For the past two weeks, I’ve been riveted by the stories coming out of Haiti. I’ve read stories that bring me to my knees, stories that make me shake my fist in anger, and stories that make me feel incredibly hopeful. It’s been interesting to watch different responses to the disaster. Between the Haitian government, NGO’s, foreign governments, the UN, independent churches, and missionaries in Haiti, everyone seems to have their own unique take on how to best help the Haitian people. At times, it has seemed that there is no clear leader, no clear entity ultimately in charge of the relief effort.
I think it’s crucial for us, as Christians, to evaluate the church’s response to the crisis.
In the days following the quake, the biggest needs were clearly recovery, search and rescue, and serious medical help. All the organizations mentioned above flew in almost immediately with these resources. But, the runways were clogged. Too many planes, not enough space. Our church partners with an organization called Medical Teams International. MTI immediately sent two planes filled with medical personnel and supplies to Port au Prince but, were unable to land. There was no space for them to touch down. Two planes, filled with life saving supplies and doctors, were diverted to the Dominican Republic.
Yet, on the runway, sat helicopters and planes of many non-essential personnel. Reporters. Spectators. Even some pastors from the United States. The reporters were there to break news, to show the world what was happening and, I’m sure, to boost their network’s ratings. The pastors, who possessed neither medical skill nor any knowledge of Kreole, were there to…pray? Some teams of pastors were there with their own personal film crews. Award winning film crews. Taking up precious space on the runway.
Since the quake, I’ve been following the blogs of several missionaries in Haiti, and, time and again, they’ve clearly stated that people should not journey to Haiti to “help” if they did not possess immediate, practical skills that could be used in a catastrophe. They urged people to give money to the organization of their choice and to Pray. Everyday they beg for prayer. One missionary family has a hospital in their living room. In the midst of their hectic efforts to save lives, they’ve made a few snarky comments about the reporters who never leave the airport…..
The question I’m raising is this: How should the church respond in the crucial days following a disaster? The team of pastors and their film crew did capture some very poignant images of the suffering and, using the footage in their churches, were able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for their own relief efforts in Haiti. Seeing images of their own pastor standing with victims next to the rubble really brought the tragedy home for people.
The other question I’m asking is : When are the church’s efforts to help really just tragedy tourism?
I’m not clear on the answer to this. I’m obviously leaning toward the conclusion that pastors should have waited to get their footage….but, on the other hand, because they struck while the crisis was still on the front page, they were able to stir the generosity of their congregation.
I’m interested in your thoughts….