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?