By Todd Smith
This Christmas, the most stressful moments at my house involved deciding how to use my paid vacation days, exactly when to leave to drive to see family, determining what, how and when we purchase and wrap gifts and what child and pet gear was essential for the journey.
This month, is the second year anniversary of the 7.0 earthquake that rocked Haiti, killed 300,000, left even more without permanent shelter and set the island nation back decades. According to a recent report from Haitian President Michel Martelly, 800,000 Haitians are still living without electricity, 500,000 can't read or write and 80% live on less that $2 a day.
The minor inconveniences of life in America for many (admittedly, many are suffering - unemployment rates continue to remain at high levels and economic conditions are the worst in decades) pale in comparison to the poverty and hardships encountered daily on a worldwide scale.
It is extremely difficult to develop a genuine global perspective that is unclouded by the rampant materialism and overconsumption that abounds in our culture. We catch a glimpse of it during volunteer service, holiday giving or mission trips, but when those scenes don't dominate our daily vision and experience, it is easy to lose any perspective that extends beyond our personal needs, desires and challenges.
I've intended to write this article for weeks and as I sat in a comfortable family home on Christmas Eve (that I drove to in my car on safe roads), drinking my clean coffee, a story in The New York Times was a dramatic reminder. According to the article, foreign aid has almost dried up, with only 43 percent of the $4.59 billion promised received and disbursed and The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, the body created to coordinate and prioritize aid, closed in October, with little sign of renewal.
The article described efforts to establish self-sustaining villages outside the city to address housing, job and shelter needs simultaneously, something that I know has been considered by members of the North American Haiti Partnership. The New York Times article described a village created by Mouvman Peyizan Papay, working with the Presbyterian and Unitarian Universalist Churches in the United States and other organizations. Together, they plan to build four more such farms in the central region. The key takeaway for me was the fact that the nearly all of the $1.6 million required to build the five villages has come from churches and nongovernmental organizations.
While we may always struggle to maintain global perspective, following news outside your community is a start and regular study of Christ's teaching provides a powerful reminder of our command to care for our neighbors near and far. The North American Haiti Partnership provides a central resource to connect with groups that are committed to Haiti, both in country and in the U.S., and similar organizations exist for other areas of need throughout the world. When people become aware of the suffering of others, they can't help being touched. Countless philanthropists and celebrities have demonstrated this when documenting their personal experiences, including Anthony Bourdain during the taping of No Reservations in Haiti. Without regular, ongoing awareness and exposure, this desire to help and pray can wane. Visit the North American Partnership site for regular updates and opportunities to become involved.