Sunday, January 24, 2010

Disaster Relief

In the past week and a half, the whole world has turned its attention to Haiti and the devastation there.  Nations have sent enormous amounts of physical and financial aid to help these people in crisis.  Physicians and relief workers are flying daily into Haiti in full planes laden down with medical supplies, food and clothing.

     As a result of this earthquake, there are many who cry out, “Where was God to let this happen?”   But I am asking “Where were we?”

     Haiti did not become a disaster zone last week.  Haiti has been a place of poverty and despair for more than two hundred years.  It is KNOWN as the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.  I am acquainted with many people who have travelled there, mostly on missions trips, whose hearts have been torn by the conditions in which these people have lived for generations.  My question is, “Why does it take an earthquake, why does it take a catastrophic disaster, before we pay attention to mercy?”  Nations have pledged millions of dollars in aid, the American Red Cross is taking texts of ten dollar donations to send help, and even celebrities have jumped on the band wagon to donate money.  It is important to note, however, the kind of people doing “disaster work” before the earthquake hit.  At the time of the quake, there were 45,000 Americans living in Haiti, mostly missionaries and aid workers extending help in whatever way they could.  That is about the only reason anyone would choose to live there, because of the enormity of the need.  And they will likely be the same kind of people who stay to help after Haiti is no longer in the headlines.  (Historically, look at who is still helping Katrina victims.  Hint: it’s not the celebrities).

      As my friend Becky noted this week, “This situation is not going away anytime soon.”  It is going to take more than short-term emergency response teams.

     This is a country basically without an economy.  BEFORE the quake, more than seventy percent of the population was already unemployed and living in abject poverty.  The largest source of income in the country is based on inhabitants receiving money from relatives living in the United States.  The annual per capita income was $310.  (I just paid more than that in utilities last month).  One of the only means of escape from the turmoil was to secure a place on a rickety boat headed to Miami and hope that you didn’t get eaten by sharks on the way.     

     “Where was God in this disaster?”  He’s wondering when we are going to recognize the need for compassion, not to just throw money at the current situation, but to have mercy.  No matter a person’s worldview, we all recognize that the on-going disaster in Haiti is not the way things ought to be.  People ought not have to live that way.  Life is sacred.  And the sanctity of life is the basis for all social justice.  Why must we wait until a crisis for our hearts to respond to what breaks God’s heart?  

          For the Haitians --or for whomever God has placed on your heart--,

“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,

when it is in your power to do it.”  Proverbs 3.27

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