The horrendous earthquake in Haiti on Tuesday evening has shocked all of us. It is hard to imagine the death and devastation that it has caused – at least 50,000 dead, hundreds of thousands injured and 3 million people displaced – almost half the population of Haiti. And of course the ramifications of this disaster will go on for a long time to come not just for those who live in this tiny country but for all those who love and care for the people of Haiti.
Both Tom and I have worked in Haiti and our hearts ache as we think of the wonderful people we have known there. These people were already poor and struggling to keep their families alive. What will happen now I wonder?
At times like this all of us feel so inadequate and can easily be overwhelmed into numbing paralysis as we try to get our heads around the magnitude of the horror . It amazes me how closely connected we can be these days to what is happening on the ground in a disaster like this. Every news channel and website, like CNN, gives us moment by moment images and stories of what is happening – which unfortunately can add to the mind numbing paralysis we feel. We can even follow along in the blogosphere like this account from Troy Livesay – which I find preferable because it gives me a sense of real people doing real things to make a difference.
So what can we do? How do we pray? and how does our prayer move us into action?
We can all cry out to God for mercy for those still trapped. In fact i find that my response at times like this is often nothing more than a repetitive:
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy
However there are specific prayers we can offer. We can ask for strength for the doctors and emergency crews. Ask for wisdom for those assessing need and allocating resources. Ask for compassion for leaders making decisions about aid. We can ask for comfort for those who are grieving. We can also ask for peace for a country that has been so unstable for so long.
A disaster like this should move us to more than prayer however. We can and should also contribute to the many organizations that have already responded to this disaster. Here in Seattle World Concern and World Vision are both at the forefront of response and around the world there has already been an outpouring of finances and personnel. The important thing I think is to make sure that you respond to a reputable organization that you are sure will be able to maximize the effectiveness of their aid. If you know people who already partner with churches in Haiti that is a wonderful way to funnel your response.
Third, don’t forget about this. It is easy for compassion fatigue to set in soon after a disaster on this scale. Don’t let your prayers or attention fade as this fades from the news cycle. This earthquake will impact Haiti for decades to come and will need prayer for at least that long. Open your heart to the possibilities of God’s work in the midst of chaos.
Forth, allow this disaster to re-prioritize your own life so that you are always able to be generous in situations like this – because one thing is certain in this world and that is that there will always be disasters that God intends us to respond to in compassion and love.
Fifth use this as an opportunity to search your heart regarding past disasters that held your attention for a moment and then you forgot about. As I watched the images coming out of Haiti I could not help but remember the similar images that we have seen in the last couple of years from the tsunami that devastated so much of SE Asia and the hurricanes that flattened New Orleans and Myanmar. Are there ways that we should still be responding to help people in these countries? Most relief an development agencies will tell you that it is much easier to get people to respond to a disaster than to the ongoing redevelopment needs that extend long beyond the need for immediate relief.
The one thing that we can be sure of is that this is not God’s judgement for past evils committed in Haiti as was suggested by Pat Robertson…. if that were the case all of our cities and our lives would be lying in ruins far worse than the situation in Port au Prince.
Our God is at heart a God of love and compassion. We do not understand why events like this happen but we do know that in the midst of such devastation people need to see God’s love – a love so great that it endured the pain of death by crucifixion. A love so great that it will do everything possible to draw us closer to the heart of God. May we in our response to this disaster be representatives of this God.