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Sunday, January 17, 2010

On Distance and Disasters

I almost hesitate to write about the most-published story of the week, if not the new year. The earthquake in Haiti that has claimed thousands of lives is a tragedy beyond measure. The compassionate response of the world community is appropriate and needed.

I need to use this space to confess. Disasters from a distance seem to bring about a distant response. I caught myself feeling deep sadness for the people of Haiti, for the daunting recovery that will follow, for the unfortunate possibility that much of the aid will not reach the intended victims. But my sadness is from a distance. My life is not disrupted and my future is not uncertain.

My college roommate and good friend Wayne Fairley posted a status update that he was getting on the first plane that Angel Flight could provide to deliver the donations from his church. I wish I could go, but life gets in the way. For the people of Haiti, it is an "in-your-face" nightmare from which they cannot wake up.

How do I know? In 2005, I was in the middle of Hurricane Katrina and my experience was numbness followed by frustration, followed by confusion, followed by despair. My disorientation was mediated by the closeness of friends and the reminder that I had not been physically injured, nor had any family member. But as the days, weeks, and months moved on, I felt like the rest of the world had as well. Katrina was yesterday's news and the celebrities, the headlines, and "text your donation" movements diminished to the point of silence.

I was hurt deeply by some of the idiotic comments about whether Katrina victims deserved any help given the perception that Louisiana has government that is more corrupt than other places. I was angry enough to call a radio show when the host repeated the comment that others had made, that America should cut its losses and abandon New Orleans since it doesn't make sense to build a city below sea level. I asked him if Atlanta should be deserted since there were constant water shortages or if California should be deserted before the rest of it burned from wildfires...

The people of Haiti will need our help for a long time. They don't need us to be cynical about their culture, their economy or their government. They need us to pledge to stay in touch with their plight and not let it be the flavor of the month disaster which will lose its Hollywood shine as soon as something else comes along.

If we believe that God uses us to mediate the tragic effects of the fallen world in which we live, we should pray. If possible, we should give of our resources, or even go (thank you Wayne). And for those of us who because of life's demands cannot go or give, we can pray. Most of all we need to pray. If we believe that God hears the prayers of the widows, orphans and oppressed, then we should pray.

I am not going to let this disaster stay at a distance. It is going stay on the current prayer list.


  1. Hi Sir Allen!

    Just discovered your blog. I was also saddened by the news in Haiti. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Teddy Presnedi (Philippines)

  2. Thanks for the shoutout Allen. We indeed did go to Haiti and were blessed by the opportunity to help save lives and limbs (at least our doctors did after I carried victims to the operating "room"). And we were blessed by many others who worked alongside us tirelessly and cheerfully to treat the hearts and souls as well as the injuries. Even before The Quake, prayer was the only hope for Haiti. Wayne