Dear god,

I have not written you in some time. I have been busy cleaning up your shit down here. I believe the last time I wrote you it was from New Orleans. Now, I write from a little further south—Haiti.

Our 11-person, multi-racial delegation was invited to Mon P’tit Village in Leogane, Haiti, which is about 25 miles outside of Port-au-Prince, near the epicenter of the earthquake. We are an eclectic embodiment of hope. An odd, at times combustible mixture—humanist clergy, dancer, theatre producer, horticulturist, professional volunteer, a loving do-gooder couple, and a Pentecostal bluesman—are the guests of two Haitian-Americans, Yoleine and James. They are educators in New York. Yoleine, a compassionate and gentle soul, is a guidance counselor; she has adopted a number of children in Haiti. James, a stern commanding figure despite flashes of glee and joy, is a high school principal. A decade or so before the quake that cracked the core of globalization, they founded the Neges Foundation, with ties to the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wagria Mathia’s green movement in Kenya. Mortgaging their comfortable positions to invest in the future of the wretched of the earth, they acquired land, then built and opened a green-education school in Leogane proper.

All commercial flights into Port-au-Prince were canceled. We had to fly in to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic and take a crowded bus for seven hours to the capital.

Under the cover of night, we arrived in Port-au-Prince, greeted with hugs and Kreyol welcomes by Yoleine’s family and friends. Before a treacherous drive to Leogane, we drove to the family home of Marjorie, who is Haitian-American, living in Connecticut. I rode to their home with her father. He spoke no English, yet we shared polite conversation in my broken French—which bears no comparison to Kreyol’s musicality, eloquence, and elegance. Marjorie’s father was a clean-cut gentleman, about 60 years of age. He was nattily-dressed in white, silken, short-sleeve collared shirt and off-white khaki pants.

Their home in the heart of Port-au-Prince was undamaged, though everything around them for miles seemed to have collapsed. Before facing the cross of corruption and catastrophe, we broke bread together: a Kreyol communion of plantains, rice and beans, chicken, and yuca. We gave thanks that your hand kept this house standing.

But god, you spared nothing else. Port-au-Prince is flattened. Piles upon piles of rubble and devastation cover a landscape dotted with palm, mango, and coconut trees. Among lush mountains and sugarcane fields, human and dog alike scavenge through concrete and twisted metal for a morsel. The stench of death and sewage were overwhelming as we dodged autos, tent cities, survivors, relief workers, and farm animals through the winding roads of refuge. We ran over a pig that, having seen enough, leapt in front of our vehicle. Night still hid most of the destruction, but our headlights momentarily exposed the biblical proportions of your damage. Miles upon miles of crooked houses, shattered concrete, and thousands of people living on the streets.

On the outskirts of the city, and just before Leogane, we arrived at the tent city of Mon P’tit Village. On the Neges Foundation’s land, there is a sturdy main house, a majestic gazebo, a community garden, a small domestic animal farm, and a soccer field. A rock’s throw away from the main house in both directions, there are over 200 families—including some 500 children and at least 30 orphans—living on a field in white tents from France (the least they could do), which glowed with candles and fires. It was at first picturesque, then grotesque upon reflection.

Over the noise of a temperamental generator, I managed a few French pleasantries with Jean Marie, the resident naturalist. He then showed me to the two-bedroom tent that I would share with my colleague Lisel, a retired Ethical Culture clergy leader.

Awakened by an aggressive rooster’s crow, I rose and made my way to the camp, longing for coffee and cigarettes. (Our addictions follow us everywhere.) As I arrived at the opening of the barbed-wire fence, I was greeted by Jean Marie, who seems to be everywhere at once. I told him I needed coffee and made the smoking gesture for cigarettes. He directed me down to the center of the camp. There, a woman was squatting before a makeshift charcoal-burning stove boiling my fix of caffeine. To her visible annoyance, I would return several times during the day. (I didn’t find cigarettes until late that night.)

As the sun began to crease the sky, the camp came alive. Children and adults—but mostly women—began their short trek to the water supply set up by the Spanish Red Cross behind the house. In the midst of misery, these folks took pride in keeping good hygiene; in the bright morning sun, men, women, and children brushed their teeth and washed their often-half-naked bodies behind their tents. They swept in front of their tents, singing songs. Mon P’tit Village is the Haitian spirit alive—bruised, but not broken.


Our task for the day was to dig holes for new toilets and unclog the only two on site. When we arrived there was one working toilet; we built three and dug holes for nine more. Peter, a Brit from York and a Volunteer for Peace, was our taskmaster. In his quirky cockney accent, he directed us to dig a new hole for the port-a-potty that was not yet overflowing with excrement. And then to dig a second hole for the extra excrement. And then to fill a wheelbarrow with dirt to cover the remaining excrement from the old port-a-potty hole.

The hole-digging had to be precise. The water-table was two and a half meters deep. If we dug more than a meter, it would contaminate the water supply for the entire community. Well water was the only consistent water supply in the community, since the water delivered by the Spanish Red Cross ran out after a few hours.

The meter measuring tape was our guide, the protector of these people’s water. Lanai, a self-proclaimed positivist, helped to change us into our disaster relief haz-mat get-ups.

We wore plastic gloves, a shiny light-blue plastic apron, lemongrass oil on our top lips, and medical masks left over from the swine flu scare. On the count of three, Jean Marie and a Haitian man moved the overflowing port-a-potty, while the rest of us shoveled the extra shit into the other and covered up what remained. Despite the lemongrass, the smell was awful—god-awful, god. We all gagged and heaved, but no one threw up except me, only a little, in my mask.

We repeated this drill the following day with two other members of our delegation—Trenton, a giant of a man, and Alissa, the horticulturalist (another self-proclaimed positivist). At the end of each task, I removed my mask and yelled, “Viva Haiti!” They all laughed and responded in kind: “Viva Haiti!”

This all happened before 10 am. It was time to bathe. I had to go to the well and dip for my bathing water. I did not know how to do what was so effortless for the children, so they taught me and laughed at my attempts. A white bucket was attached to a twine rope several meters long; after being lowered at a deliberate pace, a few tugs laid it on its side on top of the water. As it filled, it lowered itself into the water until I pulled it up. It took two dips to fill the ten-gallon paint bucket that was now my tub.

There is something deeply theological, god, about shoveling shit and going to the well. The grossness of it all situates our finitude in the face of the catastrophic. White, liberal paternalism and pity is simply intolerable—more disturbing than the misery in Haiti. The Left needs to shovel the people’s shit and go to the living waters in the people’s wells. There is no resorting to convenient platitudes. Words like solidarity and comrade seem cheap and arcane to me now; only sacrifice, covenant, and accompaniment suffice.

In the face of such horrendous material conditions and the absurd call to rebuild, non-material resources are necessary. The greatest forces against hegemony and disaster are organized hope and revolutionary joy. I turned to my faith—but not you, god. We sang songs of freedom given to me by my ancestors. Several times a day, I sat on the ground with large groups of children. “Repete apres moi?” I asked. “Oui,” they responded, and we sang heaven down.

All in Leogane, I gonna let it shine
All in Leogane, I gonna let it shine
All in Leogane, I gonna let it shine
Let it shine, Let is shine, Let it shine!

All in Leogane, I hear freedom in the air
All in Leogane, I hear freedom in the air
All in Leogane, I hear freedom in the air
There must be a god somewhere…

At one point we needed to drive into Leogane-proper to buy wood for a three-person toilet. Passing the UN helicopter staging area—guarded by Sri Lankan soldiers in a pasture with bulls—we turned the bend and saw several tent cities and a flattened concrete one. The Neges Foundation’s school was slightly damaged, and the volunteer house across the street was destroyed. Winding again through tragedy, our driver Eddy pointed out in Kreyol the sites of mass death. James translated. We arrived at the remains of Leogane’s hardware store for the wood. The prices were marked up 800%. Peter was livid and walked off. James tells the Haitian owners our displeasure, and we headed to another place that would give us fair prices.

Each day, members of our delegation led groups of children in arts, games, and education. The community garden was restored, and a youth delegation cleaned the camp. Guthrie and Micah assisted at the soup kitchen and makeshift, two-hour school day for 200 children. There were 300 more on the waiting list. Our delegation brought some 35 large duffle bags of supplies that included gardening tools, dry food, toothpaste, and soap. The Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture raised money. Its children sent notes and school supplies. My contributions came from Deluxe Hair Gallery in Brooklyn and the Computer School in Manhattan. Glenn and Mike, of Deluxe, together with their largely-female clientele, donated what seemed to be hundreds of sanitary products. Computer School’s middlers gave boxes of crayons.

My last night in Leogane, we held a memorial service. In preparation for the gathering, I put on my white clergy robe with an orange and green stole as my waist sash. Walking through camp, people greeted me, “Mon frere, mon frere.” Children held my hand. I tried to explain that I was not Catholic, but it didn’t matter—they still wanted me to bless them, and I obliged.

Under the fractured gazebo, reinforced by steel adjustable poles, Yoleine gingerly led the memorial service. She told them in her native tongue that you, god, did not do this to them—though I’m not so sure. She mourned, and declared that whether one practices Voodoo, or Catholicism, or both, we are all together now and need to build a community. We sang freedom songs. Lisel preached that the international community of women was with them. And Jean, a dance professor, performed with the community’s dance troop, and the audience of 300—mostly children—celebrated her for celebrating them in her body. Late into the night they danced to Haitian music, hip-hop, and Bob Marley.

Mon P’tit Village is tragicomic. Their tent village was clean thanks to an ever-evolving sanitation system. The community was safe because some of the troublesome young men were organized into a security team. The guardians, as I liked to call them, patrolled the camp at night. The hard liquor ban was working as well. James coordinated a census which accounted for every man, woman, and child. Each tent was marked with a number and divided into sections. Yet major food deliveries only happened once every eight days or so. Haiti is hellish, but the Devil hasn’t had the last word—yet.


I know you like numbers because you dedicated an entire book to them in what is purported to be your word. So let me give you a few:

1.5 million homeless
30,000 died in Leogane
250,000 total dead
6,500 tent cities

Evidently you shared your version of the earthquake’s cause with your envoy, Pat Robertson. (By the way, a deal with the Devil for my freedom is a deal I am willing to make.) If the recent tone of my sermons and this letter have not made it clear, let me say in no uncertain terms—I am angry with you, god. If you did this, you did very, very wrong.

However, I will not give you the pleasure or satisfaction of me quitting. Haiti is not a test of my faith, or the faith of the people of Haiti, for that matter. Our faith is shaken but steady. We are rebuilding in the shit and filth, but you are hiding. Haiti is not a test of our faith but a test of your grace. Show yourself.

All photos by Peter Pollard.

Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, Senior Minister
Lemuel Haynes Congregational Church
South Jamiaca Queens, NY

Haitians still need your help, especially now that donations have “slowed to a trickle,” according to one recent NPR report. Just in case god doesn’t respond to the Reverend’s letter, or even if he does, you can help by donating to the NEGES Foundation (Rev. Sekou vouches that all funds go to Haiti), or other relief organizations listed here.

Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou is the Senior Minister of Lemuel Haynes Congregational Church (UCC) in South Jamaica Queens, New York. He is third generation ordained Elder in the Church of God in Christ. Rev. Sekou holds fellowships with the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture, The Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the Institute for Policy Studies. His forthcoming book is Gods, Gays, and Guns: Religion and the Future of Democracy.