Lessons Learned in Haiti
By Rick Williamson (PhD '02, MA '98)
Every so often it seems that we're presented with the opportunity to relive and re-engage some of life's challenges in ways that don't lead to a perfect resolution, but to a deepening of our understanding and an increased quality of relating with God and others. Some of these challenges recur throughout life, even when we think we've learned the lesson or achieved the milestone it represents. I am learning to view these recurring challenges as blessings and opportunities to begin again. With each recurrence I bring a bit of the added knowledge and hindsight of prior experiences, enabling me to increasingly recognize God's glory even in difficult circumstances.
It was nearly 15 years ago that I first visited the country of Haiti. While there I not only witnessed Haiti's great cultural richness, but I was also left to grapple with the profound impoverishment of nearly every Haitian person I met over the course of that trip. Only a first-year Fuller psychology student at the time, I remember feeling absolutely ill-equipped to make any difference in the face of such longstanding and grand-scale needs. Because of this challenging experience, I often contemplated the disciples' dilemma when tasked to address overwhelming community need with insufficient personal resources (the feeding of the 5,000).
Fast forward 15 years--and I have returned to Haiti in response to its January earthquake. In doing so, I had the privilege of spending time with several Haitian psychology students and heard their accounts of counseling with those experiencing bereavement, displacement, and physical mutilation. The students candidly expressed being overwhelmed by the scope of the community's mental health need and felt ill-equipped to address the severity of people's trauma reactions, which they themselves were also enduring. Their experience called forth my old memories. However, while my experience of powerlessness in the face of Haiti's reality 15 years prior ago in no way compared to the magnitude of what these Haitian students now experienced, their feelings of incapability and ineffectiveness were linked with my own prior experience.
Ultimately, professional support and consultation for these students was helpful. Yet I felt compelled to also recall the dilemma Jesus's disciples faced when tasked to provide for thousands in immediate need. That God provided provision to all through a young boy from the affected community was a lesson to the disciples, just as it was my personal lesson that, after 15 years, I realized my role as Christ's disciple in that situation. I was called to walk with and support my Haitian brothers and sisters during this time in the role of disciple, and not as the young lad. It was not me through whom God's provision of emotional healing would come to Haiti, but it was through these students who were faithful with the seemingly little they believed they possessed.
Today, the challenge of much-needed provision in Haiti remains unresolved. However, because of my opportunity to begin again and for a second time confront the suffering of an entire nation, I now experience a deeper connectivity with my Haitian brothers and sisters--based on our shared experience and faith that with God, truly all things are possible.