Haiti = Snore?

The anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti comes next week, and you can probably guess what will tend to lead the coverage: [Insert politician or celebrity] [insert "visited Haiti" or rehearsed statement]. Perhaps I'm being too skeptical, because I do hope we see reporters exploring the many angles coming out of Haiti. There's the cholera epidemic, the presidential election run-off, international aid, further recovery efforts, the list goes on and on. Of course, we hope to see stories that either focus on or include religion when it seems appropriate.

The coverage can get so overwhelming that readers may tend to gloss over any mention of Haiti. Instead of focusing on numbers, policy, money and official statements, some of the best stories are told through individuals who are experiencing it on the ground. We see that here in a package from The New York Times, which profiles six survivors, including a pastor whose church building was foreclosed. Because church members have no money to give, the bank has foreclosed on the property.

Still, the pastor insisted, just as his chorus narrowly escaped death when the church fell, just as his daughter was spared when she stood to answer a teacher's question while the girl who slid into her seat was killed by a concrete block, so, too, would "a miracle" keep the Evangelical Church of Grace alive.

"I am certain -- certain! -- that we will rise again on Avenue Poupelard," he said. "The events of Jan. 12 destroyed hundreds of church buildings. But did they kill our churches? Ah, no. Au contraire. We don't need roofs to pray. God is our cover."

... Pastor Sylvert holds open-air services on property adjoining the church, and many are lured by the oversize speakers that blast his fiery preaching. But misery itself has been good for business, he said.

"In moments like this, with destruction all around, with electoral crisis in the air, with cholera in the water, people have only God," he said. "God is Haiti's only uncorrupted leader."

Stories told through Haitians' eyes keep readers reminded of the earthquake's continued repercussions. Then in the United States, there are newspapers following up on some earlier American efforts. The Miami Herald found this fascinating story about a pastor who is returning to Haiti to start an orphanage, after losing parts of both feet to malaria during his post-earthquake trip.

Longtime missionary Brian Kelso will return to Haiti in January, this time like thousands of people who survived a 7.0 tremor there -- as an amputee. The Weston pastor spent months this year in Haiti doing earthquake relief, and it nearly cost him his life. After two months in the hospital, 40 hours in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, Kelso lost half his right foot and the toes on his left.

His right foot is now a size 4.

"A mosquito and I had a rendezvous,'' he explains.

What a great setup to a really interesting story. However, I was left with a few basic questions about why the pastor is starting an orphanage. After the earthquake, there was that question of whether people who wanted to help with the recovery efforts should physically go to Haiti or whether they should donate money to groups that were already equipped for relief work. So I would wonder whether the reporter gently asked something like, "Why are you starting another orphanage? Why not donate money to others who are already running orphanages?" And if the reporter was feeling really bold, "Do you feel like you made a mistake going to Haiti the first time?" It's tough to question a pastor, but here's where I wish the reporter had probed just a little deeper.

Finally, I hope to see some stories about the religious climate in Haiti after a year of recovery. Remember last year when we talked about the influence of Voodoo in the country? Now there also appears to be some violence in connection to the Cholera epidemic, according to an Associated Press account.

At least 45 people have been killed across Haiti due to accusations they are using "black magic" to spread cholera, the director of a Voodoo association said Friday.

Most of the killings are occurring in the southern coastal town of Jeremie, where people are being lynched, set on fire and attacked with machetes, said Max Beauvoir, a Voodoo priest. But he said killings also have been reported in Cap Haitien and the Central Plateau. ... Roughly half of the 9.6 million people who live in Haiti practice Voodoo, also known as Vodou, a blend of West African and Christian religion.

You would think that if people are being killed based on their religion that it could use a little more background, history and explanation of its practices. Reuters' piece does a little bit better on background until the final paragraph.

After the January 12 earthquake, which wrecked much of the capital Port-au-Prince and killed more than 250,000 people, voodoo leaders had to defend themselves publicly against accusations by some Evangelical preachers that the voodoo religion somehow caused the natural disaster.

Since when did the Rev. Pat Robertson's remarks (which was criticized by many) turn into "some Evangelical preachers"? Correct me if I'm wrong, but were there other evangelical preachers who suggested the same thing and got the same kind of attention for it?

Religion can be found in so many angles of the Haiti recovery process. Let us know if you see some good, bad or ugly coverage.

Image: I took this photo during a media visit in July 2010.

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