Immediately after the Jan. 12th earthquake in Haiti, it was obvious that the best way to help Haiti was with monetary donations. My own denomination (The American Baptists) were very clear about this. They knew that well-meaning people were willing to make personal sacrifices, get on the next plane with shovels, hammers, blood pressure cuffs and first aid kits in order to help. But volunteers were warned that they would have to sleep in tents, suffer from heat, poor air quality, mosquitoes, and lack of sanitary facilities. They were warned to bring nothing of value - not even a watch or a cell phone, since personal security could not be assured at this time of desperation.
On the other hand monetary donations were desperately needed to help our trained missionary personnel offer immediate help to wounded and traumatized people. So money came pouring in. Every Christian denomination, mission group and every humanitarian group received money in record amounts. It is estimated that nearly 4 billion dollars was raised all together in response to the Haiti earthquake. According to one website: http://www.sacbee.com/2011/01/09/3311676/critics-question-funds-raised.html, Doctors Without Borders raised $9 million in a single day without even asking for donations. In the first weekend after the tremor, Catholics in the United States pooled $90 million in collections. Governments later pledged $10 billion over a decade. The Red Cross alone raised $479 million, of which $245 million have so far been committed or spent. The U.S. government spent more than $1 billion in Haiti last year, including $400,000 for the military presence in the crucial early weeks.
BEM benefited from some generous donations. We were able to bring medicines and some equipment to the Hospital in Les Cayes. We were able to send a container filled with food, water, and clothing which was quickly distributed and deeply appreciated. It was all very helpful.
But how do we help now, nearly one year after the quake? Some, wonderfully zealous people (like me), still want to jump in there and save Haiti by going. Nice, but isn't it naive? Isn't sending money still the best way to help? Those nurses, children's workers, preachers, and other such good people are very sweet in their desire to help, but frankly, shouldn't they stay home and, if they really want to help, shouldn't they just send money? In fact, hasn't that always been the best way to help in Haiti? Why does BEM and other well-meaning organizations insist on getting teams of people together to go to Haiti, especially considering the fact that the United States State Department has consistently warned people, for years, against going there?
The answer is yes, money is still needed. We can donate money to trusted organizations like our own denominations and Bethesda Evangelical Mission that have a wonderful history of doing good work there. I have never been on a mission trip to Haiti that we haven't worried about having enough medicine, enough food, and enough resources to accomplish our purposes. In the end, we've always been surprised by how much God has provided. Still, more money would have helped.
Yet, I am one person who encourages volunteers to go, and I personally go as often as I can. Why? I think I have some good reasons. Let me explain:
1. Loving support. There is no substitute for genuine loving Christian interaction with God's suffering people. Imagine your house burning down, and kind people sending you money, but never showing up to give you a hug, to pray with you, and to encourage you in the midst of your loss and need? I know of nothing more powerful than having caring Christians simply show up.
2. Personal engagement. There is also a practical response to this question. The Bible reminds us that "Where your treasures are, there your heart is also." The opposite is also true. "Where your heart is, there your treasures are." It is the testimony of many, that after traveling to Haiti, they came home but "left their heart in Haiti." When mission teams come home, they continue to care, give, and raise money for the Haitian cause. Travelers with short-term mission groups end up raising and giving far more money for Haitians than they would have otherwise just because they went and experienced it for themselves.
3. Spiritual challenge. There is something about going there that grabs people's hearts. You can not see the poverty, the needs, the suffering on the one hand, and then see the faith, the enthusiasm, and the joy of Christians on the other, and come home unmoved. It is faith building. Seeing a place like Haiti is life-impacting. It challenges the way we have always viewed the world. Going to Haiti has so impacted me over the years, that I can truly say that I'm not sure that Haiti needs me, but I know I need Haiti. Without it, I drift into shallow thinking so easily. I can become very complacent about the suffering in the world. Left on my own, I tend to pray very little for the hungry, the hurting, and the homeless. I now find myself praying daily for Haiti and for suffering Christians around the world.
4. Money doesn't always help. Despite the millions or billions of dollars designated for Haiti only a small percentage of it has actually gotten there. While money and the goods money can buy certainly helped immediately after the earthquake, not all of of the money got there. Many lives were saved because people donated large amounts of money to purchase medicines, food, tents, etc. Yet, we live with the frustration that while enough money has been raised (and promised) to build every Haitian family a new home, they continue to live desperate lives in tents - woefully inadequate to shelter them from the frequent storms that plague Haiti.
So, the next time the Spirit of the Lord impresses it upon you to go to Haiti, to be involved there, to see what is happening, to touch, to minister, to shovel sand, lug your luggage, and haul rocks - all of which the Haitians themselves can do - I encourage you to go. Don't plan on "saving Haiti," just plan to stand beside, to pray with, to listen to, and to care for God's suffering people.
My suggestion comes with a warning: You'll never be the same!
For that, you will be eternally grateful!