I first encountered Haiti through Francois Vilmenay, a fellow student and graduate of Denver Seminary born and raised in Haiti. François was eager to tell anyone that he had been a communist dedicated to violent revolution, an armed but marked man on government death lists until Christ intervened. “Instead of working with a gun in my hand, I want to keep my eyes on Jesus as I proclaim the message of the Bible” was the witness of his life. After graduation he returned to Haiti to engage in mission work training pastors, evangelism and community development with what was called at that time “The Christian Center for Integrated Development.” We corresponded by mail a few times but sadly he died all too soon in 1996 from cancer. Originally, I had written him because my own thinking was changing and developing about how affluent Western Christians create a false dichotomy (and distortion) between the spiritual and the physical transformation the Gospel promises. I was also disturbed by the US government’s (CIA) active subversion of the Aristide presidency that resulted in the 1991 coup by the military.
Obviously, things have only gotten worse in Haiti even before the earthquake. US policy towards Haiti has rarely been effective and often outright destructive and undermining of establishing economic or democratic change, settling merely to prop up or coddle military rulers, from the Marine occupation in 1915 to the Duvaliers and present generals who have done little to help their own people. Yet, typical asinine comments from Pat Robertson, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Riley blaming the victims and offering excuses about why not to help Haiti have filled the airways. While we must ignore the callous and the stupid, before our media focus turns inward to cover the Super Bowl and Winter Olympics or the next political smack down, there are many dedicated, faithful organizations and agencies bringing needed help to Haiti with years of ongoing work. I hope to go be a part over the next year. There is an opportunity that with the ongoing efforts of Christians here and there and better US policy and international support, true change can happen and Haiti will no longer be what Francois sadly termed “a beggar nation” – that was his goal, to see the gospel bring true transformation to people, communities and nations.