I first got word about the earthquake on Wednesday afternoon. I sat at my computer on a lunch break at work and read an email from the Dakotas Conference asking for prayer and financial support. Immediately flashed before me were images of Haiti, of the work so many of my friends have gone to do or are doing, of the great need already evident before such a tragedy, and of how many people I know that have been or even could be there. Where are they? Are they accounted for? Didn’t I hear something about missions teams being sent there in January - is that now?
While these questions came to mind I simultaneously allowed my fingers to type Haiti into google in search of more information and let my voice cry out for my roommate Hannah, who I knew would want to know right away. Over the next couple of days, information flowed in slowly and took us on a roller-coaster of emotions. We misread information, were fed wrong information, were left without any information. I am especially grateful for those who have gone out of their way to share any information with us, as has proven difficult to keep up with any news in real time from here.
My heart is heavy. It has been heavy for days as I have been thinking about, praying for, and reflecting as I read others’ reactions to this tragedy. To be honest, in the past when a tragedy such as this has struck someplace around the world, I usually join them in prayer and think about it for a day or so, then feel guilty about going back to life as I know it while people are suffering. The guilt has come this time too, but its different this time.
This time, the guilt isn’t that I have forgotten them, failed to keep them in my prayers, or not “done” something. Rather, it the guilt has been about how lavishly I live my life and how easily I take it for granted. The guilt has been linked to how I can spend hours thinking about this, but at the end of the day still not be ready to give up certain luxuries I know I have.
It has also been different because this time, I can’t forget or move on. Something about this tragedy struck me deeply, and has left me without words. This has been true before, but never has it been true without the media constantly feeding me pictures, videos, stories so that I felt connected and was reminded of the crisis. This time, I have had only minimal access to media, and with the exception of occasional emails from my Conference, I could easily have forgotten it or moved on.
Friday morning, I discovered one of the unknown connections that perhaps kept me so closely tied (prayerfully, emotionally, etc) to Haiti. In a matter of hours, I discovered that 3 GBGM/UMCOR officials were in Haiti and were last seen entering a building that collapsed in the earthquake. Misunderstandings and a passing of wrong information led us to believe they were found but fine, then not found, then one walked away with bruises and the other two were pinned for 55 hours but then found alive and would be okay. It was a rollercoaster, to be sure, especially since the two pinned men, Clint Rabb and Sam Dixon, are two men who I have worked with (Sam indirectly) over the years and who I know to do incredible work. I also know that they are two of the men within the UMC that would know the most about how to get relief to Haiti in the quickest and most efficient way possible - Clint is the Director of Volunteers in Mission (short term missions) and Sam the director of UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief).
Tonight, we are not greeted with such great news. We finally have confirmed information, and know for sure that these reports offered to us before were not entirely true. It is true that the third man, Jim Gulley, an UMCOR consultant, is okay and walked away with cuts and bruises. It is also true that Clint and Sam were trapped for 55 hours under a pile of debris that was once the hotel. Tonight’s confirmed report tells us that Clint Rabb was found alive and has since been transported to a hospital in Florida, where he remains in Intensive Care.
Another report updates us on Rev. Sam Dixon. Unfortunately, Sam did not make it out of that pile alive, and today, thousands are grieving the loss of an incredible man.
Around the world, Sam Dixon was a loved servant and friend. With great hesitancy and difficulty, we (Hannah, Rachel and I) shared this update with Mama Tembo, our boss whose home we were at following an incredible evening of celebrations. We knew from conversations the past couple of days that Mama Tembo had known Sam well, and she was relieved to hear positive reports as we received them yesterday. Today, however, we had not such good news, and our celebrations quickly ended as we took time to mourn together.
Life is such a delicate thing, and we sat around the table rotating between moments of needed silence, tears, or opportunities to share stories about Sam and the incredible difference he made in the world - in our worlds. As we did so, I began to also reflect on this delicacy of life, and how incredible it really is that Sam truly lived his life as a fun, joyful, hardworking and passionate servant of God. He truly loved his work and was great at it, blessing millions along the way. Sam was in Haiti on business, and I like to imagine there was no other place he’d rather have been.
As I sit rambling and writing this post, it is nearly 4am and I am sleepless. It has indeed been a full and exhausting week, and yet I know it is far from over. I remember Sam’s family, friends, and extended community around the world, a community I cannot quickly forget as Mama Tembo tells us of what an integral role Sam Dixon played in getting funding for SHADE early on. I also think of and pray with and for Clint, who lies in ICU in Florida, and for Suzanne (his wife) and their large family, and pray for ease of pain, for healing, for comfort and patience. I hope they can feel the thousands of prayers flowing for them, can feel the incredible love and support being poured out to them though it is only minute compared to what they have first offered to their communities.
As I prepare to try again to get a bit of sleep tonight, I remember and pray for the thousands of people still missing or still suffering in Haiti. I pray for the millions of people in Haiti - and around the world - who are grieving following this terrible tragedy. May we continue to be aware of the many ways God is with us in these difficult days.
(I also encourage you to give, to donate what you can to support relief efforts in Haiti. Perhaps in honor of the incredible work Sam Dixon has done, I recommend giving through UMCOR, which you can do here.)