March 1, 2010 Volume 23, Number 24
"Pray that God will notice"
By Dave Toycen | ChristianWeek Columnist
In more than three decades working in the field of humanitarian relief and development, I've seldom witnessed catastrophe on the scale of that in Haiti.
In the early days after the disaster, images of crumbled buildings dominated our global media. But more horrifying than immeasurable tons of pulverized concrete, twisted roads and collapsed buildings, are the less visible but significantly traumatized Haitian children and adults.
I visited Haiti as part of a team assessing both damage and needs. The horror was everywhere I looked.
In the midst of the devastation, I met one fatherwith two children at his sideliving in a park. He didn't know how he and his little ones would eat or what the future would hold. He was a teacher by profession; the school where he worked had been reduced to rubble. "Pray that God will notice us," he said.
The astounding generosity demonstrated by Canadians in the days and weeks following the quake provides evidence that indeed, God has noticed. And the innumerable individuals, ministries, church groups and NGOs working in Haiti todayand for decades pastspringing out of the Christian doctrine of loving our neighbour are further evidence that the Body of Christ is alive and well and ministering in the most difficult corners of our planet.
And yet, it is critical that we who are somewhat removed from the devastation remember that this type of disaster requires a marathon response over several years, not just a Band-aid solution.
As time goes on, both the challenges and the solutions change. In the hours following the quake, the most immediate need was to tend to the injured and rescue the trapped. Then as hours turned to days, burying the dead and providing for the on-going survival of the living were paramount. Disease prevention and shelter quickly became a priority.
But plans for the reconstruction of Haiti must go beyond merely rebuilding roads, houses and other buildings. Obviously, Haiti's problems extend far beyond the devastation wreaked by this disaster. Haiti has long experienced massive unemployment and severe environmental degradation; only three per cent of the country has any forest cover, resulting in flooding and high fatalities during hurricane season, which is rapidly approaching.
Haitians also experience the highest rates of infant, under-five and maternal mortality in the Western hemisphere. One quarter of children under age five suffer from moderate to severe malnutrition. Sixty per cent of Haitians lack access to even the most basic health care. Just over half of all primary-school age children attend school. (The average girl attends school for only two years.) One-third of Haiti's youth aged 15 to 24 are illiterate.
World leaders will be meeting again soon to plan joint efforts to move toward the Haiti we've all been talking aboutand praying forfor the last 50 years.
As Canadian Christians, how can we help?
First, we need to arm ourselves with information to understand the scope of the challenges facing our Haitian brothers and sisters. Injustices bind Haiti with grinding poverty and abuse. Then we must pray, upholding Haiti and her people before God, so that they might know God's presence and mercy in the midst of their deep suffering.
We also need to find ways, if our resources allow, to dig deep and give to one of the largest emergency responses in the past few years. It will take billions to rebuild Port-au-Prince, and funding on the ground will mean new life and hope for thousands of Haiti's children and their families.
And finally, as Scripture exhorts us, we must continue to "speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute." This must include holding governments, non-governmental organizations, businesses and global institutions accountable to ensure that the Haiti response addresses root causes of poverty and not just this emergency.
We need to respond so that in the end, the Haitian father I mettogether with thousands of fellow citizens like himwill know and experience that indeed, God has noticed them.
Dave Toycen is president and chief executive officer of World Vision Canada, the country's largest humanitarian relief and development agency.