The Good News About Haiti
By james pedrick
February 3, 2010
In the five years that I have worked with World Vision ACT:S, our campus activism network, I have never seen as much generosity from my generation as I am seeing now. In response to the worst natural disaster in our hemisphere in the past century, more than 200 campus groups within our network alone have organized prayer gatherings, benefit concerts, and fundraisers.
But many are already asking the question, “How long will this ‘window of compassion’ last?” According to Randy Strash, World Vision’s strategy director for emergency response, the media and the public's attention typically shift three to six weeks after the event.
As Haiti begins to fade from the headlines and our country turns its attention to things like the Super Bowl, the Olympics and American Idol, will we now turn our backs on Haiti? Will there still be vigils, concerts, and fundraisers? Or will we simply begin to move on?
When did this tragedy really begin?
During major catastrophes, like Hurricane Katrina or the 2004 South Asian tsunami, Americans are quick to come to people’s aid. But such tragedies are not rooted in one-day natural disasters.
The tragedy in Haiti began well before an earthquake leveled Port-au-Prince at 4:53 p.m. on January 12, killing as many as 200,000 and leaving millions inured and homeless. An earthquake of a magnitude equivalent to the Haiti disaster (7.0) hit the San Francisco area in 1989, but only 63 people were killed. Haiti was already the least-developed country in the Western Hemisphere. With an average income of only $520 a year, Haiti was among the poorest nations in the world and lacked basic education, healthcare, and infrastructure.
Preventing another Haiti
Following the tsunami in 2004, I had the opportunity to visit some of World Vision's work in Swaziland. Far from the tsunami disaster zone, this country suffers from a different kind of emergency. Swaziland has the highest HIV infection rate in the world (more than 26 percent). I remember local staff praying for those affected by the tsunami but also expressing concern that the focus on the tsunami-affected countries might interfere with the commitments that were already made to their community and so many others.
Just as we seek to rebuild Haiti, there are countless other countries and communities that are just one earthquake away from catastrophe. Today, nearly 3 billion people – half the world’s population—live on less than $2 a day and are vulnerable to extreme poverty, hunger, and disease.It is important that we not let mere charity replace true justice. The longstanding tragedy of this story is that it takes a tsunami or earthquake for us to wake up to the realities and vulnerabilities of extreme poverty and inequity. Perhaps the "good news about Haiti" is that we don't have to wait for another earthquake to get serious about poverty and injustice.
How do we sustain our “window of compassion”?
It can be hard to sustain a commitment of faith and justice when we aren’t flooded with a constant flow of stories, images and reminders. Pop stars return to selling albums, the television reverts back to new programs, elected leaders focus on the next campaign, and each of us naturally return to our own day-to-day lives.
Within ACT:S, we are devoting the Lent season (starting February 17) to exploring what it means to be a Christ-follower in a world with numbing abundance on one end and crippling poverty on the other. To sustain our commitment, we will be reading The Hole in Our Gospel and challenging ourselves to not just be Christians of charity, but Christians of justice who seek God's kingdom "on earth as it is in heaven." Be thinking and praying about practical ways you can keep Haiti and other countries in need in your heart and mind.
What does it mean to be a Christian of justice?
The earthquake in Haiti provides a unique opportunity for all of us to re-evaluate our lives and collectively change our priorities—socially, economically, politically, and yes, even spiritually. What would it look like to move justice from an afterthought to the center of our community life? To re-examine how we view, spend and even earn money? To encourage our elected leaders to make international development a priority? And to truly pursue and carry out Christ’s “good news for the poor?”
ONE has launched an important campaign to advocate for the cancelation of Haiti’s $1 billion debt. This is the type of critical change that is necessary if we are truly serious about ending extreme poverty.
Before this window of compassion closes, the challenge for us is to not only partner with Haitians to build a stronger nation, but to also begin working together to build a more just and loving world.
Our generation can end extreme poverty in our lifetime. Will we answer the call?
James Pedrick is the Senior Advisor for World Vision ACT:S, a network of students exploring what our faith says about justice, using creative activism to bring issues to life and change hearts, and using our voices to advocate.