I have been cautious about writing too much regarding the plight of ten American missionaries who are currently being held in Haiti under charges of kidnapping and abduction. My caution stems from two factors. First, the media is swimming with reports about the situation and those reports have frequently been speculative at best. The last thing I needed to do was to add my own speculations.
Second, my previously stated relationship with three of the missionaries has made this more than a casual observation for me. Members of our family have been emotionally shaken by this event in the same way that the 7.0 started it all. We have prayed endlessly. We have carried on literally hundreds of conversations in verbal and written form since it began. (Our daughter has written some excellent blog posts here.) The raw emotion of it has served to make me even more cautious about publicly committing my ruminations to print.
As we continue to wait and pray, I think it's time for me to talk about a few "take aways" which can be gleaned from the situation. Perhaps this can help someone else avoid the same predicament and subsequent pain.
We Americans are frequently the quickest to jump into the world's problems. This can be a good thing, like the rapidity with which some mercy organizations made it possible to text a certain number on our mobile phones and instantly donate $10 to the relief fund. It can be a bad thing, like the times we have stormed into countries where we were definitely unwelcome and been seen more as conquerors rather than as caregivers.
The Christians in my country are not immune to these passionate acts; in fact we are often instigating them. On many occasions, our quick action leads to saving lives and offering hope which otherwise might have been lost. Isaiah (chapter 6), when he "saw the Lord high and lifted up", quickly responded with "Here am I; send me!" If nothing else, our unrestrained activity is heartfelt.
Conversely, our passion can, at times be driven more by human emotion than by genuine encounters with God's Spirit. We are quick to quote the Great Commission ("Go ye therefore into all the world..."), but we fail to remember that what Jesus said in the original language was not so emphatic. What He really said was, "As you are going..." There's a huge difference. Jesus never put the command to go above the wisdom of whether it is the right time, place, and way to go. I once heard someone say that we should make sure what we are perceiving is truly the unction of God's Spirit and not just indigestion.
I am not questioning the missionary call to go places where people have not heard and which are inherent with danger. The Gospel has traveled from generation to generation for two thousand years. Every culture that has been touched by it was once hearing it for the first time. On the other hand, short-term missionaries (we number in the tens of thousands, just from the U.S.) are remiss if they don't take into account the work of those who went before them. The incarcerated missionaries in Haiti had scant, if any, contact with established mission organizations which were doing significant work in the region long before the quake happened. No doubt, those organizations could have used both the financial help and the labor of a group willing to work.
A pastor friend of mine spoke to me recently about the experience his church had following the 2004 tsunami. They rapidly deployed a team to the scene. They caught the attention of the local press and people outside their church gave generously to assist them. The original team sat on the ground with nothing to do...for five days! Then, with no real work accomplished, all but two of the team members had to come home to their regular jobs. How many thousands of dollars were wasted because their passion got ahead of their wisdom?
In Haiti, even more is at stake. First is the emotional toll being endured by the missionaries, their families, loved ones and churches. Second, there's the financial cost of their defense. Third, this is a distraction from the ongoing relief efforts. Finally, it is being used as an argument that we Christians need to keep our Gospel to ourselves.