Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Disaster that no one Noticed

The more I look, the more convinced I am becoming that the world just missed that Haiti suffered four major hurricanes and tropical storms in a period of two weeks this past summer. There has been some news coverage of those crushing events trickling its way onto the American news media in recent months, but for the most part, no one seemed to notice.

Debbie Lucien of Hosean International Ministries (HIM) in Haiti confirmed that when I spoke with her yesterday that the world seemed to miss it. Speaking from Little Rock, where she has been on furlough for the past 10 days, she said, “Immediately after the storms, missionaries in Haiti began to spread the word as best we could of the suffering and damage, and a lot of our supporters responded, both individuals and churches.

“But now that I am in the U.S., when I talk about the storms, I realize that few people know what happened. When I talk about it, most people are completely unaware.

“There was just no mechanism for people to know more about what happened. I even sent photos to Fox News and said, ‘You need to report this!’ But they were all tied up with the campaigns and such. So unless churches had pre-existing contacts on the ground in Haiti, they really have not heard much.”

In case you missed it, too, here is what happened:

“The death toll from a string of hurricanes and tropical storms in Haiti has risen to nearly 800 people… Heavy rainfall from four major storms in August and September created fatal flooding and mudslides...

“Tropical Storm Fay caused flooding and significant damage when it hit the impoverished island nation. Heavy rains from Hurricane Gustav, considered a major hurricane, caused destructive mudslides after it made landfall in Haiti on August 26, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Tropical Storm Hanna passed over northern Haiti in early September, bringing heavy rain and flooding. Ike, another major hurricane, caused flooding and mudslides.” (Source: CNN)

And here is an article worth reading by actress and philanthropist Mia Farrow, who has traveled extensively as an ambassador for UNICEF.

Debbie Lucien explains that because the four storms all hit different areas of the small Caribbean nation, this disaster was more widespread than previous Haitian disasters. “My husband Caleb (who is a native Haitian in his 40s) says that this is the first time he has ever seen a disaster all across the country at once. Almost every community was drastically affected.” Caleb is above in the bright yellow shirt and below in the white shirt.

The worst hit was the area around the costal city Gonaïves [GUHN-aye-EVE]; with 250,000+ residents, it is the nation’s fourth largest city. When Hurricane Hanna arrived, Haiti was already rain-saturated by Fay and Gustav. “Hanna just sat above Haiti for three or four days,” recalls Debbie. “Caleb says that’s the most rain he’s ever seen in Haiti.”

“Five Rivers drain in Gonaïves,” she continues, “and whenever there is heavy flooding practically anywhere in Haiti, everything gets washed away in Gonaïves.”

Flooding and mudslides followed, with nearly the entire city flooded with water as high as 6 ½ feet deep. (Source: Wikipedia) That left the city covered with 98.8 million cubic feet of mud. (Source: United Nations)

Click here to see a video that Caleb Lucien shot of Gonaïves when he arrived there after the storms, and here for photos. Debbie tells me that they withheld the images that were especially difficult to see.

Debbie continues explaining about Gonaïves: “Independent missionaries were among the first responders to the hurricane victims. It’s not like it is here [in the U.S.]… there is no FEMA, no shelters set up, and in many cases the only protection that people have from the elements is tarps supported by sticks in the ground. And so the missionaries were (and still are) involved in food and shelter distribution, refugee evacuation, and doing whatever we can for the people there.

“At one point trip and, the American embassy asked us to make a food and water delivery to an American near Gonaïves who operates an orphanage of about 30 to 40 kids. Caleb was in Gonaives, and arranged supplies to be taken there, and they were very low and running out when the team got there. People can go for a while without food, but you can’t last long without water.”

The needs are still great in Gonaïves and across Haiti. The UN's World Food Program has still only raised 30.4% of its funding requirements for food, and 40,000 people are still living in shelters with no structural organization support. That means that the missionaries are still playing a major role in distributing aid to those in need.

Consider making a donation to support their work of caring for these people made in God’s image. Or think about making a fund appeal at your church. Maybe do a live telephone interview with a missionary in Haiti during your Sunday morning service. Or consider going (or leading a team) to help them in person for a bit. “Short term is really important,” affirms Debbie.

She concludes: “People who already had contacts in Haiti were able to make the quickest difference [after the hurricanes]… Encourage folks to find out how many leaders [of local ministries] are nationals, as they typically are more efficient in delivery of help. For foreigners/missionaries to be effective, we need to really have equal partnerships with the national church.”

Check out some of these really cool links of what God’s people are doing on the ground, all of which Debbie Lucien recommends as worth supporting or partnering with:

• Gifts can be made to HIM online via paypal. Debbie says, “Folks can give to ‘hurricane relief’ and we can get the funds and supplies there within days. Hours, if we are doing a transfer that day.

Here’s a really fun video of a Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) team making a mountaintop drop for the people in a remote Haitian village.

Missionary Flights International is a private non-profit service to Christian missions serving in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas.

Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) is a non-profit Christian organization committed to feeding God’s starving children hungry in body and spirit.

MAP International (Medical Assistance Programs) promotes the total health of people living in the world's poorest communities by partnering in the provision of essential medicines, promotion of community health development and prevention and mitigation of disease, disaster and other health threats.

PS Thanks to Greg Van Schoyck of the Haitian American Friendship Foundation (HAFF) for helping me acquire contacts in Haiti. HAFF enables Haitians in the Central Plateau of Haiti through academic, vocational and theological education to enrich their culture socially, economically and spiritually, all to the glory of God. They are not doing hurricane releif, but they are still worth your support, prayers and partnership.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

InterVarsity at Hofstra University

With the third and final presidential debate coming up this week and with the debates continuing to be in the news, I went searching to see if the Body of Christ that will be close-by that event is preparing any notable response.

The debate is scheduled for October 15 at Hofstra University. With 12,600 total enrollment, Hofstra boasts that it is the largest private college on Long Island, sitting about 25 miles east of New York City.

From a faith perspective, Hostra is remarkably different from the previous debate host, Belmont University. (See my entry about that from October 9.) While Belmont is a Christian college that appears to go to great lengths to make itself a “Christian community,” Hofstra appears to have little interest in matters of faith or Christianity. While it claims 150 student clubs and organizations, I was only able to identify four with any faith connection and just two with Christian ties: the Protestant Community and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. (The other two were the Muslim Students Association and the Iranian Jewish Club.)

When I contacted InterVarsity for more information, I received a reply from Dan Brady, Area Director for InterVarsity on Long Island. Here is what he wrote:

“We are joining the campaign energy on campus that has come with the debate next week. All the clubs have been offered an opportunity to be a part of ‘Issue Alley’ where they can promote a campaign issue that connects to their club. We are doing an environmental theme called, ‘How green is your soul?’ It is an interactive survey with large graphics and short environmental statements/questions where participants are offered the chance to place a sticker on a laminated response area under the category/answer where they best connect. The sticker remains so subsequent students can see where the campus at large tends to respond.

“Towards the end of the survey, the idea/questions begin to connect with spiritual themes. ‘Does the poor care of our environment reflect a general selfishness in people today?’ ‘If our planet has a creator, how does He feel about our neglect/abuse of the environment He has entrusted to us?’

“There will be an opportunity to talk further about the Gospel if the student tends to be interested. Traditionally, we call these types of outreaches ‘proxe stations,’ as it is an actual standing station that is very visual and attracts students into dialogues about various campus topics. Pray for us and our ability to connect students to the Gospel and their Creator.

“The campus is pretty much in lock down mode. The only way we could have been involved is to go through the existing programming. Fortunately, they have invited clubs to participate so we jumped at the chance.

“Thanks for your interest.”

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ministry Surrounding the Presidential Debate

Belmont University made unprecedented national news this week when it hosted a presidential debate on October 7. With a student population of less than 5,000, most of us have never heard of Belmont, so I did a little research to discover if the Body of Christ did anything special on campus around the time of the debate.

I was surprised by what I discovered.

For starters, Belmont University is a Christian school “with a rich Baptist heritage.” Of course, there are plenty of post-secondary learning institutions that are Christian in name only, where campus life is no more faith-oriented than at a secular university.

But the more I read about Belmont, the more I was impressed. From its web site:

“Belmont University is a Christian community. The University faculty, administration and staff uphold Jesus as the Christ and as the measure of all things. Students encounter Christian values relevant to personal growth and spiritual maturity and are expected to commit themselves to high moral standards...

“Belmont University’s Board of Trustees is unanimously committed to broadening and deepening the Christian mission of the University… Our hope is that every student will see and believe that the love of Jesus Christ compels us to lead lives of disciplined intelligence, compassion, courage and faith.”

Belmont has a fully staffed Office of University Ministries, which “exists to help students grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ and to find practical ways to put their faith into action.” That includes offering traditional spiritual growth opportunities on campus, like discipleship, fellowship and worship, including 400+ students in weekly worship, prayer and Bible study. It also offers mission trips and Christian study abroad opportunities over each break.

I could go on, but you get the point. It sounds to me like a lot of people at Belmont take their faith seriously.

So back to the debates.

On a secular campus, I would expect student outreach ministries to, say, mobilize in order to expose members and guests of the university community to the claims of Jesus as part of the “debate buzz.” Perhaps something along the lines of proclaiming that regardless of who wins the debate tonight, you’ll still need Jesus in the morning.

But it looks like the Office of Spiritual Development felt like a discipleship approach would be more relevant at this Christian university than an evangelistic approach. In other words, they apparently asked themselves something like, “How can we use this big event as a faith-deepening experience for members of our community?”

For starters, the University held a vesper service on the Sunday afternoon prior to the debate with the University president, and with Rev. David Beckmann as the "guest homilist." (I didn’t think Baptists used that word…) In any case, Beckmann was ordained as a “missionary economist” by the Lutheran Church, and is President of Bread for the World, a citizens' anti-hunger movement which educates and influences public policies on hunger and poverty.

The Office of Spiritual Development also scheduled a high-powered series of speakers related to the debate. Honestly, I wish I could attend some of them. Or all of them.

Of course, my evangelical sensibilities tell me that I would not agree with everything in these lectures. But it was Bob Pike from Campus Crusade for Christ who taught me many years ago to read and study theology that I didn’t agree with in order to discover both the merits and faults of my own theology.

And my arrival into middle age taught me that I didn’t know nearly as much as I used to think I did, and that I usually learn things by listening to people with whom I don’t agree. So I’m sorry I won’t make it to any of the lectures.

For those of you around Nashville, here is the list of speakers, three of which are still pending:

CITIZENSHIP AND FAITH,” on September 3, by Dr. Tony Campolo, the notable and always colorful professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University.

“THE AMERICAN EMPIRE AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD,” September 17, by Dr. Stanley Hauer, who holds a joint appointment in Duke Law School and Duke Divinity School and was named "America’s Best Theologian" by Time magazine in 2001.

“THE MEDIA AND RELIGION,” on September 24, by Barbara Bradley Hagerty, the religion correspondent for National Public Radio, where she reports on the intersection of faith and politics, law, science, and culture.

“JESUS FOR PRESIDENT,” on October 1, by Shane Claiborne, the founder of The Simple Way. His new book, Jesus for President, was lauded by Publisher's Weekly in a starred review as a "must-read election-year book for Christian Americans. What should Christians do when allegiances to the state clash with personal faith?”

“FAITH-INFORMED POLITICAL SCIENCE,” on October 22, by two members of the University’s political science department who will explore issues of faith, politics and their role in a Christian university.

“HOW WOULD JESUS VOTE?” on October 29, by Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, the former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“THE NEW PRESIDENT AND THE POLITICS OF FAITH,” on November 5, by Melissa Rogers, founder and director of Wake Forest University's Center for Religion and Public Affairs and former executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Texas Chainsaw Missionaries Take on Hurricane Ike

It has been about 3½ weeks since the world’s most recent major hurricane – Hurricane Ike – struck land, making U.S. landfall at Galveston, Texas, on September 13 at 2:10 AM. Attacking as a Category 2 hurricane with winds of 110 mph, it produced destruction along much of the Texas and Louisiana coast.

That was after is had reached havoc throughout the Caribbean, starting with Great Inagua Island and Grand Turk Island, where 80% of the buildings on Grand Turk were severely damaged or completely destroyed. (Source: Wikipedia) From there, it punished the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba, leaving death and destruction everywhere and went.

I knew that the easiest place to find information about the response of God’s people would be in and around Galveston. Not surprisingly, most of the church web sites that I found in Galveston not had many updates since the storm… They obviously have had other priorities since then.

And as I searched for blogs about Hurricane Ike, I did not find much written about the storm’s aftermath.

But I knew I had found paydirt when I started reading Mark Lewis’s daily commentary on the work of the TouchGlobal Crisis Response ministry, a ministry of the Evangelical Free Church of America. TouchGlobal Crisis Response goes worldwide to places in need and provides immediate relief and long-term strategies to restore communities and individuals affected by disasters.

I encourage you to take a few minutes sometime soon and go back to his Ike Day 1 entry and read forward from there. It is both troubling and encouraging.

Here are some highlights.

From Day 13:

“The adrenelin is gone. Debris piles are slowly starting to line the streets. The emotions tell on their faces. Relationships are strained. Families separated. Paychecks absent. Businesses ruined. MRE's old. Mosquitos ferocious. Days hot. Bodies tired…

“I was again out on the streets today asking God again for forklift to unload the 500 clean-out supply filled buckets we got delivered today… I met Greg, the haggared owner of a car parts store. He was trying to do what he could to save things out of his business, but there was little the water did not destroy. He did not say it, but I read the pain and saw the fear of the near future on his face... the ‘What do I do now and how am I going to pay the bills?’ look. I needed a fork lift, and he had one, but I knew that God had me stop in his parking lot for Greg, not for the fork lift. Greg was swallowing hard to keep back tears as we prayed for his future, for peace and God providing his daily bread…

“Come to Texas and make a difference in supporting these churches and their passionate desire to reach out to their communities after the hurricane.”

From Day 14:

“The outreach part of the team went to serve the family of a Galveston PD officer. He has been working long days and has not been able to help. This was the first day they could get things out of the house. The smell in the house was overpowering. Mold had grown several feet up the walls...

“Raynette, the wife, spoke with us at length about the emotion struggle she faced each day. She confided that she really could only think of a very short time frame into the future, like an hour or two. She had no idea where they where going to live. She teared up as she looked at the pile in the street and said, ‘That's all my life in that pile. Its 26 years of my kids' lives. All gone.’

“We prayed for her and her family before we left. The team will go back tomorrow to gut out the drywall.

“Part of the team also headed to clean out the contents of a church member, and ... spent a lot of time out talking with neighbors, and getting more requests for help in cleaning out homes. We also got a list of about a dozen police officer families and some elderly people who are desperate for help. We pray that volunteers will come to help more in this neighborhood.”

Pretty powerful stuff. And more good reading where that came from, as well as information on how to support that work in Texas.

Finally, here is a good article in the Galveston County Daily News about Mark and his work

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Trinity Church Responds to Wall Street Crisis

Chartered in 1697, Trinity has been ministering to people on Wall Street since before Wall Street existed. This remarkable, historical and beautiful Episcopal church sits at the intersection of Wall Street and Broadway in Lower Manhattan; it was hit by debris from the World Trade Center collapse on September 11, 2001.

Even though the events of the past week or two rank among the most memorable on Wall Street, it is hardly the first time that Trinity has responded with the arms of Jesus. A church press release put it, “‘As a strong, permanent presence on Wall Street for more than 300 years,’ said the Rev. Dr. James H. Cooper, rector of Trinity Wall Street, ‘we will continue to do what we always do during difficult times: offer support and solace to those directly facing an uncertain future.’”

“The economic financial crisis is a reminder that we cannot put our faith in riches, that we cannot put our faith in money,” said Reverend Mark Bozzuti-Jones, Priest for Pastoral Care and Nurture of Trinity Church, in his sermon at lunchtime on Friday, September 19, which he devoted to coping with the financial crisis.

Reuters quoted Bozzuti-Jones on September 22, saying that in recent days he has had requests for help to pay rent from those who had lost their jobs. “The church, which normally attracts tourists and a few financial workers, experienced an upturn in visitors,” the article continued. “‘People are just sitting there, praying or crying and definitely exhausted. There has definitely been an increase in the number of people who have come in,’ [Bozzuti-Jones] said in his office after the service.”

When I called Trinity’s public relations office this morning and asked if the church is offering any specific response to the events on Wall Street, the church’s coordinator of promotion & public relations hardly took a breath before she launched into telling me of the church’s response.

As Dr. Mary Ragan, director of the Trinity Counseling Center, explained in an interview on a Tuesday, September 23, WNYC radio show, “Last week on Monday morning, Canon Anne Mallonee, who is the Vicar of Trinity Church, was on the phone to us at 8:00 AM saying, ‘There is pain and suffering in the Wall Street community, in the people of our congregation and in the people of our neighborhood. How do we reach out? How do we respond to this turmoil?’ We met that morning and immediately set up a group that would meet that very day as well as the next day to hold a seminar called, ‘Coping with Stress in an Uncertain Time.’ So Trinity Church offered this at no cost through our counseling center to really try to address the needs that people were experiencing with the turmoil, and at the same time we’re offering seminars for career counseling, job coaching, as well as resume writing.’

Of course, I know that the Bible doesn’t speak to when to buy or sell which stock, or how to how to manage your 401K. But the Christian faith does have lots to say about how to respond when trouble comes — be that financial trouble, relational trouble, vocational trouble or anything else. I appreciate that Trinity is trying to respond from its rock-supported foundation at the end of the Wall Street, while the rest of the Street is now sitting on shifting stand.

Trinity continues to offer specially-convened support and counseling. Those in need in the New York area, or those of us just interested any were in the world, can find out more at the Trinity Church website. Once you are there, click on the link on the home page titled, "Help in Uncertain Times."