My thoughts continue to stay with Haiti this week… thinking of 500,000 people still displaced from the earthquake almost two years ago. As I make a cup of coffee, as I eat healthy (or not so healthy) food, as I take a perfect-temperate shower, as I sit (or walk) at my desk, as I lay in my perfect air-adjusted bed… I think of them and wonder how they manage the basics of life.
Life is not fair!
I can’t change that, but I can help by doing the best I can, with what I have, where I am.
So I will blog about people and organizations that are working for or in Haiti. This week various Haiti benefits are happening… from a concert in Brooklyn to a bike ride in Florida and various official meetings in the states and in Haiti.
Groups making a difference in Haiti include Hearts United with Haiti, who has a orphanage in Port au Prince providing a home to 80 girls. And Haiti Partners, who is making an impact in Haiti not only today, but also for the future with their focus on education.
And Kent Annan, who lived in Haiti for a few years and continues to work there. I wrote in my review of Kent’s book After Shock, an interview with Kent will follow. Here’s my interview with Kent about After Shock, a book that was written in the first months following the earthquake.
Tell us about your book.
Kent: “After Shock” is a real-time crisis of faith. A sort of psalm in action, with true, harrowing stories weaving through. I wrote the book in the middle of our work responding to the horrible earthquake in Haiti two years ago–which also made me face, in a way more stark than ever before, some of my own doubts, frustrations, and questions about/with God. I’d been working in Haiti (living there, now going back and forth from Florida) for eight years. So this was personal in a way that no other disasters had been for me. The book also touches universal experiences of living in a world that is full of beauty, but also suffering. In a world where for many of us God can seem near and real at times, but at other times so distant that we wonder if God’s is real at all.
The question on the back cover is “Where was God during and after the Haiti Disaster?” Now, two years after the earthquake, are you any closer to having an answer to that question?
Kent: Hmm, if I could come up with the answer to this one, we could answer one of the world’s great questions, right? Yes, the definitive answer is on page… Okay, more seriously, I find it baffling, maddening that God doesn’t prevent disasters, whether on a personal level (like what happened with in your accident, or a friend I heard from today who was diagnosed with very serious cancer) or on a grand scale (like the Haiti earthquake or Japan tsunami). Yet it seems, time and again, many people also experience God’s sustaining grace in the midst of suffering. I heard this from a lot of Haitian friends. On a less acute level, it’s something I’ve experienced. As a Christian, I take heart in the location of the Psalms right in the center of our Scripture, as well as knowing that our hope went through the cross on the way to the resurrection. I’d like more answers, but we don’t have a faith that shies away from the extremes of life or the hardest questions.
What was your worst and best response from readers?
Kent: One specific example was a someone who said he hadn’t had a real conversation about God for a longtime with his teenager; they both read my book and had a really meaningful conversation. That’s pretty amazing to get to be part of that. I’ve received many notes from people saying it helped them in their own doubts and faith. And I’m thankful that whoever didn’t like the book didn’t bother to write to me! Actually, I wouldn’t have been surprised if some people critiqued the edges I pushed. But maybe readers interested in this kind of book are self-selecting, ready to be generous as long as the writer is taking on these questions on honestly and vulnerably, whether or not they completely agree with the conclusions along the way. That’s a guess based on my experience. But really, I’ve been incredibly honored by and grateful for the many people who have shared with me. An important part of what reading does is help us to be less alone; the same goes for the writer when he hears back from people for whom the writing was meaningful. Meaningful connection is made.
You write about the comment that is often heard after a disaster ”Isn’t it amazing that we (or a particular group of missionaries) happened to be there at just the right time to help?” I’ve heard that in various forms… including from relative who was in Haiti when the earthquake happened. Their group (on a short-term mission trip) felt like God had them there at the moment and protected them, so they could help others. Of course, I wonder if God could protect them, why didn’t he protect the thousands who died. How should we response to conversations like that?
Kent: In a heart-to-heart conversation about this topic, I would say, “Well, I don’t think so, because doesn’t that mean…” If they might be semi-open and I shouldn’t just let it slide by, I’ll say, “I’m not so sure about that; I actually struggle with that understanding…” If it’s really just an assertion that would be rude to interrupt by pointing out their bad theology, then I just cringe and stay quiet! (And maybe I’ll also have a minor crisis of faith as I think to myself: if that’s who God is, then I want no part of believing.) Not sure this is the right approach, but it’s what I do. More generally, when it’s appropriate I think it’s good for us to lovingly question each other’s cliches about God that can sometimes be harmful, or at least keep us from engaging more doggedly with reality, even keep us from being as alive as we should be.
Are you working on any new projects, books or otherwise, now?
Kent: I’m working on ideas for my next book now. It’s going to be a natural progression from my first two books, but not much about Haiti this time. Because of my Haiti Partners work and having young children, there is definitely a competition for hours that makes it easy to procrastinate with writing. But as the new year starts, I have shiny expectations about getting in a good rhythm. (Don’t we all!) I have ideas, but they won’t start crystalizing until I buckle down and do some of the good, frustrating, fun, hard work of discovering.
Kent Annan is author of After Shock (2011) and of Following Jesus through the Eye of the Needle (2009) and co-director of Haiti Partners, a nonprofit focused on education in Haiti. He’s a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary. He is married to Shelly, and they have a young daughter (2005) and son (2009).
See a video trailer for After Shock. Get a copy of After Shock here and find out more about Kent and his work with Haiti Partners at his website.
It’s not instantly going to fix the situation in Haiti,
but buying Kent’s books does help the people of Haiti because…
100% of Kent’s proceeds from both his books
goes to Haiti Partners’ work.
Who or what groups/benefits do you know about that are doing work for or in Haiti?