The Fourth Purpose: Haiti, and Who is My Brother?

FireTag Charity, christ, community of christ, media, missions, Mormon, pacifism, Peace, RLDS, theology, thought 19 Comments

An article from the Salt Lake Tribune listed in the Mormon Matters sidebar sometime ago noted the official elevation of “care of the poor and needy” to the status of a “purpose” of the Mormon (LDS) church. Church news sources are noting how LDS resources are being mobilized from both the United States and the Dominican Republic, in coordination with partners such as Islamic Relief, CARE, Food for the Poor, and Healing Hands for Haiti.

All of its missionaries are reported to be safe, and the church is using nine meeting houses to provide shelter for members and an even larger number of non-members. There have been casualties among the membership, however.

The immediate need in Haiti is, of course, for emergency supplies and medicines, which the church is attempting to help provide. The news releases also indicate that the church will gradually move to assistance for reconstruction, expecting to stay involved with the effort for up to a year or more.

The second largest denomination of the Restoration, the Community of Christ, had embedded their ministry more deeply in the Haitian education system as a long term strategy for Christian ministry in that part of the world. CofChrist has increasingly tended over the last half-century to emphasize Zion-building, as seen through focusing on peace and justice issues in the present, over discussions of personal salvation. As a result, the work of the CofChrist in Haiti has been hard hit by the earthquake.

This approach has not been limited to the Community of Christ, and so a number of humanitarian ministries are looking beyond the immediate crisis and wondering about long term prospects for the country. As a front page Washington Post story by William Booth and Scott Wilson put it on January 23:

Schools’ Collapse Leaves Haiti’s Future in Rubble

The earthquake has crushed what many deem the only path to a better life in the impoverished country.

Of the many things taken from this city [Port-au-Prince] by the earthquake, few are as threatening to Haiti’s future as the near destruction of a school system viewed across society here as the only path to a better life.

Education is as precious as water in Haiti. The ruined capital was filled with parochial and secular schools built on the strict French model, many affordable even to the poorest parents, who struggled to pay a few dollars a week in tuition…

Now there are no schools. Education officials here estimate that the quake erased thousands of campuses, and at least 75% of those in the capital lie in ruins… Nearly every block has one, with many meeting in multiple sessions into the evening. …the debris-filled sites where they once stood are the places that smell the strongest of death. They were filled with children.

Information from the CofChrist is probably typical for other religious ministries in Haiti. The denomination primarily worked through a charity, Outreach International , created by church members several decades ago that had been able to build and maintain — even through years of political instability in the country — a network of ninety schools enrolling 9000 students. (That number is not impressive until you realize that the Community of Christ has only about 140,000 known, baptized members in the entire US and Canada.)

On January 19, Outreach International reported, almost defiantly:

Outreach International’s Haiti school children, staff and facilities are so severely impacted with loss of life and destroyed buildings that the organization cannot come close to accounting for extent of loss.

Matthew Naylor, Outreach International President, received an email today from Michel Rosier, Outreach International schools network director stating, “It is difficult and even painful to give you a detailed report on the Haitian situation. I thank you so much for your extreme concern for the Haitian people.”

With a teacher staff of 300+, Rosier and another staff member, Augustin Derat, executive director for the schools programs, are the only two staff accounted for. Both of them, along with their families, are living on the streets.

Early reports indicate that 7 of 12 schools which have been inspected are destroyed and the rest seriously damaged. There are at least 20 schools in the affected area. Rescue efforts at one school have saved 7 students from the rubble. Rosier states, nothing can be done for the others trapped.

With the Outreach International schools network so badly damaged, initial support for relief efforts has been made through Doctors Without Borders (MSF) located in Port-au-Prince, who will supply the type of immediate relief requested by our staff members on the ground.

Naylor promises, Outreach International will continue to invest in the long-term development in Haiti. We pledge to remain with the surviving children, families, and staff in order to put their lives back together. We will stay for as long as it takes. This is where the bulk of our resources will go.

I am sure that reader’s here have already made initial decisions about how much and in what ways they wish to help Haiti. However, I’d like to pose some more strategic questions that will still be relevant as the emergency evolves further:

How should our churches (and our peoples) give relative priority to our notions of the evangelistic and Zion-building enterprises?

Does the elevation of “care of the poor and needy” within the LDS “purposes” change their personal response in how they give time and money? Does the setback to the school programs in Haiti change how Community of Christ members allocate their giving?

How should the churches allocate the proportion of their support among their own people and ministries and among the general population affected by the crisis?

Is the best strategy for each church to focus massive resources on emergencies as they happen, wherever they happen (knowing that they will need to move on to some other emergency after a year or so, unfortunately)? Or is it better to build long term programs that, also unfortunately, may have to be built again and again?

How do the churches best coordinate with other religious and humanitarian agencies in ways that are faithful to the two denominations’ separate understandings of the meaning of the Restoration?

How do we integrate our sense of the Spirit calling us personally with the task of our churches and other ministries?

Comments

comments

Comments 19

  1. Great post, Fire Tag. I’m not sure that I have answers to your specific questions, but I have thought about a couple of concrete examples of how the LDS Church can specifically address the recently-added 4th mission of the Church:

    1.) Funnelling perhaps 1% of all tithing money directly into the humanitarian fund. Honestly, most people struggle just to pay their 10%, let alone fast offerings, PLUS a donation to the humanitarian fund specifically. The LDS Church is loaded. We all know that. Would it kill our missionary program, or would it be the death of the Church as we know it if a portion of tithing was used specifically on temporal, humanitarian relief? I doubt it.

    2.) Start a humanitarian mission option for the young people of the Church. Perhaps even make it an “obligation” for sisters in the same way that a proselytizing mission is for young men at the present time (although I’d like to see the opportunity available to both sexes, since it’s not just girls who are interested in humanitarian work). When I think back to when I was 18 or 19, I knew that a proselytizing mission wasn’t for me, but I really wanted to do humanitarian work abroad. Unfortunately, I never did and I was always disappointed that the Church only seemed to want older, temple-married couples to go on humanitarian missions. But if it had been an option for me at that age, I would have very seriously considered it.

  2. Thanks, FD, for the thoughts, especially in regard to the evangelism/humanitarian parallelism in missions. The LDS may find these to be excellent ideas.

    The CofChrist tries to fund graduate interns in its affiliated organizations, such as Outreach International and some of the interfaith political NGOs here in DC.

    It is interesting what the appropriate age might be to be must effective in the humanitarian work and still fit into normal Mormon “lifecycle.

    By the way, totally off-topic, do you know any good retreat facilities in Norway? I just saw CofChrist is looking to hold a young adult retreat there in September at a site to be determined. I thought Norway shut down for the winter after August. 😀

  3. I would think that after the immediate health and safety needs have been met that the efforts that temporary or full time service missionaries would be able to assist efficiently would be home building. Public rebuilding such as roads, schools and community buildings are likely to require time for government approval. I have read that returned missionaries who served in Haiti have been gladly throwing their names in to provide service, as would many others if the call was announced. The LDS website also made it easy to contribute online to the Humanitarian fund by credit card. (If only tithing and fast offering donations could be made that easily). If the CoC has privately owned structures for education, then combining construction efforts to rebuild them sounds like a great idea. Relief efforts for Haiti sound like a long-term commitment. I would like to hear from church leadership some layout of a multi-year plan to fulfill that 4th mission of the church. That vision may help me and others with our personal goal setting to donate to humanitarian aid.

  4. A couple comments:

    1) I love the idea of the humanitarian missions, and have proposed it to several people over the past year. Face it, there are many people for whom a proselyting mission is not a great fit. This would help those youth. It would actually also help promote the image of the Church much, much more than our current missionary program. And finally, and most importantly, it would be helping God’s children.

    2) At some point, I would hope the Church would stop “reinvesting” the proceeds of their business interests back into other businesses and actually do something useful with them. Just here in SLC, there is the multibillion dollar mall and the 2 recent real estate purchases that were apparently bought with “profits” from other businesses.

    Just to put things in perspective, from the Church’s own website (providentliving.org) the Church has spent about $15 million annually over the past 25 years in actual cash on humanitarian needs. They can leverage this with “in-kind” donations at a ration of 3-4x. If they took just 10% of the estimated price tag of the mall and put that toward humanitarian needs ($200-$300 million) it would equal the actual cash spent on humanitarian for the past 25 YEARS COMBINED.

  5. Rigel:

    There is a subtle difference in the understanding of “calling” between our denominations that I have noticed, but not thought to ask about.

    I would regard a statement of the fourth purpose, coupled with the specific First Presidency statement quoted in #7 by Steve M as more than sufficient authorization already to do what needs to be done to “rebuild” Haiti. In fact, I would feel I had that AUTHORITY as a Christian regardless of the emphasis of the institution. I’d feel free to exercise my own stewardship in giving time and wealth to Haiti vs. other needs.

    With the LDS, it seems that “calling” contains a strong element of organized STRUCTURE as well as authority. Am I reading this correctly?

    As to the titling of the CofChrist schools in Haiti, I’ll do some research and see if I can get a response as to how the structure is set up from someone at Outreach.

    Mike S.:

    Is this issue of calling as STRUCTURE central to making such humanitarian missions happen within the LDS faith?

  6. As it says in the D&C, we are not commanded in all things, and should choose to do many good works of our own accord. However, I think with the large LDS families, we’re just too busy trying to keep our kids out of trouble. Then we start to have grandkids just as life slows down a bit. So, while there is nothing prohibiting LDS from doing good deeds, it seems we rely on our leaders inspiration to call us on a mission. We should be more giving, but it just seems that God’s house is a house of order. We always hear how organized the church relief efforts are, and we don’t think to take that initiative ourselves. The church’s emphasis on inspired leadership makes many LDS people lazy. We expect our leaders to receive our inspiration.

  7. “We always hear how organized the church relief efforts are, and we don’t think to take that initiative ourselves. The church’s emphasis on inspired leadership makes many LDS people lazy. We expect our leaders to receive our inspiration.”

    I think one of the problems is that we actually don’t expect our leaders to receive our inspiration. At least I don’t. Take humanitarian missions, for example. Mike S, I’m not sure who you proposed the idea to, but was it Church leaders? And were they receptive to it? I can virtually guaranteee what would happen if I presented my “personal inspiration” (whether it’s humanitarian missions or something else) to the Brethren. I’d have to start at the bottom of the chain. So I’d tell my branch president about it and he’d probably think it was a “nice” idea, but he’d probably give me some speech about how the Brethren receive inspiration already and if God wants us to do humanitarian missions, they would already know. It wouldn’t get further than that. And even if I were to get lucky enough to have my idea or suggestion passed onto the stake president, what are the odds that it’s going to actually reach anyone with any really power in the Church? Probably not very good. I’d be more optimistic about getting my ideas heard through gov’t channels because then at least the media can help bring attention to them.

    So it’s not just the rank and file membership of the Church who view their leaders as inspired. The view themselves (and those above them) as inspired, and to receive “inspiration” from those beneath them in authority is rare, I think. And I’m not even saying that it’s because they’re arrogant. I just don’t think that Mormons are comfortable with looking outside their realm of authority to make significant changes or improvements in the Church. And since discussions are always behind closed doors, there isn’t much room for constructive criticism or brainstorming.

    Mike S. said:

    “At some point, I would hope the Church would stop “reinvesting” the proceeds of their business interests back into other businesses and actually do something useful with them.”

    I’ve wondered that many times. When will we have “enough” money as a church? Are we getting there yet? What if the Church invested that money in the third world instead of Salt Lake City? Kiva has a 97%+ success rate, I believe (in terms of loans being repaid). Why not expand the Perpetual Education Fund into something more Kiva-like for small business entrepreneurs in places like Haiti?

  8. “At some point, I would hope the Church would stop “reinvesting” the proceeds of their business interests back into other businesses and actually do something useful with them.”

    Ghandi said “Be the Change you want to see in the World”,

    For the most part our religious institutions and our political movements are nothing more than a reflection of ourselves. we can complain and throw sticks & stones, but really the power is within us to aid in causing a change. To be honest most of us don’t really care enough about the worlds problems to really make a difference except for on a superficial level which fills us with self righteous indignation.
    We want other people to do it for us, any blame we can lay at the feet of the “brethren” for there capitalist ideologies many of us are just as guilty of, If you want to make a difference stand out from the crowd and take your stand, pray for it, fast for it, testify of it, I’m not saying that people are wrong for criticising I’m just saying they may be wasting a good opportunity to make a difference. I can see by my own actions I don’t care enough, I contribute to fast offering, help out in little community projects, I like the idea of Kiva and am looking into it, but really on the big issues (by there fruits ye will know them) what are your fruits? what change do you want to see in the world?

  9. I live in a medium size city in Connecticut with a large poor population. I have struggled with the idea of what can I give for my whole time here (5 years). There have been times I have felt as a grad student, I don’t have enough money to give, and other times when I look around and realize that I have more than many people and can give at least something.

    For me, I have decided that right now, one of the best things I can give is my talents in music. My wife and I have performed at a local nursing home to help cheer them up and are trying to get into a children’s ward at a hospital to play for the kids there too. We all have time and talents that can be used to help others. But most important is to involve your whole family. We bring our daughter, even though she’s not quite 2 years old. Eventually she’ll see her parents serving where and how we can, and learn that it’s essential to serve others.

    As a final note about doing things without being commanded, a family in our ward has over the past few years done service projects collecting mostly clothes and brought them down (on their own time and money) to Haiti. They have sent out this letter to our ward, and to friends of theirs in Utah. If anyone is interested, email them as posted to help in Haiti.

    [begin letter]
    Dear Friends and Colleagues,

    We will be having meetings this Thursday in Woodbridge, Connecticut, and SLC, Utah to plan our next steps in fundraising and preparing for the mission to Port-au-Prince and Gonaives in May. This is going to be a big effort!

    The meetings:
    Jan 28th

    CT: 7pm–at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Building in Woodbridge, Connecticut (990 Racebrook Road, Woodbridge; which is also Route 114; signs will be on the door telling the room of the meeting). Any questions, please email Lex at lexbigelow@gmail.com

    SLC: 8pm–at the Sandy Library (10100 South and 1300 East). Any questions, please email Parker parkerjlsmith@gmail.com

    Please let us know if you would like us to email you about future events.

    Lauren Lyons and I have each been able to find different avenues to get to Haiti now. I will be headed to Haiti for 3-weeks with http://www.UtahHospitalTaskForce.org through mid-February. Lauren is headed with a local church and can be followed at http://www.oldstandrews.net. So, please be forgiving of slow email responses.

    We’re excited to try and make a difference together with you! “Men anpil chay pa lou”

    Sincerely,

    Jeff Bigelow
    [end letter]

  10. FD, you illustrate the probles with bottom up revelation-church leaders will be hesitant. however there is nothing wrong with choosing to help without an official call. I dated a woman who served in my mission. she served in the peace corps, worked in poland, wanted to free tibet, and worked for humanitarian causes in africa. she was also a river guide on the colorado river.

    she definitely doesn’t fit the mormon mold, but I think she illustrates the idea that you don’t need an official mission call to do much humanitarian good. she chose to make her own mission calls outside official church channels, and I think everyone respected her for her wonderful choices. (her international travel made it exceptionally hard to date her.)

  11. This morning I received the following response from Matthew Bolton, who has been named to coordinate the organization’s emergency response effort, in regard to Rigel’s question about school ownership in comment 5:

    “Firetag,

    I can respond to this as I have recently been appointed Haiti Emergency Coordinator for Outreach International.

    The school program in Haiti arose out of the commitment of Outreach International to help children and families breakout of the cycle of poverty. Education in Haiti is a scarce commodity, with the government providing schooling for barely 11% of school aged children. For almost 30 years, Outreach International has worked with professional teachers and staff, volunteers and parents, to provide schooling for approximately 9,000 children. Without the funding, technical and administrative support of Outreach International this schools program and the opportunity of these children to attend school would be severely limited. The school facilities range from multi-story buildings, to more humble dwellings in rural areas. All children, without regard to religious affiliation, are welcome to enroll.

    The commitment of Outreach International is to remain working in the nation of Haiti, and help it rebuild. With a commitment to empower women and men to act together to create just communities free of poverty, Outreach International will focus its efforts on the children and families served by the schools, and the communities where they are located. We believe, and our experience shows us, that by working with local people to create local solutions, solutions can be found and capacity can be built to address many problems of poverty. And in the process, people who were once silent and hopeless become courageous and community is built.

    In the 14 nations in which Outreach International operates, we use facilities under a variety of agreements, ranging from formal rental contracts to informal, rent-free arrangement. This is also true in Haiti. Our focus is on human and community development rather than facility ownership.

  12. AJD: My wife will be happy to hear of your desire to give your gifts of music. Since my health crashed several years ago and she became the major breadwinner in our home by running her own piano studio, she has always sought to find ways to link her work to community service.

    It didn’t usually work out to coordinate that with our (or any) church in the area, so she built something herself in the form of a foundation. By taking the initiative, she has been able to involve dozens of young people in regular performances at a Methodist nursing home. That led to involvement with Johns Hopkins University Hospital in providing music CDs to support breast cancer patients during therapy. That, in turn, led to working with a hospital in the UAE, where breast cancer has a particular cultural shame, to see that women there were given the same message of hope. Then opportunities began to open up for similar recordings to be made and given to children’s hospitals. Then opportunities came to extend the service to the families of recovering soldiers at various Fisher Houses throughout the US. I think there is tremendous spiritual power available to each individual according to LDS/CofChrist theologies in seeking out the personal callings of God to them.

    MH: The leaders are supposed to receive guidance for higher levels of organization, to be sure, but it seems to me that the commandment to be “actively engaged in a good cause” applies to the “individual revelation” scale.

  13. Firetag,

    I had to go back and re-read my comment. I wasn’t saying that people will or should wait for a “calling” to volunteer to help Haiti. I was saying organization of efforts will result in a call for volunteers to serve in a united project, which will be more efficient then each of us taking a plane to the Dominican Republic and finding our own way there as individuals.

    I wasn’t saying that people should wait for their religious leadership to tell them to donate. I was saying that if people have a very clear idea of how their donations are going to be used to help, then they are likely to increase their donations. Many have already donated, which is great, but if the service is going to be planned and continued for years, then the need for ongoing donations will exist. If someone knows that there is a plan to rebuild x number of schools, and have organized the process to buy materials, transport them, and create a labor force, then donors have insight into why they might need to donate 10 times what they were originally planning to donate.

    From what I heard on NPR today, the problem of having enough food to donate isn’t as much of a problem as is the security around the dispersal nodes for the donations. Nobody wants their goodwill donation to become a black market commodity.

  14. Rigel:

    I understand what you’re saying. Sorry if my questions seemed to misrepresent it.

    The fact that security around the dispersal sites is a problem actually is an improvement. Ironically, the only institutions that keep the logistical capabilities necessary to deal with infrastructure-destroying catastrophy are major militaries. (The capacity exists for fighting wars; humanitarian agencies couldn’t keep such capacities in reserve against current need.)

    Logistical planning of a supply bridgehead is an incredibly complex process, espacially when you first have to reestablish the other end of the bridge, and we should be grateful that those skills were available even if we regret the real-world necessities of their primary existence.

    Rebuilding of Haiti will take more than a year simply to get it back to where it was before the earthquake. The basic poverty will still exist, and other natural disasters will call for attention.

    I think the CofChrist through Outreach will focus on school rebuilding, but it’s too soon to have a tactical “plan” beyond meeting the immediate national needs through the emergency agencies.

    I think the LDS still have to make more strategic planning decisions as to the nations and partners where they will make long term commitments, now that the fourth purpose has been announced.

  15. I, too, must chime in. There is nothing to stop LDS people from donating and volunteering. That the Church doesn’t have a pre-built organization doesn’t need to stop us from volunteering. We can serve with the Red Cross, UN (WHO, UNESCO, UNICEF) etc (unless someone is worried about being brainwashed into a “word government” idealist?). 😉

    Anyroad, I am not at all certain that the Church is “loaded” from any other perspective than owning the land and buildings it keeps putting up at a huge speed. Years ago members were expected to fund all the local expenses for physical facilities. Now those all are paid from the sacred funds (they need no quotation marks — I’ve done enough auditing for the Church to know something of that). Likewise, prospective missionaries from poor countries (and often poorer homes) were unable to serve, for the lack of funds. Now that is funded at least partially from tithing funds.

    Scores of elderly couples are donating their time and other resources to serve as humanitarian (formerly called welfare) missionaries, in addition to those, who are trying to rescue the young adult members in the Church, who have taken the “freedom of choice” to mean that they can do anything they please, disregarding consequences. Some of those YSA members have upstanding parents; others’ parents have been too busy showing up their neighbors called Joneses (whoever they are).

    Yes, I’m sure the Church could do better — that means us, the members. There are many, who try, but far too many who don’t. But one thing that’s not going to change it is “bottom-up” revelation. The Word of God is the ultimate top-down revelation, I’d suggest. Not that I have blind faith; I do what brother Brigham suggested I should do: petition to God for an answer, no matter how well I like some counsel from the FP/Q12.

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