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Haiti: Discovering Wealth in Poverty


By Gil Hedley | May 1986
Gil Hedley is currently studying for his master’s degree at the Divinity School at the University of Chicago.

The mention of Haiti tends to bring to mind several associations such as AIDS, Voodoo, boat people, and poverty. I used to think of Haiti as if it were some sort of a Caribbean New Jersey — a place one desires only to leave. But recently, in re­sponse to a felt need from within to serve God as I met Him in His poor, I spent three months in Port­-au-Prince, Haiti, living with the Missionaries of Charity.

The Missionaries of Charity (M.C.) are reli­gious communities of Sisters or Brothers founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Their fundamental mission is neither to proselytize (in the restricted sense of verbal witnessing with the intention of gaining converts) nor to raise political conscious­ness. Rather, their intention is more simple: to serve Christ as they encounter Him in “the poorest of the poor,” because “whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.”

When I debarked from the plane in Port-au-Prince, I had brought with me a knapsack, 20 pounds of peanut butter, and a limited vocabulary from the Creole language which I would soon need to be speaking. At nightfall I was delivered to a sec­tion of Port-au-Prince’s most sprawling slum, Cite Simone. In the midst of the slum, three M.C. Brothers had taken in about 25 street boys (some orphaned, some abandoned). The boys were gener­ally uncertain about their own ages, but they were certain about the care and concern the Brothers provided in raising them.

As I walked about the morning after my arriv­al, I could not help but say: “This place looks like a war zone.” Such is the squalor and material desti­tution in which the masses of Port-au-Prince live each day. But this was only an initial observation, because by the time I left Haiti, that same area I walked through had been transformed in my eyes into what it probably was in the eyes of those who inhabited it. It was a neighborhood filled with peo­ple in their many dimensions, not simply a two-di­mensional “slum of the hungry” snapshot from a magazine.

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