I have not quite touched down from my most recent trip to Haiti. Since my return, my dreams have pulled me back to the tiny island country in the Caribbean. My dreams are filled with the joyful voices of children singing “Hosanna” in preparation for Palm Sunday worship, water running from a well and bread being baked.
In January of 2013 I made my first trip to Haiti with my husband and five others from our congregation. My first impressions were of the chaos of four million people living in a city designed for 400,000, smells of fish, garbage and charcoal,and the sight of hunger and desperate poverty.
My view of Haiti has changed. This was my third trip to the country and to the village of Pasquette near Jacmel on the island”s south shore. I no longer see only the poverty, the smells or the chaos. The air is still filled with the smell of charcoal fires. The chaos and cacophony of horn honking, bumper to bumper traffic still is the same. The majority of Haitians remain the poorest of the poor in this hemisphere. Those things, however, are not all I see.
In 2013 we helped build the “Blue Roof”, a simple pole structure with a blue steel roof to shelter the congregation of Redemption Lutheran Church. The place where we built the shelter was an empty field of acacia stumps and rocks just off the steep dirt road climbing up the hill from the main highway. Since then, another, larger church/community building has been built with money from the Lutheran Disaster Response. The mission group from Eden Prairie with whom we collaborate, has dug a well 240 feet through the limestone rock to bring the community clean water. Clean water is a luxury in a country where more than half of the residents do not have such access.
Most recently we have, with the hands and ingenuity of our Haitian brothers and sisters, nearly completed a bakery which will provide fresh bread to the community, jobs and income to help send children to school.
I experienced the joy of eating the first samples of bread with our friends as it came hot out of the new ovens. There are new buildings cropping up all around the Blue Roof. There is a garden in the space between the bakery and the church. Even though last fall’s hurricane battered and broke many of the young trees, they are growing and a couple of the mango and banana trees are bearing fruit. The bush next to the porch of the church which was a single twig last time I was there has grown to be eight feet tall and is covered with bright red blossoms. The children seem healthier and more of them are attending school.
I no longer see only Haiti’s poor. I see Vierge, Marlene, Julian, Kevans, Makenson, Carmelite, Janiece and Pastor Holand. I see my friends. They are graceful both in body and spirit, joyful, and hope-filled. They work hard and survive in spite of their hardships. I see my friends, people who are more like me than they are different from me. They love their children, their old ones and they love God. Their faith is strong. They are generous with each other and with us who have so much.
I don’t have any romantic notions about a life of poverty. My friends’ lives are hard. It is hard work to carry a five gallon pail of water on your head. It is hard work to wash clothes on a rock in the river. It is hard to squat next to a charcoal fire on the ground to cook your evening supper. It is hard to tell your hungry child that there will be only one meal today. My friends, in spite of the hardness of their lives, still manage to laugh, sing and shout “Hosanna.”
There are no easy solutions to the world’s poverty. Poverty, however, does not exist because of scarcity. Poverty exists in spite of creation’s abundance. Poverty is a political problem. It is a social problem, a religious problem and a personal problem.
If we truly want to end poverty, we must be willing to think about how our daily decisions affect the lives of others. Are the products we buy made with labor paid less than it costs to live for a day? Does the making of the products we use cause pollution of someone else’s water, soil and air? Do we use more than our share of the earth’s resources? How can we live more intentionally and more simply?
How can we share our wealth in a way that gives others respect and a voice in how those resources are used? Do we ask them what they need and want or do we tell them what is good for them? Are we willing to share our abundance or are we afraid we will not have enough?
Are we willing to advocate for others within political systems? The problems of the poor in our own country and around the world are often the result of political decisions made on our behalf. The agricultural subsidies which aid us, have sometimes had negative effects on the farmers of Haiti. When we call our congressmen to advocate for a farm program provision do we consider how other farmers will be affected? Do we think about how subsidies for farmers in this country makes exported rice, for example, so cheap that Haitian rice farmers are forced out of business? Do we consider how sending free peanuts as aid to the hungry in Haiti impacts peanut farmers in Haiti?
In my dreams, my friends have enough and so do I.