Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? – James 2:5 (NIV)
I spent last week in Haiti on a short term mission trip. I was part of a delegation of from the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Society. Lott Carey is partnering with Grace International in Haiti on a project called “100 Men 10 homes.” As the project title suggests, the goal is for 100 men to partner with local Haitians to build 10 homes over the course of a year. The community being created is called the Lambi Sustainable Village located in Carrefour, Haiti.
Since I’ve returned from Haiti, people have asked me to describe my experience there. Honestly, I’m still attempting to process it all. I haven’t yet developed a short concise “elevator speech” to describe the sights, sounds, smells, emotions and experiences I took in. When returning home from a trip one must unpack his or her suitcase and this post along with the next several will serve to help me emotionally unpack.
Anyone who is even remotely familiar with Haiti has likely heard some of the following sobering statistics describing the country:
- Ranked 145 of 182 countries in the 2010 United Nations Human Development Index. Haiti has long been described as the “poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere” even before the devastating 2010 earthquake.
- At least 220,000 people lost their lives including at estimated 25% of government officials in the earthquake.
- The formal unemployment rate is 40.6% (2010 est.) with widespread unemployment and underemployment. More than two-thirds of the labor force do not have formal jobs. Note: While in country I heard informal estimates of unemployment rates being significantly higher at 90%.
- Eighty percent of the population lives under the poverty line with and 54% living in abject poverty.
- Life expectancy is 62.2 years
My short and limited exposure to the country supports the above statistics, but stats never tell the entire story. Instead of focusing on the darkness the above stats convey, I would prefer to focus on the shafts of lights piercing the darkness.
In Haiti, I encountered people who embodied James 2:5; poor as measured by material possessions but rich in faith. This faith is on tangible display in Haitian building practices. I saw many building with exposed rebar, short for reinforcing bar, that is used to strengthen concrete. My first incorrect assumption was that this rebar was the result of earthquake damage. While that was true in some cases, in most cases it was not. Building projects in Haiti are always a work in progress. Haitians build whatever they can afford at the time. They do not cut off the rebar, but rather leave it exposed with the faith and hope of expanding the current structure. It is easier to build another story onto a building for example by tying the new rebar onto the already exposed rebar.
I initially saw the exposed rebar as aesthetically ugly. For me it brought back memories of the damaged remains of the World Trade Center after 9/11. However once I understood the rebar’s purpose, I came to see it in a new light. I now see these carbon steel bars pointing upward to a way of a brighter, richer future for the people of Haiti.
I also see the exposed rebar as symbolic of the Christian sanctification process. As believers on this earth, we remain a work in progress. However when we move from sanctification to glorification, the master builder’s work will be complete.
Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus – Phil. 1:6 (NIV).