Some of you may have seen an article last week about Haiti that ran in several Florida newspapers. I quote from the Miami Herald story: "A Coast Guard cutter returned 214 Haitians to their homeland Monday after the migrants were intercepted Friday night in a rag tag sailing freighter just east of Cuba. The boat contained 27 children -- 11 of them infants, said a Coast Guard spokesman.
Friday's event comes amid a recent spike in attempted exoduses from Haiti; January alone saw 742 Haitians interdicted at sea. ‘It's kind of sad that the situation has gotten to the point where they are risking the lives of small children,' the spokesman said. `It shows how desperate the situation has become.'’I’ve been going to Haiti for about ten years now and I can tell you, despair is not news in Haiti. It is part of everyday life. We see it up close and personal each time we go. On one recent trip as we were leaving LaGonave, a poor man who lived in a shack next to the dirt airstrip begged desperately for the pilot to take his sick infant from him. The mother’s milk was dry and the baby was hungry and sick. They had no food, no medicine.
On the flight we talked about what we could do to help. But by the time we got to Port au Prince, we had other things on our mind, I had a flight back to the States to catch, the pilot had other charters to fly. Out of sight, out of mind. A few months later we were back in LaGonave on our annual medical mission, the man was there to meet us, and I asked what had happened to his baby daughter . . . she hadn’t made it.On our medical missions, one of the toughest times is the day we leave.
Although we see over 1000 patients in five days we are always forced to leave behind many waiting at the clinic door who have not been helped. I can still see the fear in the eyes of a sickly, thin teenage girl and her parents on our last day one year when she was diagnosed with TB. We hurriedly set her up for treatment at one of Port au Prince’s crowded, dirty, understaffed hospitals, gave her some money, and then lost contact with her. Again we wondered what would happen? Would she survive? Hunger is so severe in Haiti many times when sick people are given money for treatment, even those with deadly diseases like TB, the money is used instead for food. On our first day back in Haiti the following year, the girl paid us a surprise visit. Her family and all the village leaders were with her. She was healthy and strong, she was cured. Everyone was beaming. I’ll never forget the feeling that came over the room and the chill that ran down my spine. A life had been saved. A miracle had happened. Despair had given way to hope.
At St Paul’s, we’ve been fortunate to have many people from different walks of life come with us on our mission trips. We always wonder about the new travelers- will their hearts be opened by the experience? And without fail, it happens. And I think for those who have these experiences, supporting our struggling brothers and sisters becomes a given. But there are many at St Paul’s that haven’t gone with us to Haiti, and maybe never will.
Even so, each year they work long grinding hours on mission preparations, and they donate generously, and often anonymously, to support us. They give out of faith, out of duty, out of trust in the Lord. To me, in many ways, they are the true miracle workers, the true heroes.Long-time missionary to Haiti, David Diggs, in one of his writings, reminds us of the bible story about the poor beggar named Lazarus who always sat outside the gate of a rich man's house. The rich man was clothed in the finest purple, while Lazarus' body was covered with sores. The rich man ate like a king, while Lazarus would have been content with his table scraps. One day Lazarus died and was taken to paradise. The rich man died, too, but found himself in the Netherworld, where he was endlessly tormented. He begged Abraham for mercy, but Abraham reminded him how well he had lived in his life and how difficult life had been for Lazarus. Diggs also reminds us, that like the rich man, for many who live in the U.S today, it is easy to ignore the poor. They live on the other side of the city, in other countries. We live comfortably, in enclaves of privilege, where we can lose our perspective.
The facts that life expectancy is 57 years and infant mortality is 8% in Haiti are just more statistics. We don't know these people. They are invisible to us. But there is another bible story about a beggar- the blind beggar of Jericho, who cries out again and again in desperation, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Son of David, let me see. And as he always does, the Lord answers with compassion “have your sight, your faith has saved you.” This story too is played out again and again in our modern world, in places like Haiti. Miracles big and small are made possible every day by those who choose not to step over Lazarus, but rather to respond with compassion to the blind beggar of Jericho. To help one of the most amazing of these miracles continue to grow is the reason we are her today.
It is the miracle of Visitation Clinic and Hospital, a miracle that started out years ago as a hope and a prayer. And here today with our own eyes we all can see how the Son of David has answered.