Haiti and WJDTU (What Jesus Didn't Tell Us)
We'll be giving a hundred dollars to help relieve the suffering, hunger, and brokenness of Haiti.nb That's the Christian thing to do. Jewish thing too. And, for that matter, the Buddhist, Muslim, Zoroastrian, et al too. Let's just make it the humane thing to do.
WWJD? Of course, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give water to the thirsty. Matthew 25, the parable of the last judgment, clearly describes the duty of anyone who would follow Jesus through these days of earthquake and horror. Not as if Haiti has been ignored in the past. During this past week of news coverage for that ill-treated half-island some reporter claimed that there were more missions per capita, church and secular, in Haiti than any other nation in the world. I can believe it, judging from the number of friends who have gone there in the past half century to build schools and hospitals. There is something downright exhilarating about providing aid and kindness to people who need it very badly and can't do it for themselves, people who have no other claim on you except for their being your neighbor on earth. One of my friends (who would get a big sarcastic laugh at my opening paragraph) insisted I should read Mountains Beyond Mountains, the story of MD Paul Farmer and his successful battle against tuberculosis in Haiti. And, of course, I have read- you may have too - and been inspired by Albert Schweitzer and his medical mission in Lambarene, Gabon. When gifted people use their brains and talents to better the lives of others in distant backwaters of the world, St. Francises of the modern age!, we find new hope for the human race, and are proud to be a part of it.
That is, God bless the human efforts, all the money, intelligence, sweat, and tears, being poured into Haiti in this hour of its agony.
But a nagging question troubles me. What about tomorrow in Haiti, when normality, or what passes for it, returns? When the last of the dead are buried, when food and water supplies are stabilized, when the money is spent, when the hospital ship sails back to Norfolk VA: what then for Haiti?
It's an issue a pastor has to face: dealing with the inevitable appearance of needy souls at his study door, those who approach him as if he had a map to the whereabouts of the holy grail. They arrive filled with their own emptiness, whether emotional or financial or both, hoping against hope that he will have the connections to cure their poverty. Under the impulse of WWJD, the pastor, of course, gives them a hearing and a lot more patience than is probably provided the children in the parsonage. As the years of the pastor's tenure in the church lengthen, it becomes apparent that the patience and compassion provided in the study and over the phone are akin to a drug user's fix. Facing the dilemma of perpetual need and little improvement, asking WWJD leads to the conclusion that there are many, many things Jesus didn't tell us about the living of this mortal life and the perplexities, personal and global, that will arise.
When, for instance, does generosity turn unintentionally into aiding and abetting an addiction, whether alcoholism, drugs, or emotional dependence? This is WJDTU. Is it enough to exercise our compassion without considering its consequences? I can still hear echoes from my previous life in that study explaining to a ne'er-do-well who appears at my doorstep for the umpteenth time, "The church is not able, and neither am I, to give you money every time you hit a hard spell; you'll just have to find for yourself another long term solution to your need."
That is, we have had Haiti on our doorstep for a long, long time. WWJD is no strategy because Haiti and the intransigence of its poverty is something TJDTU. Like many vexing issues. Many important and vexing issues. I note that those who reflexively claim they follow the WWJD rule are, to a less sympathetic eye, really anointing their own inclination as if it were God's. But Jesus does provide pointers on how to proceed in this world; he does not provide a Google map route with directions for every tenth of a mile. Faith is no substitute for intelligence. Faith and intelligence were meant, by God, to go hand in hand down that road that leads to tomorrow.
Back to Haiti and WJDTU. Namely, how that society can and should be rebuilt. A college classmate worked for most of his adult life in Central America for a relief agency that showed the poor farmer how to irrigate his quarter acre, medicate his goat, and become more productive. That's the teaching of fishing vs. giving a fish as the strategy to overcome poverty. And it's what David Brooks, a New York Times op-ed columnist, advocates: encouraging Haitians to adopt middle class attitudes (always a controversial prescription in a modern society like ours, considering the negative connotations of middle class stability among the literati) such as taking control of (and responsibility for) their own destiny, delaying gratification, and more strenuously ordering their lives. Tough love it is and it is what has worked across the globe, from Harlem to Shanghai. You know, adopting the same attitudes that equip so many faithful, compassionate people for missions to that island to help, before and after the earthquake.
Of course, such a development in Haitian behavior might diminish the carefree, ebullient, child-like traits the faithful and compassionate missioners find so appealing, and invariably report to the home church. Here's where WWJD and WJDTU intersect, at Matthew 7:12, the Golden Rule, treating others the way you want to be treated: with dignity and respect, as those standing on their own, taking care of themselves, if with a little help from their friends. Haitians, accordingly, will be helped to help themselves. Whatever the cause of the island's desperate poverty, colonialism being the chief ingredient, only Haitians themselves can dig themselves out of the hole they are in... yes, with a lot of help from their friends.
NB. Our donation was sent to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), Advance #418325. It is an agency of the United Methodist Church. Its administrative costs are born by the denomination and not deducted from donations. That is, 100% of the gift goes for what it is given. The agency does have staff in Haiti, the scene of repeated disasters, hurricanes and earthquakes; but it funnels aid through and to local programs. See for yourself at http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umcor/work/fieldoffices/work/haiti/.
UMCOR and the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries mourns the loss of two staff members, The Rev. Sam Dixon, UMCOR's top executive, and The Rev. Clint Rabb, head of the Volunteers in Mission office. They were in Haiti to discuss efforts to improve medical services in the country.