Suffering and Rejoicing in a Haitian Tent Camp
My job affords me the opportunity to worship in unconventional churches. On one extreme, there are ornate cathedrals with soaring archways and marble statues.
One Sunday in December, I experienced the other extreme at the Eglise de Dieu Nouvelle Alliance de Corail church in the Corail camp in Port-au-Prince, Haiti: a tent made from white tarps and ducttape, pitched in the midst of a sprawling camp for thousands of people still homeless nearly 11 months after the devastating earthquake.
The irony is that the truth I learned in this humble church in Haiti far exceeds anything I've learned in a stunning, historically significant cathedral.
In the front row sat six amputees ranging in age from 6 to 60. They were clapping and smiling as they sang song after song and lifted their prayers to God. The worship was full of hope, full of courage,and overflowing with thanksgiving to the Lord.
No one was singing louder or praying more fervently than Demosi Louphine, a 32-year-old unemployed single mother of two. During the earthquake, a collapsed building crushed her right arm and left leg.
Four days later—with no medical care—both limbs had to be amputated.
She was leading the choir, leading prayers, standing on her prosthesis and lifting her one hand high in praise to God. Demosi is a model of courage, strength, and dignity for her neighbors, who believe that if she can persevere, surely they can cope with their own losses, most of them less grave than hers.
Following the service, I met Demosi's two daughters, ages eight and ten. The three of them now live in a tent five feet tall and perhaps eight feet wide.
We talked at length, and I sought to understand her source of strength. Despite losing her job, her home, and two limbs, she is deeply grateful because God spared her life on January 12th last year. More than 230,000 others were not spared.
"He brought me back like Lazarus, giving me the gift of life," says Demosi, whose broad smile and wide, engaging eyes are accented by thick, curly, corn-rowed hair.
She soon will have a new prosthetic arm, as well as a small temporary home constructed by World Vision in her camp. A job in the community market also may soon be forthcoming.
Demosi believes she survived the devastating quake for two reasons: to raise her girls and to serve her Lord for a few more years.
It makes no sense to me as an "entitled American" who grouses at the smallest inconveniences—a clogged drain or a slow wi-fi connection in my home. Yet here in this place, many people who had lost everything—and now are fearful of contracting cholera—expressed nothing but praise.
Peter's first letter helps me get a handle on this. "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Pet. 1:5-7).
Part of the mystery of our faith is the role that suffering plays in drawing us closer to God. None of us seeks this suffering, but for those who do suffer with faith in Christ, surely he meets them in the deep places of faith, providing some supernatural source of courage and strength—and perhaps understanding.
I find my own sense of charity for people like Demosi inadequate. They have so much more to offer me than I to them. I feel pity and sadness for them, but it is they who might better pity me for the shallowness of my own walk with Christ.