International Ministries

Haiti: from hand-outs to a hand up

October 16, 2010 Journal
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Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:35-38)

Thank you for your prayers while we were in Haiti on “special assignment” with a team of IM missionaries invited to work with the Haiti Baptist Convention (CBH) on the design of church-based integrated development programs.  What a privilege it was to get to know Rev. Dr. Emanuel Pierre, the CBH General Secretary, whose vision is to empower churches to rebuild Haiti in every sense. The country’s poverty and decades-long suffering are not just physical, but emotional, spiritual, and social as well. Only the local church in Haiti is in a position to address all of these dimensions of human need – if its members are mobilized to do the kind of integral mission that Jesus did. The CBH’s first and most fundamental challenge is to help more of its churches catch this vision of being “salt” and “light” to their communities (Matt. 5:13-16).

After January’s devastating earthquake, American Baptists gave generously through the One Great Hour of Sharing offering to help with immediate relief needs in Haiti. A portion of that offering was also set aside to help the Haiti Baptist Convention address more fundamental long-range development needs. Our Team’s purpose was to do field research and consult with the CBH about possible economic and agricultural development projects the Convention could undertake using these gifts.

It was an intense two weeks! We spent the first week in the north in the Cap Haitien area, and the second in the south in Port-au-Prince and Grand Goâve. We visited numerous CBH institutions and met with ten NGOs to learn about successful development approaches. In the south we saw the scenes of earthquake destruction and heard the heart wrenching stories of lives lost or changed forever that are now familiar to the world community. But being there is very different from seeing it on TV.

We had many fruitful discussions about the vast difference between relief and development. Many individuals, churches and governments around the world have given generously over the years to help Haiti recover from hurricanes, floods, and the most recent earthquake.   When disaster strikes and people are hurting and hungry, providing immediate relief (food, water, medical services, etc.) is clearly the right thing to do.  Once those immediate needs are taken care of, though, what is the next step in the recovery and rebuilding process?

It is clear that now, 9 months after the earthquake, Haiti needs people who have a long-term commitment to small-scale, self-help, church-based community development focused on empowerment and local initiative. When we engage in development (vs. relief) we invest in people for the long-term in a process that is more a marathon than a sprint. Development is time intensive (vs. money intensive) and deals with what is vital or foundational in a country rather than what is urgent or symptomatic. The goal of integral development is to build capacity by empowering people to learn, understand and take action to solve the problems they themselves have identified. While relief tends to create dependency on hand-outs, development emphasizes self-help and a “hand-up” by doing things with people rather than for them.

How can American Baptists be responsible partners with the CBH as it seeks to be an agent in the rebuilding of Haiti? Haiti has been unintentionally crippled in part by the well-meaning generosity of generations of Americans and Europeans with a relief mentality. There are perhaps as many as 15,000 NGOs (and scores of multi-lateral government aid projects) at work right now trying to help the Haitian people in various ways, with apparently little coordination or information sharing between them.

Even if much of the world has forgotten about Haiti and moved on to the next disaster (or celebrity melt-down or angry talking head or … ), God certainly has not. We met dedicated, visionary leaders who are valiantly trying to do development work against very stiff odds – and succeeding person by person, community by community. We need to come alongside our Haitian sisters and brothers to encourage and build capacity. Our challenge is to walk with them without dominating through our money, our ideas or even our desire to help. Our example is Jesus, who had compassion and taught, preached and healed – and called us into the harvest field to do likewise.

Please pray for Haiti, asking God to comfort the families who lost loved ones.  Pray that God would give our brothers and sisters the wisdom, vision and strength they need to rebuild their beloved country.
By God’s grace,

Ann and Bruce
Belo Horizonte, MG, Brazil

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