Friday, January 15, 2010


I went on a vacation last week. Now, I know those who don’t understand sabbatical are thinking that I’ve been on vacation for months now – what the heck am I talking about? But as we all know I’m working very hard on this sabbatical – this week was a true ‘vacation.’ I went out of the country for 8 days, I didn’t take students with me, I didn’t take work along, I didn’t think about work while I was away. I went to rest.

This vacation was full of lucky timing. My friend and I were able to get a great deal on the vacation so the financial cost was relatively small. The other part of the lucky timing was the calendar. We left Minneapolis with an air temperature of -18F and landed in 86F with sunny skies. A one hundred degree temperature difference is probably the very definition of ‘vacation’ during a Minnesota winter.

Our vacation was a cruise in the Caribbean. We sailed out of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and visited five different islands from St. Thomas down to St. Lucia. The weather was consistently in the 80s, the sun shone every day, the water was warm, the breezes were gentle, the people were friendly. There were drinks with umbrellas, amazing meals served impeccably, excellent entertainment, and delightful company. As vacations go, it really doesn’t get much better than this.

Ironically enough, especially in retrospect, I spent much of my vacation time thinking about Haiti. I suppose it was inevitable. You compare something new to what you know the best. And since I had been there so recently and because we had another team leave for Haiti only 2 days after I left for the same area, it was at the front of my thoughts.

The comparisons were stark. Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, our first port is 485 miles due east of Port-au-Prince on the other side of the Dominican Republic. The weather is the same, they are both tropical islands, you would expect to see the same sights. But you don’t. Our stops were tourist havens. We arrived in port cities that, while not originally designed for cruise traffic, have certainly adapted themselves well to be centers of indulgence. Yes, you could find local businesses and island life if you really looked for it, but first you had to run the gamut of duty-free designers. Dozens of jewelers and liquor vendors and designer shops lined the streets and just in case you couldn’t figure it out on your own the cruise line provided you with a “shopping guide” as you were leaving the ship. Cruise ships don’t stop in Port-au-Prince. And if they did, one of the first sights that would greet them is the slums of Cite Soleil and La Celine, a far cry from Louis Vuitton and Rolex. I thought often of the difference between what I was seeing and doing, and what my friends were seeing and doing in Port-au-Prince. Two days after I returned safely home, yet another tragedy blooms in Haiti.

After being discovered by Columbus in 1492 Haiti gained its independence in 1804, becoming the oldest black republic in the world and the second oldest republic in the Western hemisphere, the US being the oldest. Because of the prevalence of voodoo in Haiti’s history, some would have you believe that this independence was attained by Haitians ‘making a deal with the devil’ and that their subsequent history of hardship, poverty, political corruption and despair is the natural result of the sins of the fathers being visited upon generations of children. Others argue that the fault for Haiti’s difficulties lays at the feet of the European settlers, first Spanish then French, who pillaged the natural resources of the country to line the streets of Paris with Haitian gold and fill its drawing rooms with mahogany furniture from Haiti’s mountains, leaving the country bereft of any substantial natural resources. Whatever ‘truth’ you might choose to believe, the reality is there is plenty of fault to go around and laying blame, particularly in circumstance such as this, is a monumental waste of time.

Yet as you watch CNN, I can imagine what some of you are thinking about this country – how sad it is, how they can’t seem to catch a break, how they must be doing something to perpetuate all these problems and difficulties, how the answer sometimes seems to be to move everyone out and go in and bulldoze the place to the ground and start fresh. I understand all those thoughts. I understand the horror you might feel as you see the lack of the most basic medical care, the lack of any public services to help aid those who are refugees, the lack of any coordinated effort to rescue those still trapped under rubble. I understand the frustration you might be feeling that they just can’t seem to make things better, and that things appear to be run with such incompetence. It may seem futile to try to help.

And yet, help is what is needed. I know that the spirit of these people is remarkable. They are loving. They are giving. They are resilient. They are strong and courageous. They care for their families. They care for their neighbors. They are worth your concern. They are worth your prayers. They are worth your compassion and your recognition that nothing but an accident of birth separates us from them. They are worth your time and they are worth your support.

I know there are dozens of ways to give in a crisis such as this. However, if you are wondering where and how, I would offer a couple of suggestions. First, you could send your gifts earmarked ‘Pastor Dio- Haiti earthquake relief’ in care of Steve Hanson, Church of the Open Door, 9060 Zanzibar Lane North, Maple Grove, MN 55311. Diogene is a man of integrity and honor and will make certain that your donations reach hurting people directly – no ‘administrative costs’ taken out. If you prefer to give online, I would suggest World Vision – This is an organization that does amazing work, also with integrity.

For those of you who are wondering, our team is safe, the children and staff of the Mephibosheth House are safe. The house and compound survived the quake intact. The Sisters unfortunately lost one baby in the quake but their clinic is still intact. Amid devastation and loss, there is much to be grateful for.

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