haiti, visited various communities in the Port-au-Prince area on March 26-28, 2010, with the purpose of providing pastoral accompaniment to victims of the January 12, 2010 earthquake, including those related to the ministry of three Global Ministries partners in the country: The National Spiritual Council of Churches of Haiti (CONASPEH), House of Hope, and The Christian Center for Integral Development (SKDE).
During the pastoral visit, the delegation had the opportunity to observe the physical devastation caused by the 7.0 seismic event; participate in a memorial service for those who died when the CONASPEH central building collapsed; meet with relatives of some of those who perished, as well as with some who were injured; engage in in-depth dialogue with the leadership of CONASPEH, headed by Rev. Patrick Villier; visit with the children and staff of House of Hope, an educational program that provides a safe place for boys and girls laboring as domestic servants, young mothers, single girls, and a few older women who have been abandoned; and meet with the Director of SKDE, Herode Gaullomettre. “It was a poignant experience to see those who lost loved ones in the collapse of the CONASPEH building mourn the dead, and then celebrate the lives of those who had survived that same collapse. Among them were Francoise and Patrick Villier, who lost their son in the fallen building,” Vargas observed.
“Yes, it is sad to see a nation that had experienced for decades the worst misery of our hemisphere now fall into an even more destitute condition; and it breaks your heart to realize that many (and perhaps, most) of those who were already living in substandard dwellings and subhuman conditions before January 12th, are now more vulnerable as they live in tents. Many of these tents are made of rags, sack cloth, like those four hundred in improvised dwellings we saw around one of CONASPEH’s church buildings near the Cité Soleil community,” said Vargas. “But, from the moment we first touch Haitian land, our delegation also learned and witnessed that one thing did remain unchanged after the January 12th catastrophe, and that is, the dignity of the Haitian people.
Expressing his deep gratitude for the pastoral nature of the Disciples/UCC visitors, Rev. Patrick Villier asked the delegation to, “Please convey the message to the churches and people of the United States and Canada that the people of Haiti have dignity. We have noticed that many abroad have plans for the reconstruction of Haiti, without seeking and respecting the input of Haitians,” said Villier. Referring to a recent incident where an international relief group dropped food and water for the people from helicopters, thus causing even more turmoil throughout the city, the leadership of CONASPEH reminded the delegation that in Haiti there is a difference between animals and people. “We don’t need people who bring food from a distance; we need people who walk with us and look at us face-to-face, as human beings,” said Francoise Villier, President of CONASPEH’s women’s organization.
“If you serve us water,” added Rev. Rodrigue, one of CONASPEH’s national coordinators, “serve it with dignity. We know there is a lot of support for Haiti these days, but without any respect for our dignity. Please tell everyone that we do need support, but the type of support that affirms the dignity of our people.”
Respect for the dignity of the Haitian people was also the main topic during the delegation’s dialogue with the SKDE Director, Herode Gaullomettre. “Even when people are now residing on the streets of Port-au-Prince, Haitians still praise God. The powers of the country collapsed, but the country still exists…there are 10,000 NGOs in Haiti, most of them bringing everything already decided on the outside. They’re taking advantage of the situation, but the church should do differently,” said Gaullomettre. Responding to the question of what kind of help is needed in Haiti that may also affirm the dignity of the people, he added: “We need help to rebuild. Send us technicians to help us rebuild together, under Haitian leadership and using Haitian materials. We also need advocacy; listen to the people on the ground; help build the Haitian institutions; this is not a time for occupation, but a time for partnership.”
Reaffirming the delegation’s support for a true reconstruction with dignity in Haiti, Sharon Watkins compared the Disciples/UCC pastoral visit and dialogues with partners in Haiti with the parable of the Good Samaritan: “On January 12th, we all became Haitian, and therefore we had to be with our family. Together in Christ we find the joy of family and the joy of resurrection. …when friends join together, when difficulties face us, Jesus joins us.”
To view photos take by David Vargas during the trip, click here: http://picasaweb.google.com/bshebeck/DavidVargasHaitiPhotosMarch2010#
To read more about the pastoral visit click here: http://globalministries.org/news/lac/revs-sharon-watkins-and.html
To go to the Haiti Disaster Response page: http://globalministries.org/news/lac/haiti-earthquake-what-we.html