We recently returned to Haiti from a trip to the US and it is sweet to be back “home.” Every time we make the trip, I notice many distinct, and obvious differences between the two worlds. And I try to process and reconcile the differences, wanting to understand the causes for them, and the problems they cause.

There are, of course, the general expected differences, that though seem simple, still amaze me. Basically, I am still blown away by the presence of common luxuries in the US—and how normal they feel to me—and by the lack of them in Haiti. These are things like stoplights, lined roads, sidewalks, public parks, garbage trucks, forests, trash cans, drinkable shower water, fast internet, good (or rather, any) sushi, clean air, good sanitation, fat pets, the idea of pets, working cars, no reconnaissance helicopters, free education, etc. And when trying to process the difference, I realize the privilege of American life, and the tough road along which Haitians walk. However, I think I am now used to being amazed, and saddened, by the disparity.

But this last time I was in the US, I found myself shocked—truly shocked—by something different. I realized that I had—in the course of a couple of weeks—completely forgotten about a part of life that is so evident in Haiti, and which should be in the US too: brokenness.

I was talking to a dear friend of mine, Ruben (see Ruben), who was in Haiti and was telling me how one of his friends had called because that friend’s daughter had just died of Cholera. She was 5. And his friend was broken. Thus so was Ruben. And then so was I. And it slammed me. I was sitting at a Starbucks, reading the newspaper, sipping an iced-pumpkin-spice-latte and felt shocked by pain. I was then stunned that I had forgotten so quickly, how truly broken this planet is. And this brokenness is present everyday on Earth. Everywhere.

In Haiti, stories of brokenness abound. In the US, brokenness abounds too, but I had fallen into a mode of forgetting about it. And yet we are born into a broken world, where sadness is real, pain pierces, and hearts hurt. Ignoring it doesn’t eliminate it, but avoiding makes it impossible empathize with anyone, and it makes me forget how needy I am too.

I think that regardless of how people handle it, everyone’s life is lived out of brokenness. And apart from grace, it is impossible to handle brokenness well. Still, in Haiti, it seems to be easier to see it as clear and present. Or maybe it is just harder to hide it here. But when I was in the US, I saw how easy it is to forget that life is broken, even though every American has a broken story too. Somehow, the comforts of seeing garbage trucks, drinking shower water and walking fat pets seem to make me forget about how broken the world we live in is.

I am acutely aware of my tendency to avoid pain and brokenness. I saw this past week how quickly I do that. And I hope to learn to embrace brokenness, and to live out of that. Because I believe that when we do, true hope, deep joy, and real life become all the more precious and sweet.

Last Sunday was surreal. I (Jay) was sitting in our room working on a proposal, and Jeremy called my name, saying, “we gotta go, there has been a wreck.” If you haven’t read about it, read Jeremy’s account here: When in Haiti. I was not a part of the initial receiving team because there were about 5 injured people on the first tap-tap, and we had about 10 staff people receiving them. I do not handle blood, injury, pain, or trauma well, so I did not jump right in. But then more and more injured people flooded in (about 30 in all), and God sustained me as we spent the next 4 hours treating severely wounded human beings. 

But I was really sad after all of it, and didn’t really sleep that night. It took me about 6 hours for the adrenaline to wear off, and fortunately everyone lived. But my heart kept reliving the mayhem of the day, and it triggered stinging memories of the earthquake. The influx of pumping adrenaline from seeing injuries no human should have to experience brought back many, many memories. The sense of hopelessness in someone’s eyes when they think they are about to die was exactly the same last Sunday as it was after the earthquake. I will never forget that look. 

Last Sunday night I struggled to sleep as I replayed the day’s events with 30 traumatically injured people, and I contemplated how the earthquake on January 12 created that feeling of trauma for at least 10,000 times more people. But that day they had no hospital to go to as those buildings had collapsed. There was no medical treatment for loved ones as their fathers, daughters, mothers, sons, brothers, and sisters held the injured and dying. And the thought of such hopelessness made me want to cry last Sunday, and I sit here wanting to cry again. 

But I still have hope for these people and this country. I know Jesus came to bring redemption to this broken world. And this world is very, very broken. The sadness is real. But so is the hope. We see people hope every day, when orphans laugh or amputees walk, when sick babies receive medicine or school children are given a meal. We see many Haitians that have hope for tomorrow, sometimes for the first time in a very long time, or ever. And it gives us hope for them too.
Friday afternoon, we flew back into a different Haiti than I (Jay) have ever seen before. It is hard to explain, because so much of it is still so similar to the pre-quake Haiti. For example, the smells are the exact same – still some striking combination of burning trash, deserted land, and human survival – and these smells still immediately remind me that I am standing in a real place.

But so much has changed.

There are now tents. Everywhere. From the air, I could spot countless tent cities. On the ground, they seem to go on forever. Some people have tarps. Some have a Coleman camping tent. Some tents have a giant Red Cross emblem on them. But thousands upon thousands of them are made of cardboard and bedsheets. And driving by them, we all ask the question aloud, “how do people fit in there?” Some of the tents cover only maybe 4 square feet of earth, providing maybe one person with 50% body coverage at night. The tents are a sight that I had no way of preparing for. I had seen them on the news, but I realized I couldn’t grasp the numbers when my eyes and heart tried to process them. There are even about 90 church members still sleeping in Taiwanese Red Cross tents (Thanks Taiwan!) in our yard. They are nice tents. But they are a constant reminder of the hundreds of thousands of people living under a bedsheet.

The roads have also changed. There is now rubble piled up at frequent intervals, causing traffic back up and long travel times to grow even longer. I have noticed more military/UN/police vehicles on the road. And there are new cities that have popped up along the road in previously abandoned land, where tents now cover certain patches of barren hillsides. We don’t sense any danger, and the military presence here is vast, but we do see decades and decades of restoration that are needed.

My heart has changed as well. I knew my heart would never be the same after we survived the earthquake. But I am reminded of that fact being back here. This country of Haiti, which was broken before, is now filled with a spirit of despair and haunting acceptance of such despair. It breaks me, and I see even more the need for God to bring healing to this country, and to my own heart as well. I feel burdened by the despair around me. I feel incapable of changing it. I see how it penetrates the very core of Haitian life. I see how my broken heart is not too different than the broken hearts of Haitians. And I am again freshly grateful that Jesus came to bring healing, hope, and redemption to this undeniably broken world. He is my only hope. He is Haiti’s only hope.