Featured Reviews, VOLUME 3

Featured: HIDDEN IN THE RUBBLE: Gerard Thomas Straub [Vol. 3, #41]

Can Something Beautiful
Arise Out of the Rubble?”

A review of
Hidden in the Rubble: A Haitian Pilgrimage
To Compassion and Resurrection.

By Gerard Thomas Straub.

Reviewed by Laretta Benjamin.

Hidden in the Rubble: A Haitian Pilgrimage
To Compassion and Resurrection.

Gerard Thomas Straub.

Paperback: Orbis Books, 2010.

Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Hidden in the Rubble - GT StraubI very much appreciate books of this nature that are written from the center rather than the perimeter.  It’s always easy to make critiques, give judgments and render analysis when you’re in a safe chair on the outside looking in.  Those objective perspectives can sometimes be helpful, but writings that come from the heart of one who is in the middle of the “story” carry with them a certain passion and power.  This is one of those books…informative and thought-provoking and at the same time filled with a real sincerity of heart that easily draws the reader in.  Knowing little about Haiti myself (much to my discredit) except for what I see and hear on the news, the verbal images he paints and the insights he gives are invaluable to those of us who would like to know and understand more about our struggling neighbors to the south.

In his opening pages, the author shares with us an entry out of his journal:

Despite the magnificent natural beauty of Haiti, Haiti is an ugly place because wide-scale suffering is accepted and allowed to flourish.  People are quick to offer an array of historical, social, and political reasons for the poverty, but no one really wants to end it or at least there is no collective will to end it.  The government is corrupt.  The infrastructure is woefully inadequate for the growing population.  Haiti is a dismal place, teeming with anger and rage and broken, empty promises. From my perspective, at least on a purely rational level, the situation in Haiti is virtually hopeless.  No amount of well-intentioned “projects” is going to make a difference.  For things to change, the hearts of people in Haiti and around the world must be broken.  We are all to blame for Haiti.  The only hope I see resides in an understanding of Christ and the demands of the gospel.  And that understanding begins with entering more fully into the mystery of the humility of God. (xx-xxi).

This wonderful little book takes us in that direction.  The author confronts us with the self-serving ways of the world and how those ways (and those of us living out those ways) contribute to the brokenness of places such as Haiti.  “Our society is organized around one goal: to constantly increase production and consumption…this slowly breaks down the cluster of communities which have always made up the human family because we become more and more me-centered, more and more addicted to self-fulfillment, more and more individualistic in our pursuit of more and more consumer goods…” (29) The author very clearly sets before us the call of the gospel and his belief that places like Cité Soleil in Haiti and other hell-like slum areas exist on this earth because we have shut our eyes and our hearts to God’s call on our lives.  He very clearly connects the poverty of Haiti with the poverty of our minds and hearts as humans apart from God.

This book is divided into three distinct parts which I found very helpful:  life before the earthquake, the chaos, destruction and devastation taking place during the earthquake, and Haiti after the earthquake.  In part one, Straub takes us to Cité Soleil ( a place that in no way seems to live up to its name, City of the Sun), the oldest and largest slum in Port-au-Prince. It is called a “grim, deadly and dangerous” environment, and “as close to hell as you can get” by a member of a missions group.  We are given a disturbing portrait of life there for the quarter of a million people living in squalid conditions in a mere three-square mile area.  The fact is 80% of Haitians live in poverty.  In the midst of the darkness of Cité Soleil, the author finds glimpses of light and hope, as we always do.   We meet Father Tom Hagan, a former Princeton University chaplain, who has for twenty years lived and loved and worked with his church in the middle of the Cite Soleil.  The author draws us in to Father Tom’s life and perspective and servant heart, challenging us with our own views of life and the gospel and with God’s desires and plans for His people and His world.  Mr. Straub’s time in Haiti was spent during the Advent season and he very creatively uses that time to think about the Incarnation and what it means to live that out in our broken world, specifically in a place like Haiti.   Father Tom Hagan and his church seem to be an incredible example of that.

In part two of the book, we are ushered into the scene of the earthquake and are allowed to see a small part of the suffering through the Straub’s eyes as he spends his days at one of the hospitals there.  The number of injured and dying are overwhelming and many of the wounds are nightmarish.  A newly arriving doctor must help amputate the leg of a fifteen-month old baby as his first surgery.   The medical crews “lived on power bars and Gatorade they brought with them.”  We meet real people and are drawn into their suffering and struggles, giving faces to the staggering numbers most of us just heard on the news.  For a place already overflowing with challenges and struggles, this event was truly catastrophic and devastating.   The author does a good job of challenging us to think about suffering in Haiti and in general.

In the third and last section of this book, the author takes us back to Haiti after the earthquake.  He shares with us a letter written to him by Father Tom describing some of the challenges they now face and the losses they are dealing with.  In part of his letter Father Tom writes “everywhere you go you see the church reaching out now….but the longer I am here, the less I know.  I really could not speak with much authority about what will happen with the government or even what would be the best way to help the people.  I also struggle a great deal even being here.  I feel strongly that we can do a great deal of harm with the best intentions when we begin to be the benefactor…” (106-107)  Since the earthquake, life for many Haitians is only about survival.  Of course, even before the earthquake, life for many there was all about survival.

The author’s trip to Haiti following the earthquake took place during the Easter season.  He again very creatively connected the resurrection with what the future could hold for Haiti.  Is it possible that something beautiful can arise out of the rubble?  For those of us who are God’s people, there can be no other answer but an emphatic YES!

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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Reading for the Common Good
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