Haiti unrest strands a number of US church groups

Haiti unrest strands a number of US church groups

Volunteer groups from several U.S. states were stranded in Haiti this past Sunday after violent protests over fuel prices canceled flights and made roads unsafe.

Church groups in South Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Alabama are among those that haven’t been able to leave, according to newspaper and television reports.

Some flights were resuming Sunday afternoon, according to airline officials and the flight tracking website FlightAware. American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein said in an email that two flights bound for Miami and one for New York had taken off Sunday afternoon.

But even getting to an airport could be risky, U.S. officials warned. The U.S. State Department issued an alert Sunday urging its citizens on the island to shelter in place and not to go to an airport unless travelers had confirmed their departing flight was taking off.

Dr. Salil Bhende, a North Carolina dentist, said in a phone interview that a group of about 16 dental clinic volunteers was supposed to fly out Sunday from Port Au Prince but couldn’t make it to the airport because the roads were unsafe. After encountering rubble and garbage in the road, the group turned back to a church about 45 minutes outside the capital city where it was staying. Airline officials told them they might not be able to get a flight home until Tuesday, Bhende said.

“There were a lot of blockages,” he told The Associated Press. “It was very difficult to get to the airport, so we just turned around, basically, to be safe.”

Another member of the group, Pastor Fred Stapleton of Cornerstone Covenant Church in western North Carolina, said the volunteers have plenty of food and feel safe in the church.

“Nobody here is afraid for their life, or anything like that,” he said. “The people have taken care of us. We’ve been kept in a safe place.”

Chapin United Methodist Church in South Carolina posted online Sunday that its mission team is safe but stranded. Marcy Kenny, assimilation minister for the church, told The State newspaper that the group is hoping the unrest will abate enough for them to make it to the airport.

“They’re just waiting for things to die down a little bit,” Kenny said.

About 30 volunteers from a Bradenton, Florida, church were unable to make it to the airport Saturday because of protesters blocking the streets, according to the Bradenton Herald.

The group from Woodland Community Church includes about 18 teens, plus ministers and a handful of parents, said Jill Kramer, whose 15-year-old daughter is on the trip. They tried to leave for the airport early Saturday morning but turned back after they encountered protesters.

Kramer, who spoke to her daughter by phone, said the group has food, water and safe shelter at the nonprofit group where they had been working.

“The mission team, the directors they all decided it just wasn’t worth it to go farther,” Kramer told the newspaper.

— Yonat Shimron

The Dominican Republic’s Ethnic Cleansing

The Dominican Republic’s Ethnic Cleansing

In less than 24 hours the Dominican Republic will begin what is euphemistically being called a “social cleaning.” In this process of state housekeeping, the government will deport over 100,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent in effort to tidy of their immigration rolls. The criteria for this is unjust and appalling, ranging from targeting those with Haitian-sounding names and dark-skin to picking out women who look like prostitutes and considering those to be among the number.

According to an aid worker whose account was published in The Nation, the following is occurring:

“…in the barrios, police trucks have come through to conduct limpiezas (“cleanings,” with the adjective implied: “social cleanings”): “The detained tend to range from intoxicated persons to suspected prostitutes, but are disproportionately Haitian or dark-skinned Dominicans with Haitian facial features. These could just be guys drinking and playing dominos or women standing on street corners. More often, though, they tend to be young men with Haitian features and darker skin. The police usually—usually—detain them for a night and then let them go with a warning.” But, he says, this stepped-up activity is preparation for June 16:

Given the common practice of nightly police sweeps, the government solicitation of passenger buses, the official declaration of intent to pass Law 169-14 without delay on June 16, and the general history of anti-Haitian abuses on the part of law enforcement and government authorities, it is reasonable to assume that the infrastructure is now in place for mass detention and deportation of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent from the Dominican Republic. The general attitude among this vulnerable subpopulation is a mix of fear and resignation.”

The majority of those in danger of being deported are migrant workers who own businesses in DR but there are also families, women, and children who are at risk of being deported to Haiti. Some media sources have referred to the threatened population as “Haitians” but this is a misnomer because the people actually have no connection to Haiti—some having never visited the country—and thus they are being deported to become strangers in a strange land where there aren’t even enough resources for an influx of citizens.

Many are currently scrambling to gain legal residency before today’s 7pm deadline, but they are doing so in the midst of volumes of paperwork and understaffed offices. Even if they are able to get through the paperwork and the lines there are criteria they must meet such as proving that they arrived before October 2011. This becomes particularly challenging for those born in rural towns under the care of midwives which, in many cases, means they weren’t issued birth certificates. Immediately this puts many at a disadvantage and increases the risk that they will be deported from the only home they’ve known. One has to wonder if these criteria weren’t purposely established to ensure that many wouldn’t be able to secure their residency before the deadline.

Unfortunately, the current situation in the Dominican Republic is nothing new. It is only making good on an approximately 78-year tension that has existed in the Dominican Republic. It started with the 1937 Parsley Massacre which was carried out by Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo who targeted Dominicans who were dark enough to be Haitian or who were unable to pronounce key words in Spanish. So what we are seeing today is a continuation of an old battle fueled by anti-Haitian sentiments. Discrimination is at the root of this and the “social cleansing,” which is actually more akin to ethnic cleansing, is the government trying to create some semblance of ethnic purity on the island.

Furthermore, this is not just a battle on the island but America has a role in this. In an interview in the Americas Quarterly, Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat said,

One thing that is not mentioned as often is that early in the 20th century (1915 to 1934 for Haiti, and 1916 to 1924 for the D.R.), the entire island was occupied by the United States. Then again, in the D.R. in the 1960s, Trujillo — who not only organized a massacre, but wiped out several generations of Dominican families — was trained during the occupation by U.S. Marines and put in power when they pulled out. Same with the Haitian army that terrorized Haitians for generations. It is not a matter of blame but a matter of historical record.

Thus the discrimination currently taking place is a strongly-rooted practice in not recognizing Dominicans of Haitian descent as full Dominicans.

According to sources, the government has procured 12 buses and opened processing centers at the border to expedite the process of deporting the Dominicans of Haitian descent.

So what can we do?

1. The Dominican Republic is a hot tourist destination for many black and brown people. Thus the first thing that any of us can do is ensure that our fellow brothers and sisters with plans to vacation in the region this summer cancel their trips immediately and boycott. We must choose our people’s freedom over our leisure and to continue to pump money into DR’s economy is to suggest that we don’t care about their lives.

2. Sign the petition to pressure the Dominican Republic government to stop the “cleaning” they have planned in the next few days.

3. Encourage the Human Rights Watch to become more vocal about this situation, particularly through their director, Ken Roth, a prolific social media user who hasn’t addressed the situation much–only one tweet of a NY Times story and the Human Rights Watch homepage has nothing about the situation on their homepage. Tweet the  @hrw (Human Rights Watch) : “Why are you ignoring Haitians in DR? Stop the exile!” Share the same tweet with both the Congressional Black and Hispanic Caucuses. Call HRW, follow link http://m.hrw.org/contact-us

4. We can continue to complain about what mainstream news media isn’t covering or we can just cover it ourselves. Let’s stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Dominican Republic and remember that, we too, share in their struggle. Keep spreading this news on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to get the word out.

Story sources:

The Bloody Origins of the Dominican Republic’s ethnic “cleansing” of Haitians

Five Things to Know About the “Cleaning” of Haitians from the DR

Why You Should Boycott the Dominican Republic

We Regret to Inform You that in Four Days You and Your Family Will Be Deported to Haiti

The Dominican Republic and Haiti: A Shared View from the Diaspora

The Problem with Political Prophets

The Problem with Political Prophets

HIT OR MISS: CBN founder Pat Robertson keeps us guessing with his prophecies about politics and world events. (Photo: Olivier Douliery/Newscom)

“I think George Bush is going to win in a walk. I really believe I’m hearing from the Lord it’s going to be like a blowout election in 2004. The Lord has just blessed him…. It doesn’t make any difference what he does, good or bad.” — Pat Robertson, January 2, 2004

Once upon a time, Pat Robertson prophesied and things happened. He declared George W. Bush was God’s man for 2004. And everything was good for Pat and George on Election Day.

Score one for the prophet of a small media empire and for the president accused of building an empire (you be the judge on the latter).

In November 2007, Pat decided to turn tarot cards again. This time, the anointed one was Rudolph Giuliani.

For obvious reasons, this marriage made in heaven was a strange one. Pat hates divorce. Rudy (apparently) loves it. Pat decries abortion rights. Rudy pledges to uphold them. Nevertheless, Pat Robertson bequeathed the divine blessing to Rudy.

Pat’s rationale for this prophetic endorsement was different than the one for Bush. Giuliani is God’s man to protect Americans “from the blood lust of Islamic terrorists,” Pat averred.

That second time around, however, Pat-styled prophecy failed. In January 2008, after Giuliani performed poorly in the primary elections, Pat appeared on Hannity & Colmes doing a delicate dance of doubletalk — God had revealed to Pat who would win the eventual election (and since Rudy was out it wasn’t him), but he took a vow of silence as to the identity of the future winner.

Prophecy Pat-style always keeps you guessing. So was it any wonder when on January 4, 2012, Pat Robertson deigned to make a prediction concerning our next president? Apparently, God is uttering negative prophecies now, instead of affirmative ones.

So thanks to Pat, we now know that the next President will not be … Barack Obama! As for the identity of the victor, Robertson claims it’s for him and God to know and for us unenlightened earthlings to find out. Apparently this time around, God told Pat to keep his trap shut.

Pat Robertson’s predictions and prophetic interpretations of world events have become something of a painful joke in recent years. His claim that Hurricane Katrina represented God’s judgment on the United States for its tolerance of legalized abortion was dubious enough, but then his declaration that Haiti’s deadly earthquake in 2010 was the result of a curse on that nation for its “pact with the devil” was even more bewildering.

So what are we to make of Pat’s spotty record with political prophecies? Well, one thought occurs to me right off the bat: Don’t blame all Christians for the ill-advised behavior of one believer, even if that one happens to preside over a worldwide media conglomerate that reaches people in more than 100 countries. While it is true that for many of us theology and Scripture inform our views on a myriad of public policy, few of us deign to divine in the name of God the man or woman who would be king or queen.

At the same time, let’s cut Pat some slack — as an octogenarian, perhaps his hearing is getting bad. But let’s allow Scripture (yes, religion) to have the last word for those, like Pat, who invoke God’s name on behalf of a candidate: “… when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him” (Deuteronomy 18:22).

God is not silent. But hopefully, Pat’s presumptuous prophecies are. Be not afraid!

What Haiti Really Needs

This year we observe the tenth anniversary of September 11th, 2001, a day in our nation’s history that changed everything. Before 9/11, most Americans had never heard of Osama Ben Laden or the Taliban, nor could they easily point to Iraq or Afghanistan on a map. The event was indeed a game changer, not only for the United States and the West, but for the entire world. The tightening of security in air travel, the creation of Homeland Security, and the forced collaboration of once competing agencies like the FBI, CIA, and local agencies are but the tip of the iceberg. Not to mention the “military action” we initiated with other members of the global community in this ongoing “war on terrorism.” The West received a rude awakening: “You cannot continue your dealings with the Arab nations with a ‘business as usual’ attitude.”

Such was the case when a 7.2 earthquake struck the island of Haiti a year ago in January, tragically setting off what some have called the “Haitian 9/11.” Before the earthquake most Americans couldn’t point to Haiti on the map, but the most devastating earthquake in the small nation’s history killed nearly 250,000 people and left more than a million homeless, and countless scores maimed and injured. Like our 9/11, Haiti’s earthquake was a game changer for the hundreds of missions and relief agencies and other NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) on the ground in Port-au-Prince.


NATION IN NEED: Haitians wait for the distribution of emergency supplies following the 2010 earthquake. Photo from Wikipedia.

One need only take a brief scan of the media outlets to hear pundits express their shock as to how little has been done in the past year in terms of relief, aid, and development. As Reuters reports, “despite billions of dollars of donations and aid pledges from some of the world’s most powerful leaders, a 12,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping presence and an army of relief workers, the debris that clogs much of the city and a million homeless people living in tents are blunt testimony to the unfinished recovery task. Meanwhile, the nation’s cholera epidemic, which began this past fall, continues to run rampant.” Oxfam, the British based charity organization, offered more staggering statistics and an even sharper critique of the relief efforts, saying that various projects had been crippled by lack of leadership and cooperation from the Haitian government and the international community.

“At the anniversary of the earthquake, close to one million Haitians are reportedly still displaced. Less than 5 percent of the rubble has been cleared, only 15 percent of the temporary housing that is needed has been built and relatively few permanent water and sanitation facilities have been constructed,” the report said. According to a Chronicle of Philanthropy survey of 60 major relief organizations, the same dire facts were revealed, stating that of the more than $1.4 billion donated to Haitian relief through such organizations, by Americans alone, only 38 percent of these funds have actually been used to provide recovery aid. But these statistics are faceless until you hear the voices of the Haitians themselves. Mackenzy Jean-Francois, a 25-year-old university student in Port-au-Prince is quoted as saying, “When you go around the country and through the tents (in the survivors’ camps) and you look at the situation people are facing one year after the disaster, it’s hard to see much sign of how that money was spent.”

This seems to be the question at hand, “Where has all the aid money gone?” However, I think this raises an even deeper question: How is it that, prior to the earthquake, thousands of aid organizations from the international community operated in Haiti for decades, spent billions of dollars, and yet failed to transform an island the size of Maryland into a prosperous nation? Despite the best of intentions, Haiti remained the poorest country in the Western hemisphere even before the earthquake.

HOMEGROWN RELIEF: While international efforts received significant media coverage, much of the rescue effort was conducted by Haitians themselves. Photo from Wikipedia.

Before our 9/11, it was commonplace in the U.S. to witness, even in our movies and television shows, the competition and lack of coordination and cooperation between agencies who existed to “protect and serve” — CIA, FBI, and local authorities. It seems to the average citizen, because of the ongoing threat of terrorism, that this has ceased to a large degree. However, it appears in general that “business as usual” continues in Haiti; insufficient coordination, lack of cooperation, exclusion of indigenous input, focus on quick fixes, it is with good reason that Haiti earned the moniker of the “Republic of NGOs.” “It seemed the more NGOs that came to Haiti, the worse off Haiti became,” said Pastor Louis Pierre, a Haitian expatriate living in Chicago. Indeed, Timothy T. Schwartz’s 2008 book, Travesty in Haiti, takes a graphic look into the world of food aid, orphanages, Christian missions, and fraud that is, quite frankly, frightening.

Of course, not all aid work is intended to harm or wreak havoc on those they serve, but sometimes our good intentions can create a “pathway to hell” for those whom we meant to help. Fonkoze.org, Haiti’s alternative bank for the organized poor, and CHFinternational.org, whose goal is to “to build the capacity of local partners, governments and the private sector to create communities who are economically, socially, and environmentally self-sufficient,” are but two NGO’s that need to be modeled. Empowerment, sustainability, and self-sufficiency appear to be the very things they are accomplishing. Every organization will “say” the latter is their goal, but outcomes are what tell us the truth. How many times have we personally made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight and at the end of the year found out that we actually gained? Goals and outcomes are not the same.

When completely unexpected catastrophic events occur, the world reacts in horror, chaos unfolds, and there is a generous outpouring sympathy, not to mention cash. Will we continue to donate funds to aid organizations for whom it is in their best interest to solely “feed” people in crises rather than to, at some point, equip them to feed themselves? Furthermore, will we support “development” organizations that use funds to exclusively fund American-owned and operated “contractors” so as to keep the funds flowing through their organizations and to their own, while under-developing the communities they are claiming to help?

By not calling them to accountability, we are only continuing a state of dependency whereby the beneficiaries are never equipped to build, sustain, or grow their communities and economies independent of Western oversight and funding. This was the state of Haiti before the earthquake, and it seems to be the case a year after this tragedy.

Is development about the nation being saved, or about the development of the organizations and corporations that are ostensibly there to serve? To many of us watching, it seems they are serving themselves rather than those who are suffering. Just as our extended “war on terror” has dragged on with no assurance that there will ever be victory, the prolonged aide to Haiti that we foresee must also have a definitive exit plan, one in which this nation is not further crippled but truly “aided” and “developed.”

Related Articles: “Pat Robertson Was Right” and “Reunited by Earthquake.”

Pressing Past the Heartbreak

“If Job weren’t in the Bible, I probably wouldn’t be a Christian,” says Aslan Youth Ministries co-founder Craig Bogard, whose personal tragedies have not stopped him from ministering to the needs of kids in the poor communities of central New Jersey and Haiti.

Craig and Lynn Ann Bogard grew up in a small, predominantly white community in New Mexico but sensed a call to minister to African American youth in central New Jersey after a short-term mission trip to the area in the early 1970s. Thirty-five years later, despite living through periods of relying solely on God for their next meal, the Bogards are still at it. They have faced the kinds of challenges that only a deep and abiding faith could pull them through — fundraising struggles, misunderstandings about their motives by both blacks and whites, and, most recently, the untimely deaths of their two beloved sons, Daniél, 28, in 2004 and Dustin, 25, in 2007.

I’ve been aware of the Bogards’ Aslan Youth Ministries for many years, but only just met Craig Bogard last month. As I listened to this slight, serious man recount Aslan’s history, what I really wanted to know was: How do you keep ministering to other people’s children when your own were taken from you?

Craig says he asks himself that question every day, and did so that morning before our interview. The still-grieving father opened up to me about his new life of “pain management” after I told him about the death of my own child. We shared our thoughts on the bittersweet experience of ministering to children who come from seemingly hopeless situations while our own cherished children seemed to have lost sight of the hope we instilled in them. “If Job weren’t in the Bible,” Craig says, “I probably wouldn’t be a Christian.”

He cites Lamentations, chapter three as a source of strength. It’s a difficult chapter that begins and ends with pain, but tucked into the middle are these words: “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD. I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning” (Lam. 3:18-24, NIV).

Quoting a long forgotten source, Craig says, “I’ve done so much with so little for so long, I can do almost anything with nothing.” These days, even with a drop in ministry donations reflective of the economic downturn, the “nothing” the Bogards make do with tends to be more spiritual and emotional than material. Still, God provides.

On the warm summer day when I visited one of Aslan’s three urban day camps, longtime volunteer Brenda Bouldin served both snacks and Bible knowledge to a group of campers while Lethea “Queenie” Ferguson, Aslan’s area program director, organized an outdoor game and the executive program director, Kat Eagles, pulled the threads together.

Queenie says what’s different about the Bogards is their passion for “kids nobody really wants or has time for.” She adds, “Their heart for children takes priority over programs.”

Relationships always have been the heart of the ministry, according to Lynn Ann Bogard (left), who was in Philadelphia straightening out passport issues in preparation for a youth mission trip to Aslan’s affiliate ministry in Haiti on the day I visited. By phone she later told me that program-driven ministry puzzles her and that Aslan’s success with kids has never been based on her or her husband having some intrinsic understanding of the African American experience. “We are not black and never will be,” she says. “It’s never had anything to do with things like that.” She says their ability to transcend barriers “almost underscores that we don’t have to be the same to care for others. We listen because we’re related, not because we’re the same.”

Much of what Lynn Ann contributes to the ministry nowadays depends on what needs to be done or what she feels competent to do. The 61-year-old says her lower profile is a result of both grief and age. Like Craig, she grapples with a spiritual conflict that, in the wake of her sons’ deaths, she doesn’t see ever ending “because there has been too much loss and what feels like betrayal.”

Still, her sense of calling is undiminished. “It’s not based on how I feel or what I’ve been through or anything else. As confused and disillusioned as I can be, God’s call is still written on my heart. Changing that would be like trying to take freckles out of someone’s skin. It is part of who I am.”

I didn’t meet Doug Eagles, Aslan’s chief operating officer (and Kat’s husband), on the day I visited because he too was preparing for the trip to Haiti by collecting donations for the personal hygiene kits that he, another adult, and nine teens would deliver.

Aslan’s work in the Caribbean nation, which began in 1996, was inspired by a youth mission trip that Daniél Bogard took to Uganda. It has three unique goals: 1) to introduce urban young people to their African heritage and to the rich African culture of Haiti; 2) to acquaint young people from difficult home environments in the U.S. with the often more difficult situations faced by young people in other parts of the world; and 3) to offer them the opportunity to develop leadership and personal skills through humanitarian aid projects.

In 2008, Craig told The New York Times that the only way he and Lynn Ann could emotionally survive the deaths of their sons is to be able to see their dream in Haiti become a reality. “Daniél and Dustin were the entire inspiration for it, pushing us every step of the way.” Lynn Ann says the same is true for their continued ministry in New Jersey. Her sons believed in the work “with their whole hearts.”told the Asbury Park Press, “We teach kids that you learn to lead through serving … to look beyond your need to others’ needs.” Not only do the Bogards model this value every day as they look beyond their own grief, but so do the Eagles, who joined Aslan full time after Dustin’s death so that they could support the Bogards and help assure stability in the ministry. Lynn Ann says she and Craig couldn’t have continued on without this young, energetic couple. Likewise, both Queenie and Brenda have been serving Aslan’s youth for more than a decade each.

Craig adds, “Both Daniél and Dustin struggled for years with substance abuse, but this is not what defined them.

Ultimately, it was the drugs that took their lives away, but their lives were filled with service to Christ both in New Jersey and in Haiti. At the end, their hearts were just broken. What is discouraging is there still seems to be such a stigma attached to anyone with addiction problems.”

Earlier this year, talking about the Haiti work, Craig

I think God crossed my path with the Bogards’ at just the right time. A week after I interviewed them, my husband and I volunteered once again to serve in our church’s Vacation Bible School program. There was a charismatic young man who helped with the VBS music. He reminded me of my late son, and it hurt. At one point, I wondered if I could keep doing that type of ministry year in and year out. Then I thought about the Bogards, the Eagles, and Aslan’s other volunteers, and I said to myself, “God will help me press past the pain.”