Two nights ago, I attended the Haiti Benefit Concert at the Loft, organized by James Defrees of Crossroads Church. Kelsey Rottiers & The Rising Tide, The Plug Ugly, Kelly Deanne and the Octagon Band, I Am Eternity, and Bridegroom all played a great show (I blog on the music, and my hearing-loss, here).
I’ve been to Haiti in May ’10 and May ’11 and it’s a place God has really put heavy on my heart. I’m saddened by the way our sociological-wiring works where when a disaster strikes, we are fascinated with it for a short period of time, but eventually the allure wears off, we give our $10 text to the Red Cross (our conscious now appeased) and we move on to the next hot news topic, whether it be a Japanese tsunami or Prince William’s marriage. It’s like the news media has conditioned us to have the attention span of a cocker spaniel, always ready to chase the next squirrel that comes along our path, but never able to focus long-term in a single direction. It’s easy to pull a guilt trip here, which isn’t what I’m trying to do, only raising awareness about the sadness of this trend. While we move on to the next news story, the people of Haiti, who live an hour and a half (flight) from Miami, FL, continue to live in the misery and destruction of the Jan. ’10 earthquake, unable to change the news channel or turn the page of the magazine story that they live in on a daily basis.
I started a grassroots organization in Lansing following the earthquake called Lansing for Haiti. L4H is a network of individuals and churches in Lansing who are partnering with a community of churches in Cite’ Soleil, Haiti (the poorest slum in Haiti, located in Port-au-Prince), through the NGO World Relief. L4H started with a flurry of excitement and energy following the earthquake, with many people eager to help our cause. The problem is that following a disaster, it is not the time for a bunch of excited Americans to jump on a plane and go save the day. Trained first-responders are already on the ground feeding people and providing tarps — temporary solutions, getting people by until the situation can be addressed for long-term, sustainable recovery. From the beginning of L4H, we set it up as an effort for the long-haul, we didn’t want to put a band-aid on something that needs major surgery. As we had to wait for plans to be developed by World Relief for what this long-term recovery would look like, many Lansing folks interested in our effort started losing interest as the CNN news crews moved on to their next headline story, our adrenaline and attention-span moving along with them.
L4H still had a great year last year, raising almost $20,000, certainly a huge accomplishment in my mind. It was an odd feeling when I was back in Haiti for my 2nd trip in May of this year, observing the peanut butter mills our money went to purchase in the Cite’ Soleil churches. I was no longer a tourist, like I felt like I was on my first trip, just soaking everything in. This time I was back to check up on a project we put a lot of work into starting, and it felt like work. I felt a glimpse into what the World Relief staff feel, or what the Haitian pastors feel on a daily basis. It was difficult. It was a grind. And it continues to be a grind in many ways. Does this mean I should quit? I don’t think so. It reminds me a lot of my marriage of 7 years. The honeymoon phase is long gone and now marriage is a commitment of love. Not that it’s a “grind”, but it is work. And I think the same reason we hop from relationship to relationship in our culture is a similar reason we can’t stay committed to a social justice cause. It just becomes difficult when we get too involved as the illusion of the glossy magazine page becomes the reality of a difficult and sometimes seemingly hopeless situation; yet in my opinion, the only lasting impact that is going to happen will come from people who are committed for the long-term to sustainable impact, not just handing out band-aids.
There are a zillion causes you can find, and you certainly can’t help them all. I encourage you to avoid this “compassion fatigue”, not letting it you push you to do nothing, or to continue being satisfied with handing out ineffective (or worse yet, destructive) band-aids. Find ONE cause and be very committed to it. Give lots of money to it, we all have excess we can give. Give your time to it, something we all have. If you don’t have that one cause yet, I encourage you to join us in giving a hand-up to our brothers and sisters in Haiti, as they recover from this debilitating disaster.
One small way you can do this is donate on our website (goes to our account with World Relief, tax-deductible) or put a team together for our Lansing for Haiti golf scramble, coming up on September 10th. The coolest thing about my May ’11 trip to Haiti was seeing the utter joy in the faces of the Cite’ Soleil pastors, knowing that someone in America still cared about them, and hadn’t forgotten them. It is exciting to be a part of that joy.