“He stands up for widows and for children whose fathers have died. He loves outsiders living among you. He gives them food and clothes.” Deuteronomy 10:18
In January, 2010, a massive earthquake struck Haiti and devastated Port au Prince. Between 100,000 and 150,000 people were estimated killed (Haitian government estimates approached 250,000), and an estimated 3 million people were affected. Over a quarter million homes were destroyed. In the aftermath of the earthquake, the international community and international aid organizations pledged enormous support. Hundreds of millions of dollars were committed to help the devastated nation.
Reports by the Washington Post, CNN and others show that the promised aid was never fully given. Six months after the quake, 98% of the rubble was still in the streets, with thousands of bodies rotting within the rubble. Initial aid took the form of food, water and tarps to provide some form of shelter, but promises of new housing failed to materialize. The Miami Herald said some good work was being done, but much of the money that was spent was misdirected: “Millions were spent on ad campaigns telling people to wash their hands. Telling them to wash their hands when there’s no water or soap is a slap in the face.” (Goldberg, Eleanor (11 January 2012). “Haiti Earthquake Recovery: Where Did All The Money Go? (INFOGRAPHIC)”. Huffington Post.)
In 2015, NPR and ProPublica investigated the disappearance of $500 million donated to the American Red Cross for Haitian relief, “one of the most successful fundraisers ever”. The American Red Cross claimed that 130,000 homes had been built, but the investigation discovered that only six had been built. Investigators reviewed “hundreds” of pages of internal documents and interviewed former and current staff members. They investigated the organization’s claim that 4.5 million Haitians had been helped “back on their feet.” The claim was vigorously disputed by Joel Boutroue, a Haitian government advisor, who stated that this number would cover “100 percent of the urban area” in every city in Haiti. A number of other claims did not hold up under investigation, and it was found that the project was riddled with “multiple staffing changes”, bureaucratic delays and a language barrier as many of the Red Cross officials did not speak French or Creole. (Wikipedia, 2010 Haiti Earthquake, accessed 10-7-160
Yesterday, Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti straight on. Initial estimates are that at least 300 were killed in the storm, but that number could rise. The images of storm-struck Haiti raised in my mind questions about our response to the earlier disaster. If we had been less concerned with getting credit, with donors getting to designate the direction of their dollars, with appearances and organizational greed, and been more concerned with actually helping people, might some of those deaths have been avoided? If we had built the houses that were promised, if we had mounted campaigns to rebuild with the same dedication we did on our own Louisiana- Mississippi coast, could we have prevented the loss of so many lives? Do we bear some responsibility for the loss of life in Haiti?
We serve a God who cares for the widow and the orphan, for the poor and dispossessed. And that God calls us to reach out in compassion to extend God’s love without looking for publicity, without seeking credit, but looking only to embody the love of God for God’s people. In Isaiah 43, God promises that “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you…” God’s will is that these children of God not suffer in hurricanes and floods. You and I have been called to be the instruments of that promise, to care for God’s children and ensure that love triumphs over greed and selfishness. Yes, let’s pray for the people in the path of Hurricane Matthew, but let’s do more than that. Let’s make a real difference in their lives so the next time, we aren’t wondering why the situation is still so bad.
Prayer: O God, our refuge in the storms of life, you have created your church to be a city on a hill, a light on a lampstand. Help us to be that shining light, that promise of abundant life to a struggling world. Let us set aside every selfish thought and self-centered desire, and instead focus on the needs of the world, both near and far. Let our hearts be moved to respond with love and care. For the sake of your son, Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.