Thursday, January 21, 2010

Beyond the disaster

This week we’ve been glued to the television, watching reports about the tragedy in Haiti with our friend and ministry partner from Swaziland, Arnau van Wyngaard, who is in Fresno. We invited him here to provide him the opportunity to tell the story of Shiselweni-Home Based Care and the tragedy unfolding every day in sub-Saharan Africa because of HIV/AIDS. There is a tension in my heart while I watch the situation unfold in Haiti with Arnau here. We believe that God provided the opportunity for him to visit us so that our families and friends would become more aware of both the grave situation and the tremendous work being done by local volunteers. We still believe this. But while my own heart is breaking about the situation in Haiti, I am also concerned that the crisis is overshadowing the opportunity for Arnau to share the story of Swaziland . . . and then I feel guilty that such thoughts cross my mind.
Earlier this week my friend Don Simmons posted this link to a blog called “Aid Watch” and this thread about issues related to relief in Haiti. I think the author of the thread makes some good points, but was particularly interested in two comments that followed the post.

One commenter wrote this: “It struck me how many people I know that have never taken any interest in the developing world or even local community service, who muse over just going to Haiti to ‘help.’ Suddenly everyone is a superhero in disguise who, when finally moved to care – consider themselves potentially indispensable in a context they know nothing about! It truly seems that those outside of the industry presume that there is no training, logistics, experience, nor skills required to ‘help’ if they were to feel like it. If it’s so easy, why have they never bothered to ‘save people’ til now? Disconcerting.”

A little harsh, but she made a point that I do resonate with a bit. We human beings seem to rally during a tragedy of great proportion and then become quickly lulled back into complacency. But today while we watch the death toll go up in Haiti, 6500 people will die of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa . . . and again tomorrow . . . and the next day . . . and the next. Today 6000 children will be orphaned because of AIDS. Yesterday the news showed a 9-month pregnant Haitian woman who was using a day’s wages to take public transport to a place where she could get medical care, an every day occurrence in Swaziland where I work. Within a few months the human causalities from the AIDS pandemic far outpaces those from this Haiti crisis, so I can see how the poster above came to her opinions. But the person who responded to her makes an even better point I think:

“In disaster there is the awakening of compassion in the otherwise self absorbed…not to be dismissed but nurtured by those who work the fields. Disasters such as this anywhere in the world stirs compassion. The slightest hint of wanting to help should be an open door to instruct on how best to help…it is not ‘where have they been up to now” that is in question . . . it is ‘where do they wish to be in the future’ once the enlightenment of compassion in them awakes.”

AMEN and AMEN. I love this posture. I’m glad that the news streams into our homes making us aware. Yes. Respond to Haiti. Affirm those who feel compelled to respond. Help them find ways to act on what is stirring in them. Use also the open door for conversations that challenge, explore, inform, encourage, equip, help people move from complacency to action, day-after-day, month-after-month, after our television screens are once again filled with meaningless news and “reality” TV.

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