It is beautiful here in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. That’s not something I imagine many Americans say on their first visit to this city—the poorest in the western hemisphere and home to about 3 million people. I expected it to be ugly, foul-smelling, really hot (which it is), and scary.
Blue skies blanket this city, and blooming fuchsia-colored bougainvillea drape over concrete walls that protect homes and buildings from the chaos on the other side. The smell of spicy grilled street food fills the air. Narrow, unpaved roads wind through hilly neighborhoods. The streets are clogged with honking vehicles and pedestrians who seem oblivious to cars and trucks swerving around them at terrifying speeds. Sidewalks are lined with vendors selling everything from shoes to dish soap.
But these are not the things that make it beautiful here.
This is the kind of beauty Isaiah describes in 61:3—the kind that comes out of ashes. Much of Port-au-Prince was reduced to dust in 2010 after a powerful earthquake crumbled its fragile cinder block structures. The city became a massive concrete grave for 230,000 people.
There are still piles of rubble every few blocks. Things have been cleaned up, but at first glance, it looks as though not much has been rebuilt.
To me, the chaos here is beautiful. The people here are beautiful—children in pressed uniforms and women carrying huge baskets filled with heavy loads on their heads. Mothers washing children’s clothing in metal tubs of soapy water. Families are starting over, making homes out of simple shelters.
The concrete floor is swept clean and the bed is neatly made in the home of Elias and Louis, a precious couple in their late fifties who welcomed us in, offered us a seat on the bed, then put on their best clothes to have their photos taken. A thin curtain separates the two shelters that were built together by World Concern so that the family of 12 could all live together. Their home is one of more than 3,000 World Concern has built or repaired after the earthquake.
They are retired teachers who lost their home in the earthquake. Louis rested her hand on her husband’s to try and still his trembling caused by Parkinson’s disease. Elias got tears in his eyes as he talked about their life, their losses, and the blessing their home has been.
“It is a gift from God,” he said. “After the earthquake, first God saved us, then World Concern helped us.”
Our eyes met and our hearts connected as we shook hands and thanked them for sharing their story and inviting us into their home.
“God bless you,” said Louis, in perfect English.
Beauty for ashes.
Strength for fear. Joy for mourning. Praise instead of despair.
Elias and Louis—and thousands of others who are starting over from nothing—are living examples of the “display of His splendor.”
We join with them in thanking God for the transformation that is happening in Haiti.
“Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.” Psalm 115:1