Christmas in Haiti by Bill Platko
Are you ready for Christmas? This is a common question asked in recent weeks. More often than not the response carries panic as individuals realize how much they need to do to be ready. Shopping for and wrapping gifts, cards to be sent, parties to host and attend, travel arrangements, menu planning and food shopping. Church service is squeezed into the midst of the turmoil. Christmas Day arrives and young children exhibit the excitement of anticipation, followed by shouts of glee as gifts are unwrapped. For adults, however, stress may persist over family encounters, meal preparation or a day spent travelling among local relatives. By the arrival of January 2, life has returned to normal, as toys have lost the allure of newness, the ugly sweater has been returned and the “spirit of Christmas” disappears for another year.
A visit to Haiti last week did not demonstrate any such concerns for Christmas readiness. Shopping was the day to day challenge Haitians face. To describe a visit to the market at Haiti’s northern border with the Dominican Republic as chaos would be an understatement. The turmoil was not due to holiday shopping; it is a way of life. The cacophonies of sound from people and animals paired with pungent odors, as thousands of people crowded shoulder to shoulder among vendors. Wheelbarrows were stacked head-high and one was pushed with two full-sized mattresses. Some rode mopeds loaded with bags of produce or live chickens. People were pushed and shoved along narrow alleyways lined with vendors. The crowding was not due to Christmas preparation. It is a way of life, and is a stark reminder of the disparity between the United States and our neighbor only five hundred miles off of the Florida coast.
How does a Haitian Christian prepare for the birth of our Savior? The disparity between cultures and economies is not necessarily a bad thing. Luxuries in the United States when taken for granted can result in a false sense of independence and control of our destiny. From the challenge to survive in Haiti, there emerges an acute awareness of the fragility of life and the need to help one another. I know families who have less than nothing yet take in abandoned or orphaned children. I have seen the children of an orphanage, assured of just one meal per day, share uneaten portions of that meal with street children, rather than save the scraps for themselves. A gift I received, while less significant from a survival standpoint, was equally as demonstrative of unselfishness.
I discovered only too late that the glue of my old running shoes had failed and the soles no longer attached to the shoe. Any guy knows that duct tape fixes all things, but after a day assisting with fence construction for the chicken coop, my shoe repair had failed. We arrived home after dark and had an early start the next day. There was no time to shop, nor was I optimistic size 14 shoes could be found.I resigned myself to daily repair efforts. Words could not express my humble surprise when a member of the Haitian ministry team came to the house early the next morning with a pair of high-tops, size 13.5. Her concern, unselfishness and resourcefulness brought me to tears.
So how does a Haitian Christian prepare for the birth of our Savior? Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Enough said.