Sherry Ward, Former Missionary to Haiti, Reflects on her Recent Visit to Haiti
reflection on Sherry Ward’s visit to Haiti after the earthquake
It was a joy to be with Ruth and Charlie Wallace in Haiti for a pastoral visit as we joined our friends from CONASPEH in Port-au-Prince over the weekend of April 17-19, 2010. Ruth and Charlie’s reflection of last week spoke eloquently of our time in Haiti. My offering is a few reflections that touched my heart during the visit.
Upon arrival at the airport, it was not the usual hot, windy walk across the tarmac after descending a full story of stairs as I had done in all previous trips to PAP. A jet way was in place and as we neared its end, peppy musical notes began to reach our ears. A band played us onto the busses that would take us to the passport control and baggage claim area. Their black tee shirts were emblazoned with bright yellow letters, spelling out Western Union. I was glad Western Union was operational as many households in Haiti depend upon money wired from family members in the USA.
The music played on and if one only heard it, nothing would seem to be amiss. But this was “live” and the visual mixed with the hearing of the music told a different story. There was no sparkle in the eyes of the musicians, no movement in time with the music. I saw no smiles, nor did I really expect any but I can tell you that my heart ached at the deep sadness that seemed to emanate from the eyes of this little band of players. They were doing their job, they were fulfilling their obligation to their employer but I saw no joy.
We went to the CONASPEH property. I knew in advance that the CONASPEH Headquarters building was gone. I had seen pictures and I had listened to the webinar but still I was not prepared to drive down the long single lane driveway of yester year and see the walls on both side of the road intact and then see the place where the Headquarters building had been and now is no more. Only rock and ground down concrete cover the place where once children lined up by class in their school uniforms to begin their day with a prayer to God and a pledge to their country before proceeding into their classrooms in an orderly fashion, with the youngest children going first.
A place where seminary students had gathered for their classes, enjoyed a time of fellowship and a meal served up along with the classes in Theology and Social Ethics, New Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures and others.
It was a place where the people who needed to come to the clinic that day gathered to wait; where people who wanted to see Pastor Patrick waited against the shade of the wall across the driveway; where food vendors came to sell some of their fruits and vegetables that would be prepared in the basement kitchen so the children would have a meal at school that day. Manje Pou Aprann (Food for Learning).
Now is only a leveled out rocky surface that marks the location where lives were lost including student nurses and the faithful caretaker of the building and helper of all persons, Senalt. Grace and Peace to you. I treasure the memories. I am in grief and ache for the sense of place which exists no more.
And then, God gifts us with the opening of the large iron gate at the end of the driveway and an opportunity to walk over it’s threshold into an open area of land with mature trees, purchased before the quake through the generous gift of ones who love this land and her people. This prophetic gift now provides a place for CONASPEH to build anew in the era after the quake. There is room to expand. There are hopes and dreams and a vision for a vibrant future on this holy ground. Buildings will rise and now there is room enough for several on the property. Already plans are in progress, budgets prepared and an eagerness on the part of Pastors Patrick and Francoise and the Executive Committee of CONASPEH to move forward.
An indicator of that indominatable Haitian spirit is their determination to re-purpose a room sized container carried by ship from the church in Puerto Rico. It had been filled with items needed in the aftermath of the earthquake and they had been distributed to the pastors and people of CONASPEH. The container’s new purpose is to be a school room and it was already taking shape as windows and a doorway had been cut away. There is work to be done and it will be transformed into a place of learning under the shade of the trees on these beautiful grounds.
One final reflection I want to share is a symbol that took up permanent residence in my memory. No photo was taken, and I cannot offer an artistic replication with charcoals. Perhaps I can paint this picture with my words. On the way to the airport on Monday morning we drove through a crowded area, a cross roads at a traffic circle. In the center of this circle is a metal sculpture of a globe with hands supporting and holding the globe aloft. For those who have visited Haiti this is a familiar landmark for you. There was hustle and bustle with people getting on and off tap-taps and busses, all with a look of determination and purpose on their tired faces. But one man stood out for me.
He carried a small tree, perhaps a mango tree, carefully wrapped in plain paper like you might wrap a fragile dish when packing it for a move. He protected it with his body. This tree in its infancy is a symbol of the growth that will take place in PAP and other affected areas in Haiti. One day, it will provide fruit and shade offering a place for the weary to rest a bit under its leafy boughs.
This picture offers a lasting memory of Hope for me. Most often we like to see great accomplishments as an affirmation of our hopes and dreams for people, places and things. We see completion and a secure knowledge that all will be well as desirable indicators. I saw in this humble little tree, being sheltered and protected by the man carrying it, a Haitian sign of Hope.
There has been and I pray there will continue to be a generous outpouring of help from the international community in the rebuilding process. I believe ultimately that the Hope of Haiti rests in God’s hands and the hearts, hands and voices of the people of Haiti; hearts filled with the Spirit, hands raised and melodious voices giving Praise and thanks to God, in every place, even in the humblest tent village church. May we all be blessed as we join our Haitian brothers and sisters on this road to rebuilding their beloved country. Bondye Beni nou, Ayiti.
Peace and Blessings,
Rev. Sherry Ward (Former GM Missionary to Haiti)