but Then Jesus Didn’t Show Up”
BY KENT ANNAN
My friend Edvard was still disturbed. We stood talking on the side of a street—one of the very streets where a few days before tens of thousands of bodies in Port-au-Prince had been quickly collected for burial or burning after the devastating earthquake.
Edvard told me he’d been in his church’s office when the ground started shaking. He grabbed the desk and held on. The church stayed standing, but he and his friend stepped outside to find that an elementary school across the street had collapsed.
They ran over and started helping to extract screaming children from under the concrete. As he worked, he suddenly thought, “My wife? My child?”
So he took off sprinting. He ran through two miles of devastation, so many already dead, many others crying out. He arrived to find his wife and one-year-old son alive and okay. But as we talked he said he couldn’t stop thinking about leaving the children in the school behind.
“I can’t explain to you how hard the situation was,” he told me six days later. “I’m someone who believes in helping other people. But what made me so sad is that going through these areas, I could hear people under the rubble calling out, ‘Come save me,’ but I couldn’t do anything for them in that moment.”
He’s lost his home. He’s lost his city. He’s lost friends. He was sleeping with his young family on the street, then had to change places because the stench of bodies rotting nearby was too strong. And what bothered him as much as anything else was that he hadn’t been able to do any more to help in the apocalyptic aftermath.
Edvard had been in my home just a couple of weeks before the earthquake. We’d flown together to a conference, where he saw his first snowfall—large pillowy flakes floating down in St. Louis. Of all the American foods, he likes pizza the best (though beans, rice, and chicken are much preferred).
One heartening thing in the coverage of this tragedy is that the media has often recognized and held up the dignity and courage of people in Haiti. That’s been my experience working in Haiti for seven years. (Note: Can we please ban the word “looting” in emergency situations when people with hungry children take food out of collapsed grocery stores—whether in Haiti or New Orleans or elsewhere?)
And people’s faith has been evident too. People gathered to worship—yes, to mourn and to ask for mercy, but also to worship—outside crumbled churches, sometimes with family and friends crushed inside.
The Book of Revelation can seem embarrassingly hyperbolic to the modern reader—metaphors gone wild. But a Haitian friend a couple of years ago after a hurricane and then someone else last week in Port-au-Prince both told me:
“It was like the world was ending…but then Jesus didn’t show up.”
Each conversation leaves you breathless and heartbroken.
And my ability to think theologically falters too, except in the most basic form. Two simple prayers kept coming to me: “How long, oh Lord, how long?” and “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”
These prayers align with my two friends saying at different times that they literally thought the world was ending Revelation-style…but then Jesus didn’t show up and they were left to deal with the devastation.
Which I guess does lead to more theology: as long as we’re left waiting, we’re the body of Christ for each other.
Haitians have been helping one another. The generous outpouring from around the world has also been wonderful. Against the norm, may it continue for months and years of rebuilding to come, and may it be with and not for Haiti.
Edvard, who I’ve worked with for six years, shouldn’t carry any guilt for not doing more. He did everything he possibly could. And may the same be said of each of us. Because it’s our duty, amidst the tears and the rubble, to be the love of Jesus that keeps showing up…until he finally does come again.
Kent Annan (M.Div., 1999) is author of Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle, a new book about living and working in Haiti (all proceeds go to Haiti). He’s also codirector of Haiti Partners (www.haitipartners.org), a nonprofit focused on education that has also been responding to the earthquake disaster. Listen to Kent’s January 29, 2010 NPR interview of Edvard at his blog at www.haitipartners.org/2010/01/, scroll to “Haiti Partners in national media.