“A Heart for Haiti”
by Pastor George Van Alstine
Several people talked with me toward the end of last week about the pain and frustration of seeing images of thousands of suffering people in Haiti, and not being able to do anything about it. They wanted to donate money, so we arranged to do that through World Vision and its 350 staff already working in Haiti. We received an initial offering Sunday morning, and we will continue to channel funds sent to us as quickly as possible. Two of our members had heard about a serious need for shoes, and that Sports Chalet was collecting them for relieving this need. It was pointed out to me that many of us are going through financial hard times, but we probably all have an extra pair of shoes we can donate. This reminded me of Jesus’ word, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none” (Luke 3:11). So, we’re collecting shoes as well.
But it was clear that people wanted to go much further in trying to understand why this had happened and how we could be influential in trying to keep it from happening again. We decided to dedicate our Sunday Evening Service to an open-ended conversation and prayer meeting about Haiti and its suffering people.
Those of us who attended enjoyed a very special time together. We began by sharing our initial feelings upon learning of the extent of this disaster. We recognized the difference between the feelings of the young, who had never before seen such wholesale human misery, and felt like “raw nerves,” and those who were older and admitted to being a bit jaded because they had gone through large-scale disasters before.
Then, we moved into a very profound discussion about why this happened and who was to blame. Here are some of the perspectives that were shared. Nobody put down anybody else’s ideas, so there was liberty to express even thoughts that might stretch theological boundaries
Of course, as believers, all of us had a desire to find God not guilty. Yet, we realized that, since he is the creator and sustainer of the universe, he certainly had the power to intervene and save lives. Why didn’t he?
We all agreed that God is in control of his universe, but we had different ideas about how directly he exercises this control. Some felt that Satan has been allowed the power to bring calamities like this. We referenced the fact that Pat Robinson and other Pentecostal leaders see these events as part of “Spiritual Warfare” around Haiti that comes from its historic flirtation with Voodoo and a supposed curse that resulted from a contract with Satan made 200 years ago. We rejected this idea because it has no factual basis and seems to be a way of blaming the victims for their suffering.
We were reminded of the history of Haiti as an island of slaves exploited by European colonial powers to labor in the fields to produce sugar, cotton and cocoa for export. We reflected on the 1781 revolt against the French that led to independence and of later attempts of England to re-colonize the island. We reviewed the sad history of Haiti’s self-governance, marked by corruption and oppression of the poor. We brainstormed about how Haiti’s destiny could be improved as, with a great deal of outside help, the nation is rebuilt, and we realized how quickly we were talking economics and politics.
It was suggested that God created the earth, including all its powerful potentially-destructive forces that can cause earthquakes, tornados, tsunamis, forest fires, etc., and that he doesn’t change the scientific laws that make these forces operate, just because humans build their houses over fault lines, along flooding rivers or in heavily-wooded forests. Miracles are the exception, not the rule, in his dealings with his creation.
Ultimately, we moved away from thinking such immense thoughts and came back to the practical question, “What can we do to help Haiti have a different future?” We thought about how we can sustain our vision after the TV images begin to disappear and some new world event captures our attention. We were encouraged by the fact that World Vision focuses not only on immediate needs, but also on leadership training and infrastructure development. We agreed that we would have to pay attention to America’s foreign policy as it relates to Haiti and advocate for the most progressive and equitable proposals. And we decided we want to partner with churches and believers in Haiti to enhance the proclamation of the gospel and the building of God’s Kingdom there.
At the end of the discussion, we shared in a very intense time of prayer, which covered all aspects of the problem as we saw it. It was good to “cast our cares” for the people of Haiti on God. We recognized that, ultimately, it is his burden, not ours. That was a great relief.