A reflection on the 10th anniversary of the Haiti Earthquake.
hen children of my generation prepared for their final primary exams they used to expect the following question: What happened on ________ (a particular date)? Such a question demands a lot from 11- and 12-year-olds.
Why are dates important? In part because memorable dates and places evoke our country’s rich history, heroic deeds and revolts led by slaves and former slaves during 100 years of French colonization (1697-1804). In part because today’s younger generation is so far removed from the reality of these important events in time and place. My home region in the north of Haiti has the richest history of the entire country: What does November 18, 1803, bring to your mind? [Battle of Vertières, the decisive defeat of French] What about August 14, 1791 [Great slave uprising]? Such dates and the imposing monuments erected in their honour – la Citadelle, the ruins of Palais Sans-Souci, the forts and fortresses – pique the interest of visitors as well as the pride of Haitians, reminding all of the historical events that have shaped our country.
Even given this rich history, one date in Haiti’s history takes precedence over all others: January 12, 2010. This date, and the monument erected in its memory at Titanyen (the northern entrance to Port-au-Prince), mark the day a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti. It’s the date the government rolled heavy equipment in to begin digging common graves for over 100,000 of the 230,000 who would ultimately succumb to the devastating natural disaster.
As pastor of First Baptist Church of Cap-Haïtien, I saw individuals and families destroyed by this earthquake. Myrgie Lucien, 21 years old, and Yvon Vérilus, 22, two young students in our church, were among the hundreds of victims who had just returned to university in Port-au-Prince. I can still picture Yvon singing in our church with the young mens’ group, “Spirit Stars,” only the day before. And Myrgie, my own daughter’s schoolmate for 14 years, greeted me warmly that Sunday: “Hi Pastor, I’m off to university until Easter vacation!” These two precious lives were among the bodies that were never found.
“… it is time to refocus our attention as a congregation to what we learned and how we benefited from what took place in just a few seconds on that fateful day.”
How do we as a congregation remember January 12, 2010? How does all of Haiti remember it? We remember the suffering, the regret. We remember how it assaulted our faith in God.
But 10 years later, even though emotional scars are still visible, it is time to refocus our attention as a congregation to what we learned and how we benefited from what took place in just a few seconds on that fateful day.
1. The first and most important blessing for our congregation has been a new spiritual openness and awareness. People, especially youth, have turned to God by the thousands. One might think that conversion under these circumstances could be driven by emotion and be superficial. However, 10 years later, the lives of a great number who witnessed the earthquake have changed for good.
2. We have witnessed a solidarity among believers from home and abroad. After the earthquake which caused some 230,000 deaths and displaced 1.6 million people from Port-au-Prince, cities like Cap-Haïtien saw an influx of thousands of homeless people fleeing the disaster. Food and lodging were scarce. Families from our church got involved with Urbanus-Cap,* generously and joyfully helping those coming out of Port-au-Prince. People in need received food and shelter, and also post-trauma support and counseling. Canadian staff from Christian Direction was particularly helpful in this area, training primary and secondary school teachers in post-trauma care, and meeting with many parents who lost loved ones in the earthquake.
On one anniversary of the 2010 earthquake, I shared a pulpit with the archbishop of the city’s Catholic cathedral. Previously such a collaboration would have been unthinkable. In January of this year all Christian denominations, and even the Vodou sect, joined for an ecumenical service of remembrance.