I took this picture of one of the many beautiful flowers I saw on my second trip to Haiti. I share below how I learned to look for the flowers. 

January 15, 2015

This week, folks have been remembering the earthquake in Haiti five years ago and some responses to the crisis situation the Haitian people have faced since. The traumatic and painful events of January 12, 2010 are too many to recount. Days led to weeks and, eventually, to months of national media coverage and focused attention from around the world on Haiti, the epitome of a place of desperation and despair in the Western Hemisphere.  

Through the work of Family Health Ministries (FHM), the Duke Chapel community had already been connected to the people of Haiti for years prior to the earthquake. In fact, a group composed of members from the Congregation at Duke Chapel and the broader Chapel community had a trip planned for June 2010 when the earthquake struck. Because of this relationship, the Chapel community raised over $100,000 for FHM and its work in Haiti. So it is no wonder the Chapel decided to have a service at the time of the five-year anniversary of the quake. 

I count it as some of my greatest blessings in ministry to have been able to travel with the broader Chapel community to Haiti twice in the last five years—the first time on a medical mission trip in June 2010 and the second time to dedicate FHM’s “Nancy Ferree-Clark Guest House” in Leogane. This week of remembrance has me reflecting again on my visits to Haiti and the lessons I learned from people along the way.

Two words come to mind: hope and joy. 

HOPE. During my first trip to Haiti, only 5 months after the earthquake, I could barely see anything but the devastation that surrounded me. Yet the stories of the Haitian people’s resilience in the midst of pain and loss inspired me. Many of the people I encountered were hope-filled in a way that even on my best days I can’t claim to be. The stories the Haitians continuously told us were about God’s blessing, providence, and nearness. They spoke as if their survival truly depended on God. Being in Haiti after the earthquake made it seem like their survival actually did. And because they trusted God, they were full of hope.

JOY. A second thing that was striking to me about visiting Haiti was not about the Haitians I met but about the folks from the US with whom I traveled. A few of my companions were not visiting for the first time, so as they traveled they saw Haiti with different eyes than I did. I recognized this difference most when we returned from the trip and shared pictures with each other. My pictures showed the devastation that seemed to be everywhere I looked. Destroyed buildings, rubble piled high, tent cities, an altar standing as the only remaining fragment of a former Episcopal church… my pictures. Their pictures told another story. Brilliant flowers in full bloom, bucolic mountain scenery, scenic oceanic outlooks… their pictures: beauty and hope and joy all around. 

The strange thing is, the people who saw the beauty knew what Haiti had been prior to the earthquake. They knew how great the damage to the businesses, homes, places of worship, and buildings of all kinds truly was. They should have been the ones to see destruction and loss. Instead, they were the ones who, in times past, had learned how to see beauty in a place that all along had desperation, suffering, and need. These people had learned the disciplines of hope and joy from being with Haitian sisters and brothers who had already learned to be hopeful and joyful in good times and bad long before the pain and loss of the earthquake. 

What I’ve come to realize over the past few days is that both hope and joy require a kind of seeing that is both disciplined and learned. And the disciplines of joy and hope require companions who can guide novices in the ways of seeing and imagining that lead to joy and hope. Or, less technically and more personally, to experience hope and joy even where there was dramatic pain, I had to be taught how to notice the flowers.

By Bruce Puckett, Director of Community Ministry, Duke Chapel

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