April 30, 2010
In May, InterVarsity Press (IVP) will be sending the six winners of their "Win-A-Missions-Trip-to-Haiti" contest on a four-day trip to the impoverished country. The cooperative effort between IVP and Haiti Partner, a non-profit organization focused on education in Haiti, was inspired by Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle (IVP) by Haiti Partners co-founder, Kent Annan.
Annan, a Princeton Theological Seminary graduate, left his comfortable American lifestyle in 2003 to live among and help the Haitian people. The book "tells the story of his move to Haiti and weaves together the nitty gritty joys and stumbles of living and ministering in a two-thirds world environment with reflections about faith, doubt, love, and God."
Even before the book published, Annan had envisioned a contest to cast the spotlight on the impoverished country, where two-thirds of the population (9 million) live on $2 a day. When the devastating January 2010 earthquake hit, his plans took on even greater significance.
The country was thrown into economic chaos and social turmoil that continues three months later. Hundreds of thousands of Haitians remain in filthy, crowded, and unsanitary tent cities that are more tarp than tent. The conditions are miserable, especially when it rains, which forces the displaced residents to endure mud, flooding and free-flowing sewage. And no end is in sight.
Does America have any responsibility? John Engle, spokesperson for Haiti Partners, answers "yes." He sees America's responsibility consisting of two different components: first, its government, and second, its citizens. Engle is comfortable with how the U.S. government has responded with its assistance to Haiti, even though such aid was likely prompted by America's need to protect its interests in the region. Engle's real concern is that foreigners will continue to see our government's actions as motivated by self-interest rather than compassion.
When it comes to American citizens, however, Engle has no such reservations. The actions of the American people provide "an opportunity to communicate values of compassion and understanding," he said. This is where the major responsibility in helping others rests. And as an added blessing, he explains, "we discover our best selves while helping others."
Sadly, our nation seems to have largely forgotten about Haiti. We have gone on to newer distractions (such as our own economic woes; political scandals; the death of some celebrity).
All of us—Christian and non-Christian alike—are so easily led in whatever direction the media takes us. The media is finished with Haiti, even though the suffering there to continue. Just days after the earthquake, as news stories became shorter and more sporadic, donations for the destroyed nation slowed to a trickle.
According to IVP publicity manager Heather Mascarello, IVP and Annan hope the upcoming trip will send the message to Christians that the work in Haiti under the banner of Christ isn't over.
"Hopefully, it will make mission-oriented churches even more mission-minded," Mascarello explained. "This whole thing started out as one person wanting to make a difference—that was the little seed that's now blossomed into something that's powerfully impacting people there. So, I think for people to know that, even their own small contribution, can be very great for the kingdom."
Mascarello also believes the contest and book could greatly influence young people who have just graduated from college and don't know what to do. "This book especially, and the contest, is going to inspire younger people to really get involved and live for Jesus," she said.
The winners will experience first hand what it means to "love thy neighbor" as they visit the town of Darbonne near the quake's epicenter, meet with Haitian church andbusiness leaders, and assist in various projects to rebuild Haiti. They won their position by presenting in their own words, in an essay or short video, why they feel the need and the calling from God to go to Haiti. The question they were asked to answer in either a two to three minute video or a three hundred to four hundred word essay was simple: How are you personally challenged by Jesus' invitation to live more fully and love dangerously, and how could his trip be part of that?
Lindsay Bonilla said, "If God is calling me to anything, it's to love my neighbor as myself and to be a mouthpiece for justice in a hurting world." Jamie Arpin-Ricci explained, "God is calling me to see the world beyond my community through His eyes." Holly Drake wrote, "The Lord has challenged me to live out Christ for these people—not to condemn them, not to fix them, not to save them—but to simply be Christ for them in any way I know how." In a recent interview, Mariana Valbuena explained, "God has put a burden on my heart for those in suffering, poverty, and loss. As I seek to be God's hands and feet in this world, I want to take any opportunity I have to help others."
Now, three months after the Haiti quake, America has forgotten about the ongoing need. But like Kent Annan and the winners of the IVP contest, we must keep Haiti and other troubled countries uppermost in our minds and hearts. This is Christianity. This is living like Jesus. This is being light and salt in a world of darkness and decay (Matthew 5:13-16). As James tells us so plainly, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress" (James 1:27).
We can't allow the media to dictate what's important. Take a moment to at least pray for Haiti. You might want to also consider making a donation. And if you hear God calling you to perhaps go to Haiti, don't be afraid to answer. Don't be like the rest of America. Whatever the Holy Spirit might put on your heart to do, remember how Samuel answered God when called: "Speak, for your servant is listening." (1 Samuel 3:10).
Richard Abanes is an award-winning, bestselling journalist who has authored/co-authored twenty books covering world religions, cults, the occult, pop culture, and the entertainment industry. His newest volume is Religions of the Stars: What Hollywood Believes and How It Affects You.