Haiti remains shell shocked after its 7.0 magnitude quake little more than a week ago. The people braced themselves once again as another powerful aftershock (6.1) ripped through the country this morning. According to media sources this further complicates search and rescue efforts and is hampering the ability to distribute aid.
Soon after the first quake rocked Port-au-Prince I had an interesting conversation with a friend that began with this engaging question, “How should we respond to the devastation in Haiti?” I realize there are some obvious answers to this question, and I know for a fact that this individual is invested both financially and physically in helping the people of Haiti, so I knew there was more to his question.
I asked if he could elaborate. He went on to say that he was finding it difficult to relate to the people of Haiti. He was frustrated that his emotions and his heart weren’t lining up with what his head told him he should feel and do.
He was not asking how will I respond to this tragedy, but how should I respond as a human being to the suffering of people that I don’t know.
Some will understand his quandary and others will not, dismissing him out of hand as an uncaring individual. What he was getting at was the larger picture. His statement was, “If I involve myself, I’m all in. If I choose to feel then what I feel may be immobilizing. How can I help one person if I can’t help them all? How can I help them now, if I am not willing to continue helping them in the future?”
This is a great point. It is much easier to involve ourselves with prayer and aid at the beginning of a relief effort and then once Haiti begins to heal and falls out of the news forget about it all together – though there remains work to be done. How can we identify with Haiti and its people or any devastated people on a long term basis? Should we even try?
Our church started a journey with Haiti months ago through the Global Orphan Project and The Crazy Love Campaign. Our goal is to help buy land and build a self-sustaining village to house and care for the orphans in the Jeremie region. We started by giving financially last year and have continued to follow up by sending teams and planning mission trips for the future.
When the earthquake hit my first thought was, “Oh no! What about our kids?” Amazingly through divine persuasion and practical mobilization my heart and my support were already connected to those who were hurting. We are linked in a tangible way to the people, the orphans, and their well-being. I began to think about the future and how our plans for building would be different because of the relief that all of Haiti would need immediately.
I visited our church’s blog to get on-the-ground updates and watched the news searching for more information. My search generated two stories that pressed deeply on my heart and those of my family. The first came from our local news about a couple here in Tennessee, who was in the process of adopting a five-year-old girl from Haiti named Tia.
Twelve hours after the quake, Mike Wilson, the adoptive father flew to Haiti with relief supplies and the resolve to bring his daughter home to the states. He soon discovered that Tia was safe but that all court documents for his adoption had been destroyed in the disaster along with the papers of thousands of other Haitian orphans leaving him to wonder if he would ever bring his little girl home. Miraculously only a week later Mr. Wilson and Tia left Haiti together. They arrived safely in Nashville early Tuesday morning and were greeted by a tearful group of family and friends.
The second story that moved me is harder to digest. Even Steve Harrigan, a seasoned reporter, from FOX news was choked up as he reported on the devastation around him. The most haunting image I recall is that of a woman lying on the ground insane with grief after having lost four of her children in the earthquake and the fifth shortly thereafter at the hospital. Her husband sat grief-stricken as well cradling her head in his lap and gently attempting to comfort her.
As a mom to four children and a fifth now with Jesus, my heart leapt out of me and raced to this inconsolable mom. A surprising desire to hold and comfort her, as well as run to embrace my own children overwhelmed me. Even now I long to comfort Haiti’s orphaned children and her childless mothers.
Compassion is awakened in us when we identify with another’s pain, grief, or loss. Busyness, stress, and everyday realities threaten to separate us from empathy toward our neighbors and even our own family members. This disconnect can be magnified exponentially when those experiencing loss are thousands of miles away and come from a different culture.
So, how should we respond to Haiti?
Many have acted quickly and practically by sending prayers, money, and much needed supplies through trusted organizations. And I believe we can further bridge the gap between us and the people in need by embracing the heart of God. God loves the people of Haiti and embracing God’s heart means laying our own hearts bare and asking God to let us feel their pain. Let us help to shoulder their burden.
Instead of steeling ourselves against pain and suffering through distance, culture, and isolation we can choose to get involved personally. This could mean adopting a family, an individual, or even serving on a short term mission project.
Fostering a personal relationship adds a name, a life, and a soul to the images we see on T.V. These efforts to build relationships go beyond Haiti and natural disasters. They reach across the globe and just outside our front doors to the hundreds of thousands who are hurting, hungry and alone.
My prayer is that more hearts will be softened through this tragedy and more eyes will be opened to the great need all around us, so that each of us will find a way to give, to go, and to feel.