Saturday, February 13, 2010

Haitian Saints Keep the Faith!

This is an amazing story of faith in the middle of adversity.
Photography by Scot Facer Proctor
Maurine and Scot Proctor, Meridian’s editor and publisher, are currently in Haiti with 125 LDS medical, construction and translation volunteers from Utah.


Much of Haiti lies in rubble. Collapsed roofs lie at angles, smashed against the floor below them. Cinder blocks slant in heaps along the roads. Some streets in Port-au-Prince look like old pictures of bombed-out Berlin after World War II. It’s a horror, an apocalypse.



Yet, amidst a shoddy neighborhood stands a jewel, the Croix-des-Missions LDS church and sounding through the air is a hymn: How Firm a Foundation.





It is a particularly well-chosen song in a land whose physical foundations could not stand the earth’s tremors, but whose Latter-day Saints have proven to be remarkably resilient. They know that though all but a handful have lost their homes, their foundation is in the gospel of Jesus Christ and that is firm.



Attending the 3-hour church block on Sunday felt remarkably normal to us. There were the Saints dressed well, many in crisp, white shirts that looked newly ironed. The deacons wore their white shirts and ties as they reverently passed the sacrament.


How can this be? Without homes, they are living on the street in hastily-assembled, makeshift shelters on any flat land that is available. Their walls may be sheets hung over ropes or pieces of cardboard. Their beds are concrete or hard earth. Everything they owned—and that already wasn’t much—has been stripped from them by an initial quake that lasted about 45 seconds and after shocks that continued for days.


Haiti, right now and for the foreseeable future, is a land sleeping out. People fill the church’s courtyards at night—and instead of woe, they laugh and talk. They have shanties on the median strip between two lanes of riotous traffic.


We asked member after member, how can you be so beautifully groomed on Sunday, given your conditions? They answered that because most everyone is now living in the street, they are indeed dirty during the week, plagued by all the ills that befalls a newly-made street person, but, they added that though they had no water to drink, they had water good enough to wash their clothes.


So there they were singing about what really is their firm foundation and looking like any other LDS congregation across the world—except they are homeless.



Their Lessons and Talks

That is not all. Their lessons and talks were sophisticated and scripturally based, as if they had a library and computer at their fingertips to prepare instead of the side of the road.




The sacrament meeting began with strains of “Come, come ye Saints, no toil, nor labor fear, but with joy wend your way.” For most of us who come from other nations, we would be hard-pressed to find joy in impoverished and broken Haiti before the earthquake, let alone now, but they sang like they meant it, “Happy day, all is well.”




They prayed, “We are all thankful to be counted among the living. We are grateful to know of thy truth. There are many outside the walls of this church who do not have this truth to sustain them through the trials. We know we were kept alive because we have a mission to complete. Bless us all that we can be strong and take care of each other.”




We listened tearfully. The sacrament was passed and each of the seven children sitting on the row next to us took not a single piece of bread but a scoop each. They are hungry.



Then we heard a talk, a surprising, enriching talk from France Nathalie Desir—so beautifully done.She told the audience:“For some of the adversity we face, we can place the weight on our own shoulders because we are not obeying God’s laws. That adversity we can control, but there are some kinds of adversity we can’t control like the earthquake. We didn’t do anything to attract it. We all had friends and families who were killed. A lot of people are discouraged and have lost faith, but we as members of the Church now have a mission.




“We know why we have adversities. They are to make us stronger. We have the freedom to either let them overcome us or to make us strong. Just as we send little children to school, the Lord has sent us here for a school.



“Our big enemy is our pride that keeps us from loving our neighbour and obeying the commandments…Since January 12, we all have experienced sleeping outside. As I was lying in the courtyard looking up at the stars, I knew this was the time to manifest charity and mourn with those who mourn, give food to those who need food.



“We have a certain joy, and the joy is knowing these things are temporary. The trials we are given on earth are for us, and the Lord knows everything we are going through and they are to augment our faith and bring us to God.”




The primary children at the ward were as happy, giggly and bright as any children in the world—maybe more so.









The lessons for the youth were very much like those for the adults.

We must be strong in this time of adversity. We must reach out with love to those who are discouraged.





Home Teaching



Francy Saint-Preux, the High Priest group leader for the ward, said doing home teaching is ten times harder than it used to be because people are no longer in their homes and sleeping somewhere on the street, but after the quake they made every effort to assure that everyone was safe. Temporal needs are difficult to meet because they are so overwhelming and every priesthood leader is inundated. They’ll do anything to help, but there are some things they just can’t do.Francy said, “The island is in disarray from top to bottom.”He noted, “One of the first things I had to do as a leader in the high priests is to restore confidence in the members. I remind them that the important things are still intact. Your kids are safe. You have the gospel. I encourage people to focus on staying close to God. “What we teach the members is the gospel,” he said. Our gospel is simple--pray, read your scriptures, pay your tithing and work. Do everything you can to work. Even the solution to a temporal problem is a spiritual one. Get back to the basics.”



Meet the Members




Guerby Pierre

Guerby Pierre is one of those exceptional people in Haiti who actually has a job. He is well-educated and has a job as an accountant with a billboard company. He tells what happened to him when the earthquake hit:“The things I saw during the earthquake are forever engraved on my memory. You see things in disaster movies, but it is nothing like when it happens in real life, and I cannot ever forget it.


“I was inside at my work, working at my computer, at what seemed like a normal day. Then, all of a sudden with a roaring noise, it seemed like a giant beast had taken the building in his arms and was twisting and shaking it back and forth. My screen fell off my desk; bookshelves started falling, and I ran for the door, but could hardly keep my footing with the shaking. As I stood at the door, the wall I had been leaning against before completely collapsed. “It is so different when you experience this in real life. People think of the great earthquakes in 3rd Nephi. People outside thought it was the Second Coming.



“My work is destroyed. That was my livelihood. I went to my house and it is completely gone, but I was able to go in and get the things that really mattered to me—my temple recommend, my passport, some clothes and my scriptures.”He held up his battered scriptures at that moment, the gilt-edged pages long ago worn away, and we asked him, “Did that happen to your scriptures during the earthquake?”He just smiled back and said, “No, I really love my scriptures and I use them all the time.”The day before the earthquake a tune started wafting through Guerby’s mind. Again and again it came and stayed with him through the day. He realized that the words were “The Lord my pasture will prepare, and guard me with a shepherd’s care.”He was so impressed with the message that returned again and again to him, that he wrote down the words to the hymn and sent them in a note to his sweetheart. The next day the meaning was still in his soul as his world was hurled apart, and he knew that no matter what happened, the Lord had already sent him a message of comfort.Now, Guerby is sleeping outside in a tent every night. The way he looks at it is his first job is to take care of his friends and other members of the Church. Even if he doesn’t have a lot of money he can strengthen them. His second job as an accountant is gone, so he has more time for his first job.Some things are really hard. It is hard to think that after working hard to become college-educated that he might be back to shining shoes to get enough money to live on. And it’s hard not to have a home. He misses the feeling of something comfortable and recognizable to come back to at night.He’s holding on. He had saved a little money. He got some food and shoes from the bishop.


Each night as he lays under the stars, it reminds him of what is really important in life. He said, “In one sense I have nothing, but in another, I have everything because I have the gospel, and this earthquake has only augmented my testimony. My life is changed. The earthquake simplified it. Since the earthquake, I could all of a suddenly think clearly.” Gone are certain things he thought were really important. Instead, he is hoping to find a way to take his best friend and sweetheart to the temple to be married.“Life can be hard sometimes,” he says, “but it will be OK.”




Charles Marie Murielle

“When the earthquake happened, I was inside my house. I had just come from school because I am studying to be a nurse. There was a professor who was absent, so I came home early.“I was just taking off my uniform when the earthquake started. I heard the noise and felt the earthquake and thought to myself, this is an earthquake.


“After it stopped, I found myself, I was yelling, but I had a strong feeling I shouldn’t leave my house. I should just stay there. I went to open my door to go out, and my door was blocked, I couldn’t open it. “I said a sincere prayer. I told the Lord that I was not ready to die. I don’t have a family, yet, and I haven’t been to the temple. With a lot of strategy I was able to open the door by myself.


“Outside, everyone was crying and screaming out to God, ‘What is going on?’ The farther I got out, I saw that churches had fallen and people had been killed. “My school which is four stories tall had collapsed and all the students and teachers had been killed. I would have been there if my teacher had not shown up. “All communications were cut off. No radio. No telephone. No one knew what was going on. We were all trying to find an open space. We kept hearing instructions, “Don’t go inside. Don’t go inside.”“From time to time the earth would shake again. I was continually scared. I was the only member of the Church nearby, and I felt like I was alone. People from other religions were making a lot of noise and were screaming. I found myself in silence because the Spirit told me exactly what to do. I knew it was not the end of the world.


“I prayed, ‘Give me strength so that I can hold on.’ I found the strength to help a few people who were injured. I found a lot of people who were in shock. The next day I met a brother from the church who came to my house to see if I was OK. He told me I needed to come to the church that all of the members were meeting there. That gave me strength.We asked her what the future holds for her without money or a house or a school. She said she is determined to find a way to finish her nursing, but for now, she lives at the church and she’s scared to go back to her house. Maybe she will make cookies to sell.




Erick Goimbert

They didn’t try to get out, as it was hard to stand, impossible to walk. They just started praying. He did not know it was an earthquake as he had never experienced anything so overwhelming before.When they finally made their lurching way out of the house, he saw that all the houses around him were completely destroyed and his neighbors had been killed.


Now, he and his family are sleeping wherever they can find a spot at night, mostly in the road by their house. He’d like to come and sleep at the church, but his home is too far away.He has no tent, but sleeps under some corrugated tin cover. Every morning he doesn’t know where to get food. He just waits day to day for help. Like most Haitians, he doesn’t have a job, and his wife just sells things in the street.Among his slim possessions are a few Tylenol pills for when his back, hit by the dresser in the quake, hurts too much.


He says with some good cheer, “Everybody is praying. There is definitely a feeling of unity and my testimony has been strengthened. You drive through my neighbourhood and mine was the only house that is not completely destroyed.What for the future? He sees no possibilities to rebuild a house. He has no money and can’t see where he could possibly get any.



Polycarpe Macking

The day of the earthquake, two of his children had just come home from school and were watching television. He was out in the front yard feeding the chickens, their main source of livelihood.


About 4:45, he started to feel the shaking movement. Immediately his children ran outside as the roaring, pitching earth got worse. As soon as they ran outside, the house collapsed. They knelt down and, crying, said a prayer for his wife and other daughter, asking that they would be safe. They found her quickly for which he was grateful.


Now, he doesn’t know what he’s going to do. “God must have a plan for me,” he said, “and I’m just going to have to see what it is.”


The scriptures are his life and he loves to read.A vibrant young man, he still hasn’t had a job for seven years, and the few chickens they had were crushed or scattered in the earthquake. For now, they are sleeping in their yard. They have no money to rebuild.



Group Photograph


We couldn’t help ourselves in wanting to show the amazing light and joy in the faces of the Haitian Saints here in the Croix-des-Missions Ward in Port-au-Prince.


We then told our translators to instruct them to do something we learned from then President David Bednar at BYU-Idaho. We told them to hold up their scriptures high and let us see them.



We saw every variety of scriptures, manuals and hymnbooks go up into the air.


Many of the children wanted to gather for their own group picture.Their faces captured it all.



This is a glimpse of the members of the Croix-des-Missions ward after the earthquake. It’s good they can sing “Happy day, all is well,” because like the handcart pioneers of old they have nothing but God’s help and the help of his children to see them through.


Donate here to help the victims of the earthquake in Haiti.

More good news about relief efforts here.



4 comments:

5L's said...

this was so touching and hunmbling! thank you for sharing....i'm going to copy it to my blog.

Alicia said...

Thanks 5L's for taking the time to read it and for stopping by!!

RGG said...

Hey Alicia
I read this article last week and I was really touched by the testimony of Brother Guerby Pierre:

“My work is destroyed. That was my livelihood. I went to my house and it is completely gone, but I was able to go in and get the things that really mattered to me—my temple recommend, my passport, some clothes and my scriptures"

I thought about a recent post on my blog concerning my frustration with VTing. I thought, wow here is this brother,his house and livihood is gone, but he is dressed in his white shirt and tie, walking to church with his scriptures and he is smiling.Wow wgat a testimony. I emailed my companion this article and I was a little ashamed of my own impatience, and I asked her what if our Heavenly Father took this privilege away from us. What if we could not go and minister to our brothers and sisters. What if indeed. Brother Guerby is a testament of the truth of Gods word, his promises, everything. Our Heavenly Father is with us always even in the middle of the storm and earthquakes.

Alicia said...

Ramona I always love your comments. I'm so glad we found each other through blogger. Your testimony strengthens mine!

Thank you for pointing that out about visiting teaching.
It reminds me of these wonderful words "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." - Martin Luther King Jr.

For those visiting my blog who don't know what "VTing" is... my friend Ramona is abreviating "visiting teaching" it is a wonderful calling we have as sisters in our church to go out in pairs visiting other sisters in their homes, encouraging them in the Gospel of Christ, praying for them, offering our help or service and teaching them by the Spirit.

Hometeaching is performed by the brothers in the church and it is pretty much the same thing we do as sisters.