Today We Saw the Face of God–a documentary on the January 2010 Haiti Earthquake

On January 24, 2010, a catastrophic earthquake of magnitude of 7.0 struck 25 km west of Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti.   A non-profit group called Little by Little had just finished a medical mission in Haiti at a clinic sponsored by Mountain Top Ministries.   They had gone back to the house they were staying in and preparing for their trip back to the United States the following day.

All of a sudden, they heard a sound that one of them described as a sound like an 18-wheeler careening of the road and coming straight for the house they were staying in.     Then the ground started shaking, and outside the trees were swaying violently as if caught in a severe windstorm, although the sky above was clear blue.    They realized they were experiencing an earthquake, but one more violent than those even from Haiti had ever remembered experiencing.    The house they were in was intact, but they decided to try to go to the clinic they had just finished working at to see if it people needed help.

And then, an hour or so later, reports came in to the clinic that they were desperately needed in the capital of Port-au-Prince.    Their experiences during the next 8 hours form the basis of a documentary by Mercedes Kane.    She is a filmmaker who graduated from Governors State University in University Park, who when talking to her sister-in-law who had been one of the members of that medical mission, thought that it would make a great subject of a documentary.   She went to a screening of the film at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Park Forest tonight (August 24, 2013), and she stayed for a question and answer session afterwards.

The film is based on the experiences of the medical mission team as seen through the eyes of those who experienced it, especially Sue Walsh, who wrote a book about the experience called Walking in Broken Shoes.    The title of the movie comes from one point, where in the midst of witness tremendous human suffering at the hospital, Sue Walsh remembered something that one of the pastors had said in a sermon that he gave to the Little by Little team just before they left for Haiti.   He compelled them to use their faith to see in the eyes of the sufferers they were going to help “the face of God” that would help them treat those people with grace, love, and humility.

The most moving part for me came at the end of the movie when Sue Walsh describes collapsing in a bed at the end of the most gruelling 8-hour shift of her entire life, when her clothing was still covered in the viscera of the people she had been desperately trying to help.    She felt a strange calm, almost like that of a mother for a newborn baby, whose clothing may be covered in fluids from the baby’s own body, and reacting to the experience not in disgust, but with a sense of being physically bonded to the baby in a way almost impossible to describe.    She was now bonded to the Haitian people in a similar visceral way that would make the earthquake a life-altering experience for her and others on the team.

The film had a profound impact on the audience at the screening as well, and the film was followed by a half-hour of questions from the audience about how she came to make the film, and why she thought it was important to make it.

I recalled reading stories about the earthquake brought out the worst in some people in Haiti, as looting and violence broke out in several places in the struggle for scarce resources.   So it was important to revisit the history that event and show how it could bring out the “better angels of our nature”, among the volunteers from the United States who went to Haiti to help the Haitian people help themselves, and of course among the Haitians themselves.

I thank the Unitarian Universalist Church of Park Forest for hosting the screening, and for Mercedes Kane for spending the time to answer questions from the audience.    You cannot NOT be moved by this film, and I heartily recommend that you watch out for the opportunity to see it in the months ahead as it goes into distribution.


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