The Haitian/Dominican Situation: A Firsthand, Christian Perspective by Someone who Happens to be American

In the past few weeks, many of our American friends have asked us for our opinion on the current Dominican/Haitian situation. This, combined with endless conversations about the situation with both our Dominican and Haitian friends has led me (Randy) to jot down my thoughts on the matter. My goal is to give my perspective as to what I have seen with my own eyes and contrast that with what the Bible says.
Here goes nothing…!

Background
The history of the island of Hispañola or Santo Domingo or Saint-Domingue or Ayiti is as complicated as is determining what to call it or from whose perspective is the truth the most true. What is easy to understand is that currently, the island is divided is almost every way. This short video does a fairly good job at explaining the history without giving into the temptation of sensationalistic journalism.

Two Stories
This complex situation cannot be simplified, no matter how hard the worldwide media tries to do so. This is not an ethnic cleansing nor is it another holocaust. In reality, this situation can be separated into two completely different stories.
1. The explosion of Dominican born humans of Haitian decent
2. The regulation of illegal Haitians currently living in the Dominican Republic

For the later group, words like Stateless or Refugee simply do not apply and trying to do so is simply fear mongering and ignoring of the facts. These people were born in Haiti and decided to illegally move to the neighboring country of the Dominican Republic in search of a new life. The fact that the Dominican government allowed for a legalization process for those who have ignored the border law is extremely gracious. The difficulty of the process notwithstanding, the Dominican government has shown cracks in their seemingly rough stance on these illegal extranjeros by allowing an avenue for citizenship. This would be all well and good, but for some–if not most of these illegal Haitians, they lack any sort of paperwork or documentation so the legalization process will not work for them.

The former group, those born in the Dominican Republic to illegal Haitian parents is where the story turns sour. The decision to change the Dominican constitution so as to strip these estimated 80,000-150,000 people of their legal birth certificates, to change their citizenship status from the country they were born, grew up, live, and work in to a country they may have never visited, is downright evil.  This is the real story. The new law is retroactive to the 1920s, so it could be perfectly feasible that there is a 90 year old woman who has lived her whole life in this country and now she needs to “go back” to Haiti and try to continue her life without the friends or family who she has lived with or around for nearly a century.

Two Perspectives?
A very good (Dominican) friend of mine, a man I deeply respect, recently told me that we as Christians need to have two perspectives when thinking about this situation. A Christian perspective that seeks to help the foreigners living in our land (Lev. 19:34, Duet 10:19, Exd 22:21), but that we need also to have a national perspective to do what’s best for our country.

This dual perspective certainly doesn’t sound similar to Paul in Philippians chapter 3 where he is so focussed on our future perfection (vs 12), our goal and prize that is the upward call of God (vs 14), all the while keeping our eyes fixed on those who have lived as examples in life and avoiding the temptation to focus our gaze on the enemies of the cross of Christ who have their eyes set on earthly things (vs 18-19). He is so bold in fact, he seemingly renounces his earthly citizenship to lay claim to a heavenly one while he waits for his Lord to come again (vs 20).

Conclusion
I don’t claim to be expert in much of anything. I am a moderately good English/Literature teacher though my 9 year old son reads more than I do both in pages and in range and scope and I spend an embarrassing amount of time thinking about the Seattle Seahawks. Besides these things, I have devoted my life to knowing one book really well. One single book with roughly 1,500 pages. One single book that is at it’s core about one single character: God Almighty.  From my perspective, this situation has less to do with what a governing body has decided to do with illegal immigrants and more with the overwhelming hatred that has been allowed to fester in the hearts of the Christians involved, no matter which side of the island you are from.

Having grown up in Portland, OR I have a finely tuned radar for racism and discrimination–and while racism isn’t exactly the best word to describe this situation, as the two people groups are the same race, there is rampant discrimination here amongst both Haitians and Dominicans. Societies are often defined by the few and this cannot be more true here in the Dominican Republic. All Haitians often get blamed for the actions of a few rotten eggs. Often after I ask fellow Christians about what they think about Haitians, they quickly respond by telling me that they have no problems with Haitians…only to continue to tell me all the problems they have with Haitians. A close (Haitian) friend of my told me just yesterday,
“Randy, if the Dominican government decides to harden their stance against illegal Haitians, that is their decision–they’re free to do so. I simply don’t understand why people lump all of us into the same group. What have I ever done to them?”
And the story is similar with Haitians to Dominicans. I have been apart of many awkward conversations where my Haitian compadres are badmouthing Dominicans and I’m left to defend an entire people group only to be told that I couldn’t understand their plight.

In the end I suppose the question of what should be done still remains. Gubernatorial, I’m not sure I’m qualified to make a recommendation as I’m no statesmen; I give to Caesar what’s his without much thought so I can focus on taking up my cross and giving to God what is God’s. For the Christian, this situation can serve as a good reminder that we are often enticed to look at other humans with an Us Against Them mentality. This can’t be more unbiblical (Eph 3). I guess my encouragement to anyone reading this would be: continue focusing on Jesus, on the task of giving all glory to God Most High, and to not allow the things of this world to rob you of your preoccupation of doing what your Lord commands of you. He must increase, I must decrease.

DEATH

migi

Miguelina and her three youngest kids

It was 9:45 and I was laying in my bed reading a book. There is always a lot of noise outside on the street and so I almost always ignore it. I starting hearing my name being called over and over again. At first I figured someone must be calling another Emilie because who would be trying to get my attention so fervently.  I finally got out of my bed to investigate and found one of the neighbor boys standing on the wall that surrounds are house.

“Emilie!” he yelled.

“Gabi what in the world is going on?”

“Emilie, Miguelina died.” ( I am translating because of course this conversation happened in Spanish)

“Gabi? Are you sure? You mean she is really really dead? Like dead dead?”

“Yes, Emilie, they are looking for the coffin right now. You should come down everyone’s already there. We have been trying to get ahold of you for the last hour.”

I hurried up and got dressed and walked the hundred feet to their home. I was unsure of exactly what I would see. I have known people who have died, my grandparents mainly, but they were in the hospital when they died. Miguelina had found out that she had cancer 3 months before. But the cancer had been there probably for more than a year. The cancer was terminal and everyone knew she would die eventually but not so soon. I had spent hours with her over the last 3 months talking with her, sharing the gospel with her and just being her friend. I had watched over her kids and made sure they were getting their homework done while she spent days aways in the hospital. I knew this day would come but I didn’t know how soon it would come.

As I arrived at there house I saw that there was already about a 100 people sitting outside in chairs. I heard wailing and crying from inside the house.

I saw a mom on her knees wailing as she grieved the death of her daughter.

I saw a sister sitting on a chair sobbing and saying, “I just can’t believe this is happening.”

I stood next to a brother with his head hanging down saying, “This is a nightmare”

Then I entered the bedroom where I had sat many times before to talk to my friend as she was too sick to get up. I had sat there with her two days before as the chemotherapy had made her too weak to move and had essentially paralyzed her whole body.  There she lay completely still, with no life in her body.  They had changed her, brushed her hair, put on lipstick, but there was no life in her body. This was the first time I had every seen a dead body, and it shocked me how it was the exact same person however, there was no life.

There was so many people around and I just wanted to break down in tears, but I HATE crying in public so I got back to our house as quick as I possibly could.

I went up stairs and said to Randy, “She’s dead, she is really really dead.”

I laid on the bed and began to cry. I had shared the gospel with her but I didn’t know for sure if she was a believer. It seemed she believed what I said but I wasn’t quite sure. I thought we had more time. I thought I could tell her again and again, until I was sure that she had believed. This made me so so sad. I wanted to know for sure if she would be in heaven with me one day. Then I had the clear thought in my head that I feel was the prompting of the Holy Spirit, “Your job wasn’t to make sure she was saved, your job was to preach the gospel.”

I won’t know until heaven where Miguelina is, but I know that I don’t have to feel the guilt and the burden of knowing that I never opened my mouth to tell her the good news of the one true God. I told her that we are all sinners, and we all deserve God’s wrath. I told her that there is not an amount of good works that she could do for her to be saved. But the good news is that Christ died for us when we were still sinners. Our job is to confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts, and if we know Jesus our lives will change. I told her all this on three separate occasions.

I feel convicted with this thought,  Who will be the next person who will die in my life? Will I have boldly proclaimed the gospel to them, or will I have wasted opportunities because of my fears and insecurities?  I firmly believe that people can see a difference in our lives when we live like a believer, but unless we open our mouths no one will ever know or hear  the  true gospel. Not only that, but it is what we have been commanded to do.

The rest of the night went by in a blur. I was amazed by the community response to death in Dominican culture. The entire community visited the family during this time of sadness. I saw her 20 year old nephew bring in the coffin and everyone place her within it. I saw her two kids, who I love so so much, wandering around the people looking as if they were lost. I saw her friends weeping at the loss of lady who was a really good friend to so many.

Through all of this I pray that through being there for the family I will be able to be a light to the family. I will be able to love her friends and family and boldly preach the gospel over and over and over gain.