Hope for Haiti: Black observes that life goes on
Written by Gregg Brekke
April 6, 2010
Returning from the joint UCC—Disciples of Christ Global Ministries executives trip to Haiti March 26-28, the Rev. Geoffrey Black, UCC general minister and president, was astounded by the need and bolstered by the hope of the Haitian people.
"News reports can't capture how vast the devastation was," he said. "To see it firsthand was really overwhelming. You can see and feel how much work there is to do to rebuild Port-au-Prince and the country."
Global Ministries assured partners it intends to support that work in the following months and years, as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere grapples with alleviating widespread human displacement and repairing capital destruction.
Black made the two-day trip with the Rev. Sharon Watkins, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) general minister and president; the co-executive directors of Global Ministries, the Rev. Cally Rogers-Witte from the UCC and the Rev. David Vargas from the DoC; and the Rev. Felix Ortiz, Global Ministries area executive for Latin America and the Caribbean.
The group spent the majority of their time with CONASPEH (the National Spiritual Council of Churches of Haiti) representatives, touring the site of their destroyed facility and hearing about their needs and those of the people they serve.
"It looked as though CONASPEH's office and program facilities were completely demolished," said Black. "That said, they were well organized and able to regroup, use other facilities or work from home. They were able to get their building rubble removed and the area cleared. We didn't see their destroyed building; we saw a flat area that had been cleared of rubble, getting it ready to rebuild on."
A pastoral goal of the Global Ministries visit was participation in a memorial service for the 17 nursing students and many other CONASPEH associates who lost their lives in the January 12 quake.
Preaching at the service, Black offered his sympathy for the loss on behalf of the UCC and its congregations, and promised continued financial and spiritual support from the UCC and Disciples of Christ. In turn, Watkins, Rogers-Witte, Vargas and Ortiz each delivered messages of condolences.
"Some of the several nursing students who survived but were wounded were there, as were some of the parents of the many nursing students who died," noted Rogers-Witte. "Some of the children in the Global Ministries Child Sponsorship program with CONASPEH also attended the memorial service."
Following the memorial, the Global Ministries team conducted a service of anointing for those who had been wounded in the earthquake. "One woman thought she would never become a nurse because she lost half her foot in the damaged building," said Black. "We encouraged them to work toward their goals and take advantage of rehabilitation."
Black commented on the hopefulness of the CONASPEH staff and was encouraged to hear their plans for rebuilding their organization and facility. But he added a note of caution regarding the many church groups eager to send work crews to Haiti.
"There was a concern they raised about volunteers," said Black. "[Our partners] didn't feel that work teams coming to Haiti would be very helpful. Any work that needs to be done in rebuilding needs to be done by Haitians. Haitians should be employed to do that work since they have such a high unemployment rate. Their hope is to find partners who will work with them in the rebuilding."
Rogers-Witte agreed. "This is a chance to build a 'new Haiti,' one that is responsive to the people – of, by and for the people," she said. "It is very important for Haitians to be the ones who are making plans and decisions about their future."
A bright spot in the trip was time spent with Global Ministries Child Sponsorship students and children from mission partner House of Hope. "After viewing all the devastation and seeing the difficult living conditions, we were revived by visits with precious children at two of the House of Hope centers," said Rogers-Witte. "Their buildings were destroyed so they are meeting under tarps – and the centers have invited not only their regular youngsters in the program but also other children in the neighborhoods since no schools are in session."
"It was a nice moment to communicate and take pictures with them," said Black of time spent with the Child Sponsorship children at the memorial service. "They knew who we were and we knew who they were – it was a special time of connection. I came back converted. Child Sponsorship is one way we can really make a difference."
Black and Rogers-Witte both related their deep appreciation for CONASPEH and its work with Haiti's poorest residents. Rogers-Witte commented that CONASPEH was unique in the socially stratified culture by its inclusion of and concern for those "on the bottom of the social hierarchy [who] have been rarely included in any decision-making."
"In the midst of the downsides, you saw people being creative," said Black. "Life goes on – there's lots of commerce and people are going about their daily lives in the ways they did before the earthquake. In the tragedy and chaos, there is a sense of routine that has returned for some people."
Calling the trip "compelling and thought provoking," Black said he left Haiti "wanting to be helpful, and thinking about the cautions we had been given to know the ways that would really be of help."
The UCC's disaster ministries has provided a recent update <http://www.ucc.org/disaster/haiti/haiti-situation-remains.html>. Continued information and donation opportunities are available at <http://www.ucc.org/disaster/haiti/>.