Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Prayers in for Haiti's Earthquake

I am in Guatelinda, one of the local Guatemalan restaurants here in Indiantown. Images of the devastation wrought by the earthquake yesterday in Haiti fill the screens. It is so horrifying and painful. From the moment I heard about the earthquake yesterday, i was transported back to Guatemala and the devastation of the 1976 earthquake. The images on the screen show that same level of despair and desctruction...

Over half of the Haitian community that has migrated to the United States live here in Florida. There are many Haitians here in Indiantown. As I spent the day at Holy Cross, I saw a number of them stopping by the church for prayer... There they joined a number of Guatemalans who come in and out of the church throughout the day and light candles, kneel before the altar, find some space for respite.

Gracious God, hear the prayers of your people.

I started the day attending morning mass at Holy Cross. Mass is offered daily in the community, four times in Spanish. Today's mass was in English. There was a small group there this morning, mostly elderly anglos, but there were also a few Hispanics. Father Andrade presided again. I had a chance to visit with him afterwards, and hear some more about his own story. In further evidence of how small the world is, we connected on the fact that for many years he served in the Kitchener-Waterloo area in Canada (outside of Toronto), where my wife and I lived for a year when I worked with the Lutheran Refugee Committee and did my internship at St. Stephen's Lutheran Church. We talked about the challenges and opportunities of the church. How the church's text and message are so important and powerful, the official statement of the church often so visionary and thoughtful--and yet how often the church falls very short of its own rethoric. How instead we reduce the message of the gospel to ideology, to empty piety, void of challenge and good news. He spoke of his own experience with liberation theology in Brazil--and the disappointment with how it has often been misunderstood and then undermined by the church's structures. The church, he said, can often be what Mark accused it of, and become the opium of the people, numbing us or distracting us from the realities we are called to challenge and shape.

Yet signs of the church's promise and possibilities are all around that place--in the people whose faith brings them daily to gather, the promise of the building of a new sanctuary, the ministry of Hope Rural--a K-8th grade school sponsored by the church, in the "small communities" of the church, etc.

I interviewed Cristobal, a young man from Guatemala who was at the church praying. We spent over an hour talking about Scripture, about his journey here. There was much that he shared, but what most stuck with me was his powerful insight that his coming here--like many other immigrants--is a fulfilment of God's command to the first humans: to work the land. He spoke of the faith of the "ancestors" in Guatemala, who with reverence asked permission to work the land, to cut a tree, to consume any of the resources of the earth. While they were not specifically Christian, he said, they certainly had a deep wisdom and a knowledge of God. He said it is that sense of reverence for the land, and the recognition that the earth is the Lord's, that guides his sense about why he has had to travel so far form his home. With a wry smile on his face he said, like my ancestors, I asked God for permission before I came. It is God who granted me passage--a visa--when I was unable to obtain one. I asked him about his very first day here in the U.S. The first thing he did, he said, was come to the church. He came to say thanks to God for a safe journey, and to commit himself to the dreams that drove him here. "Es la pobreza," poverty, that makes us come. Like many others, his hope is to be here only temporarily, only as long as it takes to get some money together to build a home and have a future. He knows he has lost much by being here, and longs for the day he will be back home.

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