News reports out this week say that the death toll from the earthquakes in Haiti have risen to 230,000. It's hard to imagine a quarter of a million people dying in just a few short seconds (and the days to follow). Coupled with the earthquake/tsunami of 2004 which killed another 230,000 people- that's 500,000 people dead from two natural disasters. It's remarkable to consider the pain, suffering, and death that can happen in a matter of moments.
That's why a conversation I had this week caught me a little off guard. I was visiting an older gentleman when he said that he was tired of all the coverage of the earthquake in Haiti. He went on to explain that there were better ways that our churches and charitable organizations could spend their money. He didn't feel that the American Church had a responsibility to continue to send much needed supplies to Haiti for a long duration of time.
Are we, as Americans (or American Christians) already at the point of Haiti Fatigue? Have we become de-sensitized by the coverage and have lowered our concern for our brothers and sisters there? Are we in danger of becoming compacent in the ways in which we are called by God to care for our brothers and sisters in Haiti- and places around the world where future crisis affects?
One of the problems is that we live in a microwave or fast food society. We are used to instant results and generally do not have the patience for something long-term. Hurricane Katrina could be a case in point. Our Church (Avenue United Methodist Church) first went down to Mississippi shortly after Katrina to help with the rebuilding. We have sense been back seveal times. Our returning teams share stories from homeowners that Churches are the only people who are coming to help finish the rebuilding process. While much has been rebuilt- there is still much to do- and it will continue to take several more years.
I cannot imagine someone trying to put an estimate on how long it will take to recover from the earthquake in Haiti. What can be said is that it will take many, many years for the infrastructure to be rebuilt.
This man's comments made me think of something else. A comment I often hear in the Church is that we need to focus our efforts in our own communities rather than going abroad for service. There is truth in being engaged in our local communities. This is a both/and rather then either/or. We must be willing to consider just where our communities begin and where they end. As the internet has made the world a small place with E-mail/Facebook/Twitter- it has become increasingly easier to be connected with individuals and communities in places such as Haiti or Iran.
In Luke 10, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. Likely, you know the account. A man is beaten, stripped and left for dead on the side of the road. A Priest and a Levite come near and pass by along the other side of the road- ignoring the needs of the man. Finally, a despised Samaritan comes along, picks the man left for dead up, and cares for him. Jesus tells this parable in response to a "expert of the law" who asked "Who is my neighbor?"
As we consider what has happened in Haiti, we must ask ourselves this same question- "Who is my neighbor?" Are our neighbors only the people who live around us? Or are our neighbors around the world? Do our neighbors look like us or do they come in every shape, size, color, and race? It is clear that the book of Genesis makes the case that we are one family- the human family. As family we are to care for one another at all times.
So how do we avoid Haiti Fatigue?
1. Commit to the Long Haul- Haiti is going to need food, water, workers and money for a long time. A one time $10 donation helps for sure, but the people of Haiti need the global church to mobelize until the project is complete. Our individual churches can commit to help the people of Haiti for the long haul. Keep things fresh by sending a team to Haiti- or by inviting someone who has been there to speak first hand about the aftermath.
2. Pray for Haiti- It's hard to forget about anyone if we are truly praying for them. Prayer will soften our hearts for the people of Haiti and whoever God calls us to pray for. Through prayer- we ask God to break our hearts for the people of Haiti and that the Holy Spirit will move us to do everything we can for the people there and in our own communities.
Are you suffering from Haiti Fatigue? What are you, or your church, doing to keep Haiti fresh in your hearts and minds?