Obstacle after obstacle
A simple prayer for a complicated Haiti
If you ever wade into the ocean off the shores north of Port-au-Prince, you might forget you’re in the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. The water is calm and clear and turquoise, and on the right day, you can scoop up bright white sand dollars from the ocean floor.
Turn around and it’s still beautiful—with mountains rising in the distance, evoking a Haitian proverb spoken in Creole: “Dèyè mòn gen mòn.” It roughly translates: “Beyond mountains there are mountains.” It roughly means: After one set of obstacles, there’s always another.
No doubt, millions of Haitians feel surrounded by mountains of obstacles after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on July 7. The murder came after at least three years of political unrest involving the controversial leader and after decades of often-violent turmoil in the Caribbean nation.
A missionary contact wrote an email the day after the assassination, saying it was hard to see a way out of the political crisis and increasing insecurity: “Thankful we can pray.”
Alerts about the increasing insecurity from Haitian pastors have landed in my inbox for the last couple of years. They spoke of the political turmoil and national problems, but often ended with simple requests: Pray the road will be safe enough to walk to church on Sunday. Even when periods passed without serious trouble, beyond mountains there were mountains.
Nearly a year ago, a beloved Presbyterian pastor was gunned down on his way to grab more books for a class he was teaching. The Haitian minister had been involved in work with orphans, a school, a medical clinic, and training pastors to serve local churches for some 17 years.
Last year also marked the 10th anniversary of the massive 2010 earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas. The quake launched a massive international relief effort that helped short-term needs but fell far short of spurring lasting change.
Associated Press journalist Jonathan Katz, on site during and after the quake, wrote a 2013 book with a blunt title: The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came To Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster.
As U.S. officials contemplate how to aid Haiti during its current crisis, past failures offer as many questions as answers for effective ways to approach what seems like an intractable problem on a continual loop.
Perhaps Christians can start with something simple: Next Sunday, while you’re driving to morning worship, pray that the roads in Haiti will be safe enough for your brothers and sisters to walk to church.
It’s what many missionaries and pastors in Haiti want most: healthy, vibrant local churches full of men, women, and children growing in the Lord and bringing good to their families and communities, whatever the current crisis swirling around them.
It takes tremendous perseverance, but Haitians know about that too. A little more than a week after the 2010 earthquake, I stood in a makeshift clinic in a church near Port-au-Prince during a Sunday morning service. Blood still stained the concrete floor. I watched men and women who had undergone hasty amputations of legs and arms just days earlier raise partial limbs in praise during worship.
Beyond mountains there are mountains, but one Haitian pastor began an update on the most recent chaos with a different reminder about the mountains he can see rising in the distance: “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people, from this time forth and forevermore.”