The United States is overflowing with pity as it watches the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere suffer the aftermath of a catastrophic earthquake.
A massive earthquake, measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale, ransacked Haiti on Jan. 12, leaving the world speechless.
The media flashes images of Haiti’s plight constantly: Children lying in rubble next to their dead parents. Bodies, dead and alive, are being dragged from rubble after days of waiting in the darkness.
The world knows that it has to respond but it cannot find efficient ways to deliver relief because Port-au-Prince has been completely obliterated. The Jacmel airport cannot welcome planes into the country because it has also been destroyed.
Eastern shares the global upsurge of concern for the lives of Haitians, and fortunately the University is well positioned to take action.
Andy Horvath, director of service learning and campus ministries, helps to organize teams of students to go on missions trips to different countries every January. For the past four years, the groups have been sent to Haiti. Horvath expressed that immediate response to the current catastrophe is important, but that long-term responses are also necessary.
“We’re called to go where they’re suffering and come alongside of them,” Horvath said.
Right now, Haiti is mostly in need of fiscal and medical attention, but in the future it will need what Eastern can send: loving students who are ready to listen and build relationships. Beyond Borders, the organization that sends EU students to Haiti, will decide when it is possible to send the next group.
Bret Kincaid, a political science professor, has gone to Haiti over the past two winter breaks with the Eastern missions team. On Jan. 1, he left for Haiti with a group of eight students and returned to the United States on Jan. 9–only four days before the impoverished and ill-fated country was shaken and broken at its foundations.
Kincaid believes that Haitians are very misunderstood. Half of the nation practices Vodou (very different from Hollywood’s perception and more like the practice of charismatic Christianity), but “they are people of faith,” Kincaid said.
“They are very religious people,” he said, even though they are much different from us.
The team did not go to Haiti to convert people to Christianity, but rather its “primary goal was listening, learning, and loving,” Kincaid said. “We tried to step into the shoes of the Haitians.”
Some people might assume that building relationships during a mission trip is difficult, but that is certainly not the case in Haiti.
“It’s a very relational culture,” Kincaid said. “Every single person you see, you have to acknowledge.”
According to Kincaid, Haitians consider it an insult if a stranger passes by without acknowledging their existence. While Christianity in the U.S. is very personal and private, Haitians believe that the most important aspect of their faith is community.
It is for that very reason that Haiti will survive. The world looks on doubtfully, holding no hope for the already desperate people, kicked while they were down. But, even in this time of hardship, those with faith are clinging to God’s promises, rejoicing in what redemption they have.
“General disasters bring out extremes,” Horvath said. He compared the reaction from faithful Haitians to a “Job-like response,” and he said it is surprising how soon they realized that “God is faithful, even in the midst of horrific circumstance.