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Apocalypse Now – Life and Theology in Haiti

24 hours into my second trip to Haiti and I started crafting this phrase:

Theology and culture always co-mingle. You just hope that theology and culture never conspire against the goals of the church.

In America: Theology and culture conspire to destroy the church through our belief in the American Dream and pursuit of happiness.

In Haiti: Theology and culture conspire to over-spiritualize everything.

At least that’s my opinion after my second visit. The first go-round, I was doing my best to look past all of that so I could focus on evaluating the needs of the people. But this time, it became clear to me that the desire to blame everything on the spiritual world was seriously hampering rebuilding.

God may have been in the earthquake. But there were certainly human factors at play as well.

Walking around Carrefour, the epicenter of the January 12th quake, is like a scene out of a movie. Not the beginning and fun parts. And not even after the credits roll. It’s like that sense of curiosity you have when you watch a movie like I Am Legend. What would happen if people re-inhabited the set? That’s the feeling you get walking around the effected areas. You are on the set of a movie about the end of the world.

The world has ended.These are the words of some church leaders. Most Christians in Haiti seem to believe that January 12th was the beginning of the tribulation. And who can blame them? On a single day half the cities people became homeless. Almost 10% of the cities population was killed. Countless homes, business, churches, and government buildings either collapsed or were severely damaged. If this isn’t tribulation than the real tribulation is truly something unimagineable.

Last week I documented some signs of hope in Haiti. This time I wanted to be fair and share some signs of despair. (And evidence that you need to be involved!)

  • Some rebuilding has begun. But with no building codes, horrible materials, and skilled labor lacking… people are just making the same mistakes that lead to so many deaths. It’s easy to blame God, but one major contributor was faulty construction practices.
  • Billions of dollars in foreign aid will be distributed mostly to wealthy oppressors. Joel spoke with a Spaniard on his way out of Haiti. He had been in the country for 3 years and is leaving because he can’t handle the corruption anymore. “Want to know where all the aid is going? The Haitians the NGOs are hiring are selling it out of the back door.” Enough money has been given to Haiti to completely level and rebuild Port-au-Prince. Unless people intervene all of that money will be squandered away bit by bit. Sorry if that’s shocking to you.
  • While there are thousands of NGOs on the ground, very few have camp managers like Sean Penn. Like it or lump it, each camp needs a foreigner who will go to the various NGOs and leverage social currency selflessly on behalf of people. Spiritual needs are great to meet. But there are still plenty of physical needs unmet too. A camp manager who checks in 1-2 times per week isn’t going to cut it. It takes people who make running the camp their life mission to make things happen.
  • The earthquake shook the people, but a culture of dependency is hard to loosen. Americans have a “fix-it” mentality. It’s in our cultural DNA and we exhibit it everywhere we go in the world. As the recipient of generations of this, Haiti (and other places in the world like Haiti) have a “foreigners fix-it” mentality. Our cab driver in Ft. Lauderdale was the perfect example. His wife is a doctor in Haiti and he sends home money to support her. When I asked him when he would move back to his country he told me, “I will move back when I find a white man willing to partner with me on my water and ice business.” When I told him that, in my opinion, the only hope from Haiti was if the Haitian people lead themselves and stopped depending on outsiders… he just laughed. “I wish that same thing, but the Haitian people just like to buy and be given things by white people. It means it is a better gift or business than a Haitian can create.”
  • The government of Haiti is dragging its feet. A major problem facing rebuilding efforts are the myriad of 18th century property laws that govern ownership. You need a permit to remove rubble. And if you are renting you need to get the owners permission. The owner might live in another country, and he may only have a share of the ownership with dozens of cousins. And, of course, to prove you own the land you need to go to a government building which collapsed. Round and round you go. Months go by and nothing gets done. Unless you pay a bribe, that is.

Is there hope for Haiti? Obviously. I believe to the core of my being that Jesus brings renewal of the soul and the land. While this is an incredible time of spiritual revival in Haiti it is also the greatest opportunity in our lifetime for Christians to get involved at the grassroots levels and help root out corruption and see the best interests of the people served.

If not you than who? Want to change the world? Think you are crazy enough?

Step one.

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5 Responses to Apocalypse Now – Life and Theology in Haiti

  1. Bruce Dawson August 2, 2010 at 4:35 am #

    Adam,

    Great Blog. You captured in word pictures what which is hard to imagine without going there. It really is like a movie set, one where even when seeing it, you can’t imagine what it was like as it happened. The problem is so enormous and complex. And the most frustrating part is that what is left of the government is still working against itself. Then caught in the middle is a wonderful, loving, people group that has never really had a fair chance.

  2. adam mclane August 2, 2010 at 6:36 am #

    @bruce- last night, Erin and I visited a Haitian church here in San Diego. Not surprisingly, they bent over backwards to show love to us. (Including giving us a translator, who was amazing!) After church they asked us a lot of questions about our trip to Haiti, told us how their church is involved in helping, and seemed quite interested in Church to Church. I’m setting up a time to talk to the pastor of their mother church this week… I’ll keep you in the loop.

    In other news, the teenagers asked Erin if she’d call in to their radio show tonight! I think they would like to pick her brain about her trip, her impressions, and how Americans can get involved. Too cool.

  3. Evan Dawson August 2, 2010 at 9:46 am #

    Adam,

    Thank you for once again articulating what the rest of us are yelling on the inside. The section, “The earthquake shook the people, but a culture of dependency is hard to loosen”, hits on what’s been eating at me through third world travel. There needs to be some sort of generational paradigm shift in the minds of many ‘takers’, which unfortunately, may take generations to accomplish. Using the church to skew that dependent mentality seems like a win-win strategy. Looking forward to your next post…

    ps- not sure about that Bruce guy you got stalking your blog ;-)

  4. adam mclane August 2, 2010 at 9:52 am #

    @evan- not too sure about Bruce either. Something crazy about a guy whose goal is to change an entire culture of how church is done in a nation.

  5. Steve Hill August 3, 2010 at 7:25 am #

    I think a lot of westerners have a fix-it-now mentality, however my own experience in Haiti has taught me that Haitians have neither a fix-it-now mentality nor a let-foreigners-fix-it mentality. Maintenance just isn’t ingrained in Haiti’s social fabric. They don’t take their cars to mechanics for routine oil changes like we do. They don’t tighten up the bolts on a piece of equipment like we do. I think that’s because there is no long term outlook it Haiti; it’s just day-to-day survival. Poverty has forced everything to revolve around instant gratification That mentality, in my opinion, will need to change before the rebuilding efforts are to really change the living standards in Haiti. Needless to say I think this is a great post. Good job!

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