Haiti: God Is Suffering With Those Who Are Sufferingby Jim Wallis 01-14-2010
There are times when events make everything else pale in comparison. I’m in Los Angeles today on my book tour, but the news of Tuesday’s 7.0-magnitude earthquake hitting Haiti is one of those times. Over the past few hours, I haven’t been able to take my eyes off CNN. The tragedy in Haiti is unbelievable — the pictures of the pain and destruction are haunting. My heart breaks for the families and the victims of this tragedy.
Information continues to develop, but what we already know staggers the imagination. Both the Haitian prime minister and consul general to the U.N. have said that as many as 100,000 people are likely to have died. The International Red Cross estimates that one-third of Haitians — about 3 million people — were affected by the earthquake. The Catholic archbishop of Port-au-Prince is known to be dead, and the chief of the U.N. mission in Haiti remains missing.
In a heart-rending story, the The New York Times reported on the scene in Port-au-Prince:
The tiny bodies of children lay in piles next to the ruins of their collapsed school. People with faces covered by white dust and the blood of open wounds roamed the streets. Frantic doctors wrapped heads and stitched up sliced limbs in a hotel parking lot.
The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, still struggling to recover from the relentless strikes of four catastrophic storms in 2008, was a picture of heartbreaking devastation Wednesday after a magnitude-7 earthquake.
In response, the world is mobilizing. President Obama, in a statement, said:
I have directed my administration to respond with a swift, coordinated, and aggressive effort to save lives. The people of Haiti will have the full support of the United States in the urgent effort to rescue those trapped beneath the rubble, and to deliver the humanitarian relief — the food, water and medicine — that Haitians will need in the coming days. In that effort, our government, especially USAID and the Departments of State and Defense are working closely together and with our partners in Haiti, the region, and around the world.
The U.S. has sent Agency for International Development helicopter search-and-rescue teams, a U.S. Navy amphibious ship with medical capabilities, and is sending the USNS Comfort hospital ship. Other military and civilian aid teams are also on the way. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has canceled the remainder of her trip in Asia to return to Washington to help direct the relief efforts. Canada, European nations, and countries across Latin America have mobilized supplies and aid.
As always, in this kind of natural disaster, it is almost always the poorest who suffer the most — those who have the least to lose are often those who lose the most. Life is always hard for poor people — living on the edge is insecure and full of risk. Natural disasters make it worse. Yet even in normal times, poverty is hidden and not reported by the media. In times of disaster, there continues to be little coverage of the excessive impact on the poor.
Tragic moments like this bring out the best in global citizens, as we put aside our differences and unite in support of the victims and their families. Haiti is no stranger to hardship, poverty, or sorrow. As Katrina revealed in New Orleans, this earthquake will once again unmask the unbelievable poverty that exists in countries like Haiti. Nearly 80 percent of Haiti’s population lives in abject poverty. I pray that this is not simply another tragic event we see on TV as we channel surf, but I hope it reminds us of our brothers and sisters around the world and down the street, who suffer not only from tragic events — but who suffer every day.
I also want to say a word about God and evil. Pat Robertson said that Haiti’s earthquake was caused because of the country’s “pact with the devil.” I don’t even know what he means, nor do I care. But I want to say this: My God does not cause evil. God is not a vengeful and retributive being, waiting to strike us down; instead, God is in the very midst of this tragedy, suffering with those who are suffering. When evil strikes, it’s easy to ask, where is God? The answer is simple: God is suffering with those who are suffering.
Let us all keep the people of Haiti in our prayers. And let us all give what we can to help in the relief efforts. Sojourners readers are posting recommended ways of responding to the Haiti earthquake on our Facebook page. Please click here to post your suggestions there or to find ways to help.
Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street — A Moral Compass for the New Economy, CEO of Sojourners and blogs at www.godspolitics.com.