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After Quake, Haiti Missionaries Ask: ‘Why (Not) Me?’

(RNS) Having survived a devastating earthquake during a 10-day mission trip to Haiti, Freedom Gassoway now savors every minute she spends at home with her family in Beaverton, Ore.
But for this 33-year-old mother of two, some of life has also lost its sweetness.
Meals no longer taste good, she said, since she’s always thinking about the thousands of homeless and hungry people in Haiti. Her closet seems to have “too many clothes,” she said, and she feels a duty — by virtue of her survival — to share Haiti’s suffering with other Americans.
“I didn’t even know where Haiti was before this trip,” Gassoway said. “But now I feel like I have a responsibility for Haiti and helping people be aware of how they can be involved.”
As the dust settles from Haiti’s devastating quake, mission workers of all types are pondering the deeper meanings of their survival.
They’re wondering why they survived, why others didn’t and what they’re supposed to do with their new leases on life.
“As long as you’ve got something to occupy your mind, you can keep it off the horror of what’s just happened” in the field, said Randy Strash, strategy director for emergency response at World Vision, a massive Christian relief agency with almost 800 aid workers in Haiti.
“But once that (urgency recedes), I think you’ll find that many of them are really struggling — in their families, in their personal lives, in their health and in their theology.”
While theological interpretations vary, missionaries who survived the quake are consistently professing a heightened sense of calling.
They speak of feeling new “responsibility,” both to God and to the Haitian people, because they’ve been blessed to live another day.
As one of the world’s poorest nations, Haiti is a magnet for Christian ministries. An estimated 1,700 career missionaries serve in Haiti, according to Todd Johnson, director of the Center for the Study of World Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Hundreds more travel to Haiti each year for short-term trips of a week or two at a time.
For many of Haiti’s surviving missionaries, the distance between life and death was only a few feet when the Jan. 12 quake struck. Tragic episodes left missionaries wondering “why?” and believing that God must have a plan in mind.
“I know that God has our family here for a reason and he kept us alive for a reason,” wrote Leslie Rolling, administrator of the Christian aid organization Clean Water for Haiti, in an e-mail from Haiti. “We now have an even greater responsibility to carry out the work we’re doing.”
On the night of the quake, Leslie’s husband tried to save a young girl named Jacqueline, buried in the rubble of a collapsed school.
Unable to reach her, he eventually left the scene late at night to prepare for a work crew’s arrival. He later confessed on his blog.
“How could I leave someone who was dying, trapped in a building!
That’s so wrong!” Chris Rolling wrote. “Leaving her was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done… I think this is going to trouble me for a long time.”
(Jacqueline later died. She had suffered such extensive injuries, Leslie said, she likely wouldn’t have survived even if she’d been pulled out alive).
Kay and Gary Walla of Indianapolis felt similarly helpless after the quake rocked the mountain community where their United Methodist church group was helping repair a school and orphanage. The Wallas, both in their 70s, were in “survival mode” — foraging for wild coconuts and grapefruit by day, huddling close to other missionaries for warmth by night — when they heard scratching beneath a pile of rubble.
Buried alive were a 21-year-old woman who had been training for a religious order and the 18-month-old boy whom she had recently adopted.
Unable to save them, the Wallas instead held a memorial service for them two days later.
“My husband and I said, `Why did we survive and all of these Haitians have not?”‘ Kay Walla asked. “We know there’s more work for us to do … God just spared us to help the Haitians.”
World Vision has dispatched a critical incident response team to Haiti to help its aid workers cope with emerging personal challenges.
Some may fall victim to survivor’s guilt if they lost colleagues, World Vision’s Strash said. Others may grapple with the raw, unnerving fact that God doesn’t always protect his servants.
And then there’s the challenge of suddenly being seen as God’s ambassadors on a desolate landscape.
Aid workers “are wrestling with (God’s allowance of disaster), but they don’t want to say it out loud,” Strash said. Local “people are relying on the word that (workers) have been passing on to them about God’s care and provision. They search for a way to explain disaster that is consistent with how they’ve been teaching and living up to this point. And it’s a struggle.”
As missionaries try to make sense of their survival, they’re considering anew why disasters happen in God’s world. In Kay Walla’s view, God has nothing to do with deaths from natural disasters, but God does actively spare the ones who survive. Why God spares some and not others is unknown, she said, but survivors surely inherit special responsibilities.
Others echoed a similar sense of duty.
“We do owe it to those who lost their lives,” World Vision spokeswoman Maggie Boyer e-mailed from Port-au-Prince, “to commit to building a Haiti that they would be proud of.”
Copyright 2010 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

  • Andrew

    We just started to donate 1$ from each purchase to Haiti quake survivors.
    Thanks to all good people.

  • jim

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  • jestrfyl

    You are a mouth-breathin’, knuckle-draggin’, slope-headed drain on society, and a putrescent slug – a parasite who hasn’t enough sense to stay away from where he is not wanted. If ever I needed a product like your you have guaranteed I would N-E-V-E-R solicit your business. I hope B’net Tiger eviscerates you eamil ability until there is nothing left but a few stray quarks where your computer used to be.
    Survivors remorse is a difficult and dangerous syndrome. This will be something that people will be dealing with for years. It will surely be the source of much intense and difficult fictional material. One of the ways people can help each other is to assure each other that life is good and they must continue full force in all the things that make life valuable.

  • cknuck

    jest, feel better now, I couldn’t have put it better. jim has a lot of nerve and tremendous insensitivity to the discussion of a hurting people. As a matter of fact he could just be phishing.

  • Vanda

    Subject: You be the judge
    If this is only a little true it’s too sad. Poloitics should never get in the way of saving lives.
    Nick is a personal friend of mine…..whatever he says can be taken to the bank…….
    Dick Freeman
    I served in the SOG (Special Operations Group) in Viet Nam with
    Brockhausen and Hebler, they have both been involved with various disaster relief programs for
    the last several years to include Hurricane Katrina. They have both always been straight
    shooters and known to call a spade a spade, as well as sometimes using very “colorful” language.
    So I have no doubts as to the truthfulness of what he’s saying.
    News back from Nick Brockhausen. He and Dennis Hebler made it back somewhat safe and sound.
    To All,
    I just returned from Haiti with Hebler. We flew in at 3 AM Sunday to
    the scene of such incredible destruction on one side, and enormous
    ineptitude and criminal neglect on the other.
    Port o Prince is in ruins. The rest of the country is fairly
    intact. Our team was a rescue team and we carried special equipment
    that locates people buried under the rubble. There are easily 200,000
    dead, the city smells like a charnal house. The bloody UN was there
    for 5 years doing apparently nothing but wasting US Taxpayers money.
    The ones I ran into were either incompetents or outright anti
    American. Most are French or french speakers, worthless every damn one
    of them. While 1800 rescuers were ready willing and able to leave the
    airport and go do our jobs, the UN and USAID ( another organization
    full of little OBamites and communisrts that openly speak against
    Americana) These two organizations exemplared their parochialism by:
    USAID, when in control of all inbound flights, had food and water
    flights stacked up all the way to Miami, yet allowed Geraldo Rivera,
    Anderson Cooper and a host of other left wing news puppies to land.
    Pulled all the security off the rescue teams so that Bill Clinton
    and his wife could have the grand tour, whilst we sat unable to get to
    people trapped in the rubble.
    Stacked enough food and water for the relief over at the side of the
    airfield then put a guard on it while we dehydrated and wouldn’t
    release a drop of it to the rescuers.
    No shower facilities to decontaminate after digging or moving corpses
    all day, except for the FEMA teams who brought their own shower and
    decon equipment, as well as air conditioned tents.
    No latrine facilities, less digging a hole if you set up a shitter
    everyone was trying to use it.
    I watched a 25 year old Obamite with the USAID shrieking hysterically,
    berate a full bird colonel in the air force, because he countermanded
    her orders, whilst trying to unscrew the air pattern.
    ” You don’t know what your president wants!
    The military isn’t in charge here we are!”
    If any of you are thinking of giving money to the Haitian relief, or
    to the UN don’t waste your money. It will only go to further the goals
    of the French and the Liberal left.
    If we are a fair and even society, why is it that only white couples
    are adopting Haitian orphans. Where the hell is that vocal minority
    that is always screaming about the injustice of American society.
    Bad place, bad situation, but a perfect look at the new world order in
    action. New Orleans magnified a thousand times. Haiti doesn’t need
    democracy, what Haiti needs is Papa Doc. That’s not just my opinion ,
    that is what virtually every Haitian we talked with said. the French
    run the UN treat us the same as when we were a colony, at least Papa
    Doc ran the country.
    Oh, and as a last slap in the face the last four of us had to take US
    AIRWAY’s home from Phoenix. They slapped me with a 590 dollar baggage
    charge for the four of us. The girl at the counter was almost in tears
    because she couldn’t give us a discount or she would lose her job.
    Pass that on to the flying public.
    God Bless America and the U.S. Marine Corps

  • jestrfyl

    O ck,
    There is so much we agree on. I suggest we tie a cherry bomb to Jim’s phishing line and watch what happens. Not really, but the guy truly has no sense.

  • pagansister

    As callous as this might sound, I believe there is a time “set”, if you will, when we die. There are many people who unexplainably survive illnesses, or accidents, disasters etc. only to die later…because it “wasn’t there time”. That doesn’t necessarily make it easier for the survivors to deal with, but it might help some.

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