Religious Groups Gathered in Post-Quake Haiti

Government official Patrick Delatour says that “Missionaries have always participated in the process of alleviating pain in this country [Haiti].” A recent New York Times article gives a view of the widely varying approaches and choices of the many religious groups—Jews, Muslims, Scientologists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Mormons, among many others—flocking to Haiti to help victims of the January 12 earthquake as well as the differences dividing these groups. The number of missionaries making short-term visits is difficult to estimate, but some say it is as high as 10,000. Here are some excerpts, with a link to full article below.

But rather than fostering a universal spirit of interfaith cooperation, the hasty assemblage of religious organizations has sometimes created tensions among them. Theology aside, what seems to divide the missionaries most is how long they have been working here. Some of the missions have operated here for decades, converting generations of Haitians and helping to develop the country, and that has made for some skepticism of the newcomers’ motives and methods.

* * *

In Carrefour, a bustling suburb of Port-au-Prince, the capital, the Church of the Seventh-day Adventists, which has worked in Haiti since 1904, runs a hospital, a wastewater purification plant, a bakery, a radio station and a bookbinder. Even before the earthquake, the church was considered to have far more of a presence in Haiti than the government. But other religious workers are operating in a far more bare-bones manner, with whatever they managed to carry in their luggage. “You had missionary doctors parachuting in here doing amputations rather than setting or treating wounds because they knew their charter jet was leaving in two days and they would not be able to oversee follow-up,” said Dr. Scott Nelson, an American orthopedic surgeon and Adventist missionary, as he lifted a moaning man onto a soiled stretcher. “The community trusts us, but when other groups make shortsighted decisions it undermines everyone’s credibility,” he added. Dr. Nelson and other veteran missionaries faulted the new arrivals for frequently acting on their own instead of collaborating with more established missionary groups that plan on staying in Haiti for the long haul.

* * *

At the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince, where Scientologists in bright yellow T-shirts have assisted as volunteers, some have carried out what they call touch therapy, in which they say they realign patients’ nervous systems by touching them through their clothes. The hospital director, Dr. Alix Lassegne, said he told the group’s doctors to stick to traditional medicine and other volunteers to stay away from trying to convert anyone. “We had fractures, serious wounds, and there was no time for unconventional things.”

For full article, see http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/16/world/americas/16missionaries.html?ref=americas

Also see “Scientologists promise to stay after Port-au-Prince aid operation” (photo from this article) at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article7012693.ece

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