By John Halford
Sadly, it took an earthquake that leveled Haiti to put it on the map. Before January 12, I doubt many of us could have located Haiti, and knew very little of its history. Then, for several days it became front-page news. By the time you read this, the media will have moved on.
I know Haiti well. I have many friends there. Thank God they all survived, and are doing what they can to help their neighbors. We must not forget them — their country will need intensive care for many years if it is to survive and rebuild.
It was interesting to see, as the scope of the tragedy unfolded, how people around the world began to discover the history of this unlucky nation: its struggle to become a free country after a determined fight against slavery only to be abandoned by the USA and exploited by Europe at its greatest hour of need, and finally victimized by corrupt national leaders who appropriated what little wealth was left.
Sadly, this story is often told from the perspective of blame, and certainly, much blame can be laid at the developed world’s feet. But blame leads to guilt, and guilt is a strong emotion. Stir guilt into the mix of ruined buildings, broken people and abandoned children, and you can guarantee an immediate outpouring of concern and generosity. The trouble is, guilt is also an emotion that can quickly evaporate. Putting the world on a temporary guilt trip will not produce the kind of long-term commitment that Haiti needs.
If we are to really help Haitians rebuild, there must be a stronger motivation than just feeling sorry for them, and sorry about what “we” collectively might have “done to them.”
We Christians are especially susceptible to feelings of guilt. But it is rarely constructive. Jesus never sinned, and he is not to blame for ours. So when he took our sins on himself, he did not do it out of a sense of guilt. But he did accept the responsibility for them, because he loves us. He said he came to give us life (John 10:10), and he did it “while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:10).
As we look past Haiti’s ruins, poverty and misery, we see a people Jesus loves. I always come away from Haiti with a new feeling of respect for what it means to be human. There is so much to love about Haiti and the Haitians. I look into the eyes of the market lady asking to sell me a match — just one match. They are not the eyes of a beggar. It is a dignified transaction. As I pay for my match she thanks me, and offers me change from handful of tattered bank notes.
There used to be an old man at the airport who would clean the shoes of departing passengers. He crouched at my feet, polishing away with his battered brushes and a tin of polish scraped nearly dry. A lowly job? Hardly. He told me that he had put several of his sons through college. These are not unusual Haitians. Those who know these people well will tell you they are asking for a hand up, not a hand out.
A rebuilt and restored Haiti would be a wonderful monument to the 21st century. By some estimate the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are costing about $122,000 every minute. Just suppose, in the name of our common humanity, our adversaries agreed to a cease-fire, or even a temporary truce, to allow America and her allies to divert some of that to rebuilding Haiti.
OK, let’s get real — that isn’t going to happen. It is not the way of this world. But we who represent another way and a higher kingdom can show there is a better way. We must not forget Haiti, for in its sad ruins is an opportunity for all of us to show what it means to be human. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul reminds them how “those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor” (1 Corinthians 12:22-23). The tragedy that has hit Haiti calls us all to fresh priorities. If we can set aside sectarian and political rivalry and work together for a common cause, the hell that is Haiti might show us how the kingdom of God can come — on earth, as it is in heaven.
Author: John Halford