Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Haitian Tragedy

Late on the afternoon of January 12, 2010, an extremely powerful earthquake measured at a 7.0 on the Richter Scale, devastated the impoverished country of Haiti. This most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere, has been nearly flattened by this disaster.

Haiti is half of an island shared with the Dominican Republic. A vast majority of the population lives far below the poverty line. Most are illiterate and the unemployment rate nears 80%. A vast number of the population exists on less than one dollar per day. While most of the citizens live in homes constructed mainly of concrete, a significant number lives in the slums where houses are made from any material ranging from cardboard to tin to tarps and any other material that may be available.

Every day, people from these deplorable "homes" set out for the mountains of garbage that surround the slum in search for food. They dig through heaps of garbage that come from homes and businesses in and around the capitol city of Port-Au-Prince. Often, they consider themselves lucky if they find a piece of meat that has not rotted in the tropical heat that was dumped by a local restaurant.

There is very little infrastructure as we would recognize it. Roads are often dirt, lined with ruts that make taking them to anywhere a test of endurance. While there is electrical service to home and business alike, it is by no means widespread. Most of the island nation does not even have access to something as basic as clean water. Those who have no running water (and that is a majority of the population) depend on water supplies that have been contaminated by human waste. They are nothing but fetid streams of disease and illness.

Why such natural disasters happen can be scientifically explained, but a more difficult question may actually be why God permits such devastating events to happen to such a people. Most of us believe in a God of compassion and mercy. He is the Creator, God of power and might. So why did He allow such a thing to happen? Why did He allow such misery and death to descend upon a people already beset with a grinding way of life that challenges the soul daily just to survive?

God's reasoning is beyond our human understanding. We cannot fathom the mind of God no matter how hard we may try. We can philosophize all we want, but we will never be able to understand fully the ways of God. Even when we say that God does nothing without love in mind, we still find it hard to understand His ways. But there is one thing that I am sure of and that is that the hand of God is clearly visible in this horrific disaster.

The love of God is not seen in the death and destruction but rather in the world's response to the human needs of the population. Nations are mobilizing their resources into action. The United States, once again leading the way to aid a nation struck with a natural disaster, is rushing to get aid to the island through both governmental and private efforts. Charities all over the country have leaped into action, collecting materials and money to aid the rescue effort on the Caribbean island. Thousands of volunteers will soon arrive on the shores of the stricken country to provide essential services such as medical, food, and water. Countless stories of individuals extending a compassionate heart to the victims of this vicious disaster will go untold in the media but not unnoticed by God.

There are those, of course, who will say that this relief effort is just a symbol of the goodness of the human heart and is not proof of the existence of God or His actions. They are blinded to the truth. All that is good flows from God. There is nothing on earth that is good that did not have its origin in the God the Creator. He is in the loving hands that bandage the wounds of those who were hurt in the quake. He is in the heart of those who listen as half-crazed family members recall the temblor. He is in the sweat of those who dig brick by brick through the rubble of buildings crumpled by the powerful force of nature. And he is in the generosity of those who give some of their earthly treasure to help those whose lives are now completely devastated.

There are many ways that we, as individuals, can help. The American Red Cross is accepting monetary donations. Numerous church organizations have begun to collect blankets and other basic, essential materials to send to the country. Whatever way you choose, please pause for a moment during your busy schedule and remember the victims of this horrible event in your prayers. Prayer is really the most powerful weapon we have at our disposal. Without prayer, nothing else has meaning.

While we will never be able to understand why this has happened to such a stricken people, we certainly can become the face, the hands, and the heart of God to all those who have been hurt in any way by the quake. Remember, "whatever you do to the least of these, my brothers, you do unto me." (Matthew 25:40)