SharperFocus “We shall always be as brothers!”
By Victor Leslie, Lt. Colonel
There is something hypnotic about the undulating lines of the land. Our plane descends over the undisturbed, sleepy mountains and we arrive, mid-afternoon, in what is left of downtown Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. I watch the wind play with the coconut trees and tease the leaves of the lush vegetation. But I am transfixed by the sight of tons of broken-down concrete and debris in the remains of the airport. What contrast!
We load into our transport and I am awestruck as our vehicle carefully tiptoes through brightly clad pedestrians, resurrected cars, and overloaded “tap-taps” on their way to somewhere. Is this real? I get my answer as we swerve to avoid another sinkhole in what is supposed to be a road. The remains of symbols of wealth and power now provide a shadow for the rickety tent cities that still sprinkle the landscape. In the aftermath of the earthquake and in the face of constant monsoon rain, sanitation is abysmal and the horror of it, unspeakable. Huge numbers of faceless, nameless humans paddle through the mire to find food and favor, while others jostle and hustle in the soft humid air to eke out a livelihood. This is not a movie; this is not a game. This is Haiti!
The scene unraveling before my eyes presents a picture of the kind of sorrow, misery and unimaginable suffering that should be on prime-time news. Have we forgotten? We pull up beside a living symbol of Haiti’s great sorrow but undying hope. She is Haitian from the sole of her feet to the tip of her nose. Dressed in a bright purple blouse and a threadbare black skirt, she stands with her head bowed; only raising her eyes for a moment to glance at the strangers in the Jeep beside her. She smiles and then is busy, trying to separate the strands of assorted candy and fragments of merchandise and fresh produce that she is trying to sell in the rubble outside. She is a blossoming flower of restoration and recovery. Hope gives life!
One day turns into another. We reach The Salvation Army site. I find an atmosphere of expectation and joy. God is no stranger here! People have a firm belief in God and turn to him, like hungry baby birds, for sustenance and direction. In this world of uncertainty and unrestrained poverty, The Salvation Army is answering with more than staged relief acts of food and mercy. On this slippery ground of despair, fear, hopelessness and inevitable fate, we respond with an overflow of brotherly compassion and courageous action that brazenly defy all odds for the sake of humanity.
We are singing a new song with the people of Haiti. It is not the refrain of desolation and distress, which produces desperate people. It is a melody of spiritual freedom, social opportunity and brotherhood that resonates with their unbroken spirit and unwavering faith. This is genuine ministry straight from the heart of God. It seeks no reward or reimbursement or even recognition. In this partnership between the Army and the community, life is being stabilized and carefully nurtured in our incubator of human dignity and decency.
Haiti cuddles close to my heart. As the day now fades to dust and we leave this stable sanctuary of new beginnings, I admit it, “there’s a grief that can’t be spoken…there’s a pain goes on and on.” Nobody who has experienced this is untouched or unmoved. A voice sounds in the darkness, “You must get into the water to bathe!” I react to it and determine to do my part—to be a vehicle of grace; to help plant seeds of sustainable capacity. God whispers, “I tell you the truth, what you do to one of the least of these my brothers…you are doing it to me” (Matt. 25:40).
This journey of renewal and rebuilding will go on. “For our country, for our forefathers…let us toil joyfully. May the fields be fertile, and our souls take courage” (Haiti National Hymn).