Praises rise from the Rubble
I was afraid as I packed my bags for Haiti. It wasn’t fear for my personal safety. Instead it was concern that I was ill equipped to offer comfort, help or healing for my Haitian colleagues and their neighbors.
As I traveled to Haiti, I thought about what Haitians were going through. Imagine if we had a major earthquake in the U.S. that destroyed 30 percent of our population and property. Imagine not knowing the fate of your child—trapped, dead or alive, lost or stolen. Imagine facing the loss of a limb or a future of caring for a spouse who became emotionally or mentally impaired in the quake. Imagine not having access to insurance, government services or any safety net other than international aid. Imagine every family living under a tarp, camping in a muddy field, hoping someone offers a bag of rice and a bucket of water. Imagine our church building reduced to rubble and gathering on a Sunday morning under a blue tarp in the parking lot, every family grieving the loss of a child, a parent, a nephew, a grandchild, homes, or jobs. Would we have the courage to worship? Would our questions demand answers? Would our faith hold?
As I went through customs, I tried to prepare myself for the worst. On every street, I saw remnants of multi-storied buildings that, during 35 seconds of twisting rebar and cracking cement, had pancaked to less than six feet, each cement floor coming to rest directly on the one below, as the supporting walls and pillars blew out in a cloud of dust. The destruction was endless.
On Sunday, my colleagues invited me to attend church. I didn’t know what to expect. Unbelievably, incongruently, our Haitian brothers and sisters were not just gathering to comfort and support each other. They were singing with joyful abandon and full-throttled, unbelievable voices, faces lit by God’s glory. How is this possible? I sat on a rickety wooden bench under a blue tarp next to a crumbled sanctuary, blinking back tears, witnessing the unimaginable. Though sung in Creole, the tunes were unmistakably familiar: worship choruses, traditional hymns, praise bursting from the rubble. Not just a faithful few--hundreds gathered, in some places, thousands, shoulder to shoulder, and, when all the seats were taken, standing at the edges or even out under the tropical sun. Rich Caribbean voices praising, worshipping, Haiti style--rhythmic, melodious, clapping, laughing, get-up-and-move worship. They sing because they have something, Someone to sing about--the God who was, who is and who is to come.
Where does a congregation, who, 60 days before, had lost so much, find the strength to worship with such abandon? Is it cultural, psychological or mythological? Is it a means of survival or a way of denying reality? No, I’m convinced that it was genuine faith born of the experiential knowledge that when we’ve hit rock bottom, we discover that we’ve fallen into the loving arms of God. He has not and will not abandon us, regardless of our circumstances.
I went to Haiti, fearful that I would prove to be one of Job’s comforters, that I would encounter people, bitter and broken, rattling the heavens with whys and I would have nothing to offer them that could possibly touch their sorrows. I thought I’d need to find a way to encourage them in their faith. Instead, I discovered that God Himself was reason enough to celebrate. I joined them in praise of Him, finding joy in the rubble.
Susan Talbot is World Concern’s Gift-in-Kind Manager who distributed goods in Haiti in February 2010.