Monday, January 18, 2010

Haiti and Charity

For many reasons, I can't get the situation in Haiti off my mind right now.  I go to bed at night wondering how many more will die there this night.  I sleep in comfort, aware that breakfast awaits me in the morning along with good work that I love and find both challenging and fulfilling.  From what I can tell about Haiti, long before the earthquake, only the tiny elite enjoyed anything like this.

UNICEF estimates that only 2% of children in Haiti receive education beyond elementary school.   Can you imagine what your community would be like if 50% never attended school at all and 98% dropped out at about the fourth or fifth grade?  The language of commerce, government and education is French, yet the vast majority of Haitians speak Creole, a very different language, and therefore are cut off from educational and political power and influence.  I've traveled enough in countries where I do not know the language to know how disempowering it is not to speak or read the official tongue.  Isolation and frustration build quickly.

Add to this a corrupt, and now apparently completely invisible government, inadequate police, precarious heath care system now destroyed, and we are ripe for disaster way beyond what the earthquake brought.

What does the Gospel of Jesus Christ have to offer here?  How can someone who can't read or has never learned to think on anything beyond the basics of physical survival even begin to comprehend grace, that unmeasurable presence of God that continually invites us to understand   the reconciled life and to receive the gift of forgiveness offered to us?  How can someone whose primary food consists of biscuits made from edible mud, shortening and salt, possibly grasp these words, "I am the bread of life."  

Maybe, just maybe however, those utterly impoverished ones might have even a better handle than we rich ones on the whole concept.  If I am desperate for bread, would it not make sense to turn to One who says he is the bread of life?  If I am dehydrated to the point of illness by thirst, might I not be receptive to the words of someone who says that if I come to him, I will not thirst again?

I'm very grateful for my education. I grew up surrounded by books and with academic gifts that meant I could and did read voraciously.  I still do, as I am fascinated by the world of ideas and intellectual argument.  Frankly, I have no experience of the kind of poverty and suffering taking place right now in that tiny country, not terribly far from us.  

But one thing I do know:  for all my education, for all my privileges, for all the good work I may have ever performed, I have earned no greater place in the kingdom of heaven than the most impoverished, undereducated, unsophisticated, suffering Haitian.  God either loves them and brings them to wholeness and salvation as thoroughly as God loves me and brings me to wholeness and salvation, or the good news of the Savior is a lie.  And because those terribly suffering ones need bread and water, I who have plenty of both have a responsibility to help.  We are very much our brother's keeper, and I think we can lose our own souls when we turn our backs on suffering of this magnitude.  

I have no idea what it will take to rebuild Haiti.  I also know that the opportunists will quickly be on site, and will suck again the life out of that nation if righteous people don't stand up to them.  I ask you to stand of the side of hope here, and do what you can to help.  Let us escape from our cocoons of comfort and perceived invulnerability and recognize that we are all connected in this disaster and in the future of these people.

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