Saturday, February 6, 2010

Haiti: Learning From "Their" Experiences

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.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Truth? In Haiti

"What is truth?"

The query of Pontius Pilate to Jesus could just as easily be asked today. Truth seems to flitter and fluctuate like the "guaranteed lowest price" at the marketplace in the little Mexican town across the border from us. Indeed, the art of shaping "truth" is, in some places, not unlike the remolding of soft clay. If it doesn't produce the desired result, just ball it up and reshape it into something different.

David, the king of ancient Israel, was pondering the spiritual heart condition necessary to fully enjoy intimacy with God. His short list of requirements included "He swears to his own hurt and does not change." (Psalm 15:4 New American Standard Bible)

It strikes me that the Americans detained in Haiti today are consistently telling their story. Two elements of it have been repeated multiple times: "We were just trying to help," and "We now know that we didn't file the appropriate papers in Haiti."

They have "sworn" to their own hurt that they made a mistake. But were they attempting to traffic children or set up adoptions for sale? Their statements about that haven't changed.

For the three men I know, they won't. Such activity would be entirely inconsistent with the way they live their lives.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Locked Up In Haiti

I suppose it's inevitable that, in certain circumstances, right actions lead to painful consequences. According to Acts, chapter 21, it was certainly that way two millennia ago in the Roman-occupied city of Jerusalem. Paul, the man whose letters make up about half the New Testament, had traveled to Jerusalem on a mercy mission. He discovered that accusers there were trying to destroy his reputation among the Jews.

In an attempt to restore confidence in his integrity and gain hearers for his message, Paul joined some others in the observance and completion of a religious vow. His very presence in the Temple, it seems, caused such a stir that Paul was grabbed by an angry mob seeking to kill him. Paul's arrest led him ultimately to Rome, where he defended his actions (and shared about Jesus Christ) all along the way.

This weekend, as the world has brought aid to a tiny Caribbean nation, the actions of a group of modern-day Christ-followers have led to their own painful consequences. This group, comprised of church people from Idaho (along with one from Kansas and another from Texas) stepped into the chaos following a massive earthquake in Haiti. Their mission was to assist Haitian orphans by transporting them across the border to the Dominican Republic. There they would receive care, food, education and such acts of love that leaders could provide.

This ministry to orphans was actually conceived before the earthquake. The noble purpose was to help the children from this "poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere." Using the groundwork that had already been laid and seeing the emergency need of a Haitian pastor-leader who explained that his orphanage had been destroyed by the quake, the Christians flew into action.

Their first few days were to prepare the location in the DR for the arrival of children. They then set out into Haiti to attempt bringing the children across. They persevered through various challenges of culture and language to finally arrive at the border crossing on Friday night. With them on their small bus were 33 Haitian children. Upon discovering a paperwork difficulty on the Haiti side of the border, they stayed for the night with a group of soldiers who were assigned there. The plan was to go back into Port Au Prince on early Saturday, acquire the needed documentation and cross over. They already had their Dominican papers.

After a few hours at the border, the group was accused by officials of trying to smuggle the children across. They were detained and the children were removed to other aid workers.

In hindsight, it seems that this concerned group was unaware of a general alarm that has been sounded inside Haiti regarding the very issue of taking orphans from the country. The Haitian government has a growing fear that Haitian children who have been separated from their families by the disaster may be taken too quickly out of the country, then discover later that their family -- previously thought dead -- turn out to be alive. If this concern existed as has been expressed, the actions of these Christians provided the flashpoint to bring it to the world's attention.

I have been cautious in writing this post. First, I don't know all the facts. Some things I am writing, I can only glean from various sources. But there is another reason. My wife's oldest sister, Teri, was a wonderful Christian lady who went to be with Christ in 1997. She was just 47. The ten (five women and five men) Americans who have been detained include her son, her son-in-law and her grandson.

Our whole family are grateful for your prayers as they go before a Haitian judge on Monday.