The following article is reprinted from Gary Wood’s Running on Full Today web site.
Armchair quarterbacks try to come up with the answers for how to make things work in the rescue efforts in Haiti, following the earthquake. “Why don’t they just…” is often heard wherever people gather. It is all said in an effort to try to find solutions for the daily images of pain and suffering we see broadcast by the media. We are a nation that wants to help. But without knowledge of the culture and the way it functions, our hands are tied and there are bottlenecks preventing or slowing down help getting to the people it’s intended for.
It is difficult to understand why the help Haiti needs is not readily available in their country already…or why they can’t just google Amazon and have it delivered right to their door.
Even in the best of times, Haiti does not have the resources that we have learned to take for granted. Could it be that at least some of the problems come from confusion caused from trying to “help” Haiti through the filter of our own North American cultural mindset and habits? If that were indeed true, and I believe that it is, what can we do?
A Haitian doctor expressed sincere gratefulness on a news segment, but he then said, “But, this is our country. Don’t tell us what we have to do.” He is a doctor. An educated man. Are you wondering why he said that?
I have been a missionary to Haiti. Was it easy? NO! Not at all. It was indeed a great culture shock. I was, however, fascinated with their culture and with the strength of the people. My own faith seemed puny compared to the faith of the Christian Haitians I came to know and love. I was grateful for their patient perseverance as they taught me how to survive in their land. The nights were eerie with the sounds of the voodoo drums and the dogs howling in response to the evil that was being called forth. It is a place where faith and character are stretched.
So following this earthquake disaster, what can we do to help the people of Haiti the way they want to be helped?
Before anything, we must pray. Pray for wisdom, for cultural understanding, for a peaceful spirit, and a kind heart. Pray for humility. Then, before you dive in:
- Ask them. Then listen and say it back to be sure you really understand. This is basic to any relationship. Ask what they want. Ask what they need. Ask how soon they need it. Ask what part of it they want you to do. Ask if they have ideas how it can be provided in a way that would be helpful to them…maybe by providing work for them or by providing income for their country. Remember that we don’t know what we don’t know. And they can tell us what we don’t know.
- Ask about cultural sensitivities. In our zest to meet the immediate needs, we don’t want our help to be perceived as interference, and we want it to be helpful long term, so cultural awareness is a necessity. We mustn’t think we already know. The why is an important aspect that is sometimes overlooked. No matter what previous experience you have had with disasters, all new disasters are unique. Go with fresh eyes and open ears.
- Listen to them. They had an earthquake. They have great need. Some have never been poor. They have been among the elite and they don’t know how to cope. And many others have been poor for a very long time. This earthquake has compounded their problems, but it does not mean that they should have to sacrifice dignity and honor. All people are empowered and excel when they are treated with respect. We have two ears and one mouth. Perhaps the Creator wanted us to listen with a non-judgmental heart, to those in need twice as much as we speak.
- Pray for the ongoing, ever-changing wisdom that is needed. It’s all about being the hands and feet of Jesus. If we keep asking Him, “What would YOU do, Jesus? Give me YOUR heart,” He will answer with a smile!