Home > Our World > News > News Archives by Date > 2010 > January 2010 > News - January 2010
Haitian challenge: Remember history, look forward


United Methodists helped build this medical clinic shown in 1976
in Jeremie, Haiti. A UMNS Photo by John Goodwin.

A UMNS Report
By Kelly C. Martini*

Jan. 20, 2010

Haiti, long an outpost for United Methodist mission and relief workers, looks toward the denomination for guideposts toward rebirth.

 
A pediatrician examines a patient at a clinic in 1980.  A UMNS Photo courtesy of the General Commission on Archives and History.

And it won’t be easy. Now, in addition to continuing the long-standing mission of helping relieve the suffering spurred by historical poverty and official neglect, the denomination must help the country rise again once the bottom has been reached on this epochal human crisis.

“We’re talking about a country who will be starting from ground zero,’’ says Harvey Dupiton, a member of the United Nations Association of Haiti.

Dupiton, a Haitian, points out that for many years non-governmental organizations have worked with The United Methodist Church in efforts to assist the poorest land in the Western Hemisphere.

But the Jan. 12 earthquake increases the needs dramatically. Not only is aid needed in dealing with immediate human suffering, but also in helping rebuild the infrastructure and the spirit of the country and its residents.

Preparing to rebuild

Preparation for rebirth needs to begin even as the focus is on recovery of bodies and triage of the wounded, denominational leaders agree.

Neal Christie, staff executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, is familiar with the plight of the island nation and has held seminars that included putting a focus on peace and justice for Haitians.

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“In the midst of devastation, we’ve got to look forward at what we will do with the mercy ministries and the time to rebuild. What commitment will we make to a country that’s been devastated by foreign policies and corporations? We have a history we need to be accountable for, and in a way, we’ve allowed Haiti to be underdeveloped,” Christie says.

The longer it takes to move toward a rebuilding stage, the worse the situation could get. Already there have been reports of gunplay and looting as nerves fray and the death toll climbs.

“There will be chaos in a couple months as we try to rebuild,” Dupiton says. “We want to mobilize now to look beyond relief.”

Dupiton says the role of United Methodists should include working with the Haitians to build homes and shelters as well as to help revive commerce, hospitals, health care and schools.

Methodists, Haiti have long history

The United Methodist Church’s outreach toward Haiti dates back almost two centuries, and sometimes has run counter to policies of the United States government and business interests.

The denomination began work in Haiti in 1817, following an invitation from the ruler, Alexandre Pétion.

A slave uprising created the world’s first black republic and the second republic of the Western Hemisphere. It was a land of hope for slaves, but seen by some countries practicing slavery, including the United States, as something of a threat.

The Haitian Methodist Church is the oldest Protestant church in the country.


Workers help build a clinic in Jeremie.
A UMNS Photo courtesy of the General Commission on Archives and History.

 

The Haitian government worked with United Methodists to establish churches, colleges, schools, clinics and programs. Nouveau College Bird School was established in 1817.

Until the quake, the school provided a variety of training and services to more than 200,000 people annually. Now, College Bird students look for peers online and in the debris. The school’s Facebook page is filled with inquiries and responses about students and instructors as well as notes about people who are needed to return to Haiti.

The country’s political climate, peppered by coups and the reigns of dictators, has been unstable. And companies from the United States and elsewhere tapped into cheap labor. The church advocated against child labor and sweatshops.

The church also is involved in the effort to help the children of Haiti, thanks to International Child Care’s programs there. ICC’s flagship, Grace Children’s Hospital, was founded by Jim and Virginia Snavley in 1967 after they were appalled to find children dying from tuberculosis and malnutrition.

Whatever the circumstances, United Methodists have been involved in helping the people.

For example, during a U.S. embargo from 2000 to 2004, the denomination partnered with Haitian Methodists to help establish hot-meal programs in schools and other projects that helped those who were trapped in the middle because of the political strife.

But the need now is the greatest ever. Denominational and conference leaders already are plotting a strategy for helping in the nation’s struggle back from what Dupiton terms “ground zero,” even as mass graves continue to be filled with bodies scooped from the streets of Port-au-Prince.

*Martini is a freelance writer based in Glen Mills, Pa.

News media contact: Joey Butler, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

slideshow

Photos from team in Haiti

Related Articles

Worshippers remember Haiti in prayer, song, gifts

Hope in God supplants grief in Haitian congregation

United Methodist giving tops $1 million for Haiti

Jim Winkler on Haiti’s history

Resources

Earthquake in Haiti: The Church Responds

God, Why? Small Group Study

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