(Note: Fuller Center communications specialist Leah Gernetzke is accompanying a work team in Haiti to document their journey. She is sending blog entries when she can get internet access.)
We awoke at dawn this morning to roosters crowing and horns honking. This island is anything but sleepy. Rising early is a way of life here, and Sundays are no exception. After getting ready, eating breakfast, and getting in the van we joined the crowds of people attending church, which seems to be one of Haiti’s lifelines, based purely on my own observations – for one thing, a myriad of signs all over the city of Port-au-Prince read "Merci Jesus." There are Merci Jesus car washes, barber shops, taxis, auto shops and pretty much everything else. There’s no doubt about the people’s religious devotion.
Obviously church is no exception. Upon arriving here today, smiling young girls in immaculate white dresses sat outside the gate, the sun slanting in perfect triangles across their faces. Inside, throngs of well-dressed Haitians and a few missionaries gathered to worship beneath an open structure loosely covered with a canopy of material covered with “U.S. AID: From the American People” stamps.
The pastor at the church, Tabernacle of Grace, is Johnny Jeune’s father, Joel Jeune, the founder of our partner organization Grace International. This morning he had an interesting sermon about the importance of working for ones money, and of not accepting handouts. God’s blessings fall on those who earn it, he said. The people wear expressions of strength, faith and hope while he’s speaking.
Considering church is where Haitian people gather spiritual sustenance for the week, Jeune’s job to motivate, inspire and nurture people is one that can’t be underestimated or overlooked.
Our group was also warmly welcomed there, and invited to the front to speak. Watch a video of that experience below (my apologies, as this is an un-edited version):
After church, we walked through Grace International’s boys home (orphanage). A wide-eyed boy named Caleb attached himself to my leg and I nearly took him home. But we’ll be coming back here again before the week is through.
Next we paid a visit to Grace International’s housing facilities in Carrefour. The rooms had concrete floors and were sparse but clean, decorated only by draping, multi-colored mosquito nets. The surrounding property was lush and the weather felt lovely when gazing out from the second-story windows, but just a few miles down is a sprawling tent city that houses 12,000 families.
We climbed out of our afternoon reverie from the second story to the tent city below. I asked the security guards if I could take photos, and they nodded their heads in approval. We walked through and children with runny noses and eyes cling to us, all over us, and with eyes that implore but they don’t beg. The smell of burning trash seems to hang in the air more here, and the heat is more intense. Shacks and tents without floors or windows cram up against each other. Flies buzz incessantly. Pregnant women, their bellies swollen beneath their dresses, walk through the camp, and I wonder what it would be like to have to bear new life into this environment.
We meet two of the Fuller Center homeowner families for whom we’ll be building homes – Fito and Carlene and their three kids, as well as Delvard JnBaptiste and his four kids. They’re not accustomed to having their pictures taken, but comply when I ask to take their photo and stand rigidly in front of the house. I ask some questions through a translator. They are reserved and polite, and their answers succinct.
To walk through this tent camp was to shake hands with poverty, to smell it and feel it coat your skin, your nostrils and eyeballs like a thin layer of dust. To shake hands with it is enough for any human being, but to know it intimately, to have it camp among your family like an unwelcome houseguest is quite another.
We can simply exit the camp and go to the hotel, to air-conditioning and full meals. But what would it be like to have no separation from these conditions, to have no exit in sight?