Making A Difference In Haiti
Please read the book of Nehemiah.
Forty-seven percent of Haiti’s population of more than 9 million is under age 18. The Caribbean country has the Western Hemisphere’s highest birth rate and its highest child and maternal mortality rates. Haiti also has the hemisphere’s highest malnutrition rate — with some 17,500 children under age 5 acutely malnourished. This was the situation before the earthquake of 12 January 2010.
Haiti’s government estimated the death toll for the Jan. 12 earthquake at 230,000 — the same death toll as the 2004 Asian tsunami. And while the half-million people jammed into germ-breeding makeshift camps have so far been spared a contagious-disease outbreak, health officials fear epidemics. They are rushing to vaccinate 530,000 children against measles, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough.
The initial action to most natural disasters is to react. By definition, to react is to act in response to or under the influence of a stimulus or prompting. It is also commonly defined as acting in opposition to a condition or act. Natural disasters bring out the best and worst in us. The Haiti earthquake of 12 January 2010 did so.
The best in us focused on doing something immediately to relieve the suffering, while the worst in us threw caution and reasoning to the wind. Some of us went immediately to our knees petitioning God to intervene, restoring life, and healing an already broken people. Others abandoned cooperating with each other to multiply the impact of our individual efforts and went to Haiti to find themselves competing for scarce resources with the very people we went to help.
A quick study of the book of Nehemiah reveals the peril of the people in Jerusalem and the anguish in Nehemiah’s heart about their plight. It also reveals the steps that he took to secure God’s approval, the assistance, resources, and permission needed to affect a long-term solution. It doesn’t say that he did nothing, yet that he did what he could. So has been the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief effort.
Southern Baptists are known for their cooperation and tenacity, especially when it involves helping people know that God loves them. Southern Baptist’s are in what I refer to as Phase I of responding to this disaster.
Initially, there were boots-on-the-ground assessment teams that went into the country to connect with other Southern Baptists already in country and determine the best way to meet the needs of the Haitian people. They then returned to Miami, FL to meet with other aid organizations and leaders to match needs and solutions, prioritize actions, develop a strategy, and then publish a plan.
The first step in this plan is the “Buckets of Hope” campaign. This effort is designed to provide churches a vehicle to give all of us the opportunity to “do” something individually as well as together. By purchasing and assembling buckets with enough food to feed the average Haitian family for one week we can fulfill our need to accomplish a significant action right now. Go to the KNCSB website kncsb.org to learn more about the “Buckets of Hope” campaign.
Simultaneously, the deployment of medical teams, housing inspector and chaplain teams, and an Incident Command Team represented our first official deployments of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief assistance personnel into Haiti. The medical teams have established four clinic treatment sites while the inspectors and chaplains have assured people that we have come to help. The Incident Command Team has established a coordination and liaison link between Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, the Haitian government, the U.S. government, and other aid organizations.
These efforts represent what we can do at this time.
The Second Phase of this plan calls for a long-term effort to assist Haitians rebuild their lost homes. This effort will be initiated through the efforts of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Rebuild teams and sustained by cooperating church mission groups.
Several church members and staff have called to ask about sending mission teams to Haiti, some as early as this summer. A great idea if the logistics, medical, and security support are in place. However, Haitian government officials are struggling to relocate hundreds of thousands of refugees from plastic sheeting shantytowns to more secure structures before the summer.
The approaching April rains followed close behind by tropical storms and hurricanes will hamper these efforts and surely exacerbate the second stage of Haiti’s medical emergency. Diarrheal illnesses, acute respiratory infections and malnutrition are claiming lives by the dozen. Nearly a month after the quake, respiratory infections, malnutrition, diarrhea from waterborne diseases and a lack of appropriate food for young children may be the biggest killers.
Survival is the focus of most Haitians today. Hope for a better future seems all but impossible, and yet God loves these people. So how should we respond? The answer to these challenges is continued intercessory prayer on behalf of the Haitian people and our Southern Baptist Leaders, cooperatively giving and serving together, and thanking God that we can find significance as the heart and hands of Jesus in this crisis.
Thanks for your prayers, financial resources, and understanding hearts. God bless you as you serve our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
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