Mourning into Praise, Reflections on Haiti
This weekend marks eight years since I was in Haiti following the devastating earthquake that destroyed so much of that country. Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, and that event took the country from bad to worse. My journey to Haiti was an unusual one with many twists and turns. It started years prior when I spoke at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation Conference on the topic of responding to crisis. Three years later the earthquake hits and I get a phone call from one of the pastors at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, Mike Wilkerson. Mike attended my presentation and asked if they could fly me out to their church for a series of meetings with Churches Helping Churches to organize a team to go to Haiti to assist the churches and pastors.
So I was off to Seattle to share my insights on helping people recover from Post-Traumatic Stress. As we discussed who should be a part of the go team to travel to Haiti, all eyes turned to me when Mike said, “We need an experienced leader who can help these pastors learn how to deal with the trauma of this earthquake. Paul, we need you.” Now I’m a guy who likes my creature comforts, my idea of “roughing it” is the Holiday Inn. The thought of dealing with a 10-day trip to earthquake ravaged Haiti was not my idea of fun. How little did I know how petty my concerns would turn out to be. On the flight back to Philadelphia, God tugged on my heart that it was His will for me to go. The words of Joshua 1 came to mind at 30,000 feet, “Do not be frightened, do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
So a few weeks later it was off to Haiti and our base of ministry at the STEP Seminary in the capital of Port-au-Prince. Leaving the airport was like stepping into a war zone. Words cannot describe the devastation, roads that were practically impassable, buildings turned to rubble, trash everywhere, tent “cities” set up by relief agencies to provide emergency housing, military members from various nations sent to keep order, it was a cacophony of sights and sounds.
My job was to teach on the topic of Post-Traumatic Stress and help the pastors and ministry leaders who assembled learn how to deal with it in their own lives, and then take what they learned back to their churches for their congregations. As we gathered for our first meeting, two things stand out for me. The nervousness if felt as aftershocks rumbled, and the incredible singing of these men and women as we started the meeting. They sang in Creole and we sang in English to the hymns and choruses we recognized by the melody. Here are people who lost just about everything singing praises to God. Incredible!
One of the pastors, Jean Paul, had travelled many miles to come. His wife and two of his three children were killed in the earthquake when their house collapsed and crushed them to death. His church building was also demolished and for days he was seen walking between his home and his church crying out to God in despair. And here he is singing “It Is Well With My Soul.” I will never forget the resilient faith of these believers. I stood there trying hold back my tears as we sang, these men and women singing in a way I have rarely experienced. The Spirit of God was present in that room! I came to teach and these people are teaching me what it means to trust God! Here are people who have lost so much praising God for His love and faithfulness. Truly God was at work to do a work of spiritual restoration in the hearts and lives of all of us, leaders and attendees. God was turning their mourning into a deeper joy in Him. As a result of our time together, we all saw the truth of Jesus’ promise, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”