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haiti and the strengths of the mainline chuches

January 16, 2010

My assignment to Providence UMC seven years ago brought me into a relationship with a thirty year mission in that country; at that time it was focused on health care, and it has since encompassed education and microcredit. I have traveled to Haiti once a year since, and increasingly my wife has made the journey two, three and four times a year, especially in the founding of the Haiti School of Mercy (in Carmilot). That relationship included Jacques Lamour's coming to the U.S. to attend first Central Piedmont Community College and now Huntingdon College. And most recently it involved Pam's participation on Tuesday in a gathering of U.S. leaders who are doing work in Haiti.

My wife Pam was in Port au Prince during the earthquake. I learned early Friday morning that she was in the U.S. She is resting, and it is wonderful to have her home!  At the same time she knows that she will return. The work in Haiti will continue. For some it will begin; for others it will continue. There is a role for all of us, and it provides a challenge for collaboration among denominations and congregations, governments and NGOs.  

In the near term, I encourage financial donations to the United Methodist Committee on Relief and Stop Hunger Now. UMCOR is sustained by the United Methodist Church, with all administrative costs covered; 100% of your gift goes to the need. I also know that other denominations have equivalent organizations, such as Episcopal Relief and Development. Stop Hunger Now delivers food packets (our congregation has put together 10,000 of these at a time). UMCOR and SHN are highly effective in their delivery of service and they are also financially transparent.

In addition, our church will be working with Stop Hunger Now to send materials, especially water, food and medical supplies to Haiti, via Norfolk, Virginia and, amazingly, in partnership with the U.S. Navy.  

It occurs to me that a disaster calls forth the strengths of the mainline churches in the U.S.  At our best, we have always lived our faith in service to the common good, and we know now that the concerns of Haiti are within our common good.  We have invested significant resources in infrastructure for just such an event as this.  Our natural instinct is to love our neighbor.  The mainline churches are often faulted for their shortcomings; I sense in a week like this that we are positioned to take part in the mission of God.

I saw Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health, interviewed this week on CNN by Campbell Brown. He is a hero; I participated in a panel discussion with him three years ago at Wofford College. If you want to learn more about Haiti, the best place to begin is Tracy Kidder's biography of Farmer, Mountains Beyond Mountains. And if you want to dive in more deeply, I suggest Farmer's The Uses of Haiti. It will dispel any judgments you have made about Haiti, its history or its politics.

The work in Haiti will continue now, only with an added layer of massive complexity. Haiti is two hours and forty minutes, by air, from the United States. Pat Robertson's unfortunate comments aside (and I am being charitable here), Haiti is filled with dedicated Christian people, and, we are learning, many of them are also U.S. citizens who have felt led, as my family has, to make that journey.    Kidder's book title comes from a Haitian proverb, "beyond mountains there are mountains", meaning, you solve one problem and another appears. We thought we were doing really good work: seeing 1500 patients a week, educating 200 students each year, providing loans for 49 women. These have been the mountains we have been climbing. Now we discover that there are mountains beyond mountains.

This week, after the earthquake, the biggest mountain is before us, and it represents a challenge that will call forth everything we have.


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