Three weeks after the earthquake, Enel and I are both amazed he’s alive as we step through the sharp smell of decaying bodies coming up from under the rubble of his university. [He had been inside the university building when the earthquake shook and the building collapsed.]
Rebars are twisted like flimsy spaghetti. Textbooks, emblems of a promising future, are strewn across the rubble, unclaimed by either the dead or the narrowly escaped. They’re emblems now of crushed dreams.
We walk past a charred skull. Bodies that were close enough to the surface to find but too buried to extract had to be burned. Gasoline was poured down the cracks and lit with a match.
Leaving the university rubble, we walk half a block down the road where a crew of people wearing matching T-shirts is each being paid about six dollars a day to clear roads and sidewalks. A fridge is turned on its side with a block of ice and sodas and water inside.
We stop for a drink. Scrawled across the side of the fridge are the words, “God Is Verry Good.” The double r is maybe a sign of emphasis or wavering, or simply a misspelling.
The drink vendor is named Blaise. We buy our drinks and start talking with him. Standard questions: “How’s your family?” Profound sadness is conveyed mathematically these days—number of family alive/dead and homes collapsed or not.
“Where were you when the earthquake hit?” I ask.
Blaise is an intense guy. A little skittish but looks me straight in the eye.
“I was sitting over there, across the street. In a shady spot.” “What were you doing?” “Reading my Bible,” he says in roughly the same way Clint Eastwood’s character in a Western would say, “Cleaning my gun.”
“What were you reading?”
He’s not the first person to tell me this is what he was doing during the earthquake. In the second verse of the chapter Jesus says ominously, “Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” It’s about the temple being destroyed, about earthquakes and other signs of end times. Jesus is painting a vivid, awful vision of the future. The point is to persevere in faith and be vigilant about the truth. The final hour is unknown and will surprise many. I doubt Blaise was actually reading that chapter from Matthew’s Gospel at the moment the quake struck. It’s possible, but my better guess is he’s trying to make sense of the insensible. I want to know more.
“Your cooler says, ‘God is very good.’ You still believe this?”
The scent of death at the university is a hundred feet away. If this question can’t be asked here, now, then we ought to stop asking it.
The Psalms suddenly incarnate. The passion of that roughly 2,500-year-old collection of poems comes to life as Blaise steps closer to me, now speaking faster in Creole with English peppered in. He’s talking about how good God is, but in a way that’s angry, electric. Because his faith is so alive, I keep asking more. He eagerly keeps talking, but eventually it becomes clear that if I push much harder—if I keep asking questions about God—I might get punched in the mouth.
Not because of his doubts or because he’s protecting something fragile, though. He doesn’t have a self-serving agenda or cheap certainty, like those blabbering on American TV and in too many public offices (and pulpits?).
It’s the opposite of all this. It’s fragile because it’s so real. He’s hurt. Maybe I can say it this way: it seems the guy truly loves God but is profoundly hurt that God would allow the suffering all around him.
It’s like they’re in an intense lovers’ fight that I’d best not get in the middle of. We say goodbye.
Excerpt from After Shock by Kent Annan. Copyright © 2011 by Kent Annan. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press.
Kent Annan is co-director of Haiti Partners, a nonprofit focused on education in Haiti. He is author, most recently, of “After Shock: Searching for Honest Faith When Your World Is Shaken.”