“If it weren’t for the food from the US,” Pastor St Cyr commented matter-of-factly, “Haitians would have eaten Haitians.”
These words hit me hard in my well-fed stomach as a group of us sat just a few hundred yards from Tent City in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, listening to Pastor St Cyr recount the first minutes, hours, and days following the January 2010 earthquake that devastated the country. He spoke of trying to get wounded people to the hospital, only to discover a crumbled building. He talked about a visit from the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and he told us about the tremendous work of the US Army in the aftermath of the earthquake. He shared stories of the prayer meetings and times of worship to which thousands of Haitians flocked every day for months as they buried family and friends and struggled to survive in the midst of overwhelming suffering.
And he spoke again the common refrain by which he lives and breathes: “God loves us! We are not without hope!” One may wonder how these words, when heard in the context of intense grief, could possibly resonate with - even inspire - those who looked to this man for counsel and guidance. Another story from another country consumed my thoughts.
There was never a darker period in the history of the country.
Subject to a more powerful empire, the country’s king had been deposed and taken to the capital where he lived as a captive. The emperor placed the king’s uncle on the throne, and the country served the interests of the empire for a decade. And then the king rebelled against the emperor.
In 588 bc, Nebuchadnezzar, emperor of the Babylonian empire, brought his entire army against the city of Jerusalem where Zedekiah was king and laid siege to the city. After sixteen months, there was no food left for the people to eat. The Hebrew prophet Jeremiah was an eyewitness to the horrors of the siege and recorded these sights:
All her people groan as they search for bread; they barter their treasures for food to keep themselves alive. My priests and my elders perished in the city while they searched for food to keep themselves alive. My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within; my heart is poured out on the ground because my people are destroyed, because children and infants faint in the streets of the city. They say to their mothers, “Where is bread and wine?” as they faint like the wounded in the streets of the city, as their lives ebb away in their mothers’ arms. Young and old lie together in the dust of the streets; my young men and young women have fallen by the sword.
Jeremiah pleaded with and called the emaciated residents of Jerusalem to prayer:
As each night watch begins, get up and cry out in prayer. Pour your heart out face-to-face with the Master. Lift high your hands. Beg for the lives of your children who are starving to death out on the streets!
Beyond watching children starve to death in the streets, Jeremiah records this unimaginable atrocity.
Should women eat their offspring, the children they have cared for?
These were surely the darkest days in the history of Israel. And I hear the words of Pastor St Cyr sting my ears, “Haitians would have eaten Haitians.”
The people of Haiti must have a profound understanding of the siege of Jerusalem. Like Jerusalem, I am devastated by the scene and its ... non-humanness. “How could a parent ever ...?” I wonder as I look at the sweet faces of my three children.
I see myself in the middle of the rubble of the city, with smoke rising and people collapsing under the weight of emptiness, and I too fall to the ground, weeping horrible, suffocating tears. And then I hear the voice of Jeremiah rise above the deafening wails:
The Lord loves us very much. So we haven’t been completely destroyed. His loving concern never fails. His great love is new every morning. Lord, how faithful you are! I say to myself, “The Lord is everything I will ever need. So I will put my hope in him.”
This promise, this hope proclaimed by Jeremiah during the destruction of Jerusalem has been echoed by Pastor St Cyr passionately and regularly since the devastating earthquake in Haiti: “God loves us! We are not without hope!”
Though Haiti and her people face tremendous challenges in the days ahead, we were honored to meet and learn from Pastor St Cyr, a modern-day prophet who, like Jeremiah, boldly reminds us of God’s great love and enduring faithfulness. And as the pastor calls his people to complete dependence on and hope in God, we also answer the call and join the chorus, proclaiming, “God loves Haiti! They are not without hope!”
Notes: I was part of group that traveled to Haiti with Help One Now, a non-profit organization. You can learn more about Help One Now on Pure Charity, which is where I work. The story of the fall of Jerusalem is recorded several places in the Bible, including 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Jeremiah, and Lamentations. Direct quotations were taken from the New International Version, the New International Reader’s Version, and The Message.