Wednesday night I was on a conference call with some of the people I'll be traveling with to Haiti next week: Kent Annan, codirector of Haiti Partners and author of the book Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle (which I edited); Jonathan Chan, one of the architects of Project Level Aid--a web-accessible database of development and relief programs; and Lindsay Bonilla, founder and artistic director of World of Difference Ltd., which produces interactive theatre pieces to educate people about global cultural issues. Suddenly this trip, which I've been hearing about, thinking about, talking about and praying about for months, is about to happen.
This won't be the first time I've visited a country just months after an earthquake caused widespread devastation. When I was a sophomore in high school I traveled with our marching band to Mexico for spring break, about six months after a magnitude 8.1 earthquake claimed the lives of around 10,000 people and damaged or leveled more than three thousand buildings. I have vague recollections of rubble by the roadside as we drove around in Mexico City. I was a kid; I didn't have a real grasp of what piles of rubble represented: death and disruption, pain and suffering. My more salient memories of that trip are of typical adolescent drama--boys disrespecting girls, upperclassmen terrorizing lowerclassmen, that sort of thing.
This time is different. I'm traveling not with a bandful of hormone-addled teenagers but a half-dozen sober-minded, socially conscious evangelical Christians, looking to help. You can meet them here. We'll be getting to know the country by sitting down with business leaders and representatives of various organizations in the towns of Darbonne and Port-au-Prince, staying with families in outlying areas, and worshiping with a church whose building was destroyed in the quake. We'll have the chance to see the progress of the XO Laptop project, which is making laptops available to underprivileged schoolchildren, improving the quality of their education. My task on this trip is to pay attention, the sort of attention I failed to pay when I visited Mexico City twenty-four years ago.
Attention is a gift I often fail to give people. I often work through conversations, typing as I talk, reading as I listen, peeking as I pray. I hoard my attention like a miser hoards gold, you might argue, and I would be hard-pressed to defend myself. But this trip is about paying attention--observing and acknowledging the struggles of a country far too often overlooked; noticing and celebrating the movement of God even in the midst of hardship; sensing and responding to the whispers and workings of the Spirit. My mission on this trip is to pay attention and to carry what I see and hear and learn with me in the days ahead.
My thanks to those folks who have contributed money to make my trip possible, who helped me decide and prepare to go, who are praying for me now and will be praying for me while I'm away, and who will help me process and live forward after my trip has ended. You are part of this, and I am in your debt.
Please do visit the Haiti Partners website, and read Kent's book. Among other things, it's a story of paying attention, and the profound things that emerge out of it.