St. Stephen,

Since the earthquake, global attention has focused on Haiti.  Moved by stories and images of devastation, we ourselves have donated much toward relief.  Together, St. Stephen has given over $1,700 through Lutheran World Relief and ELCA Disaster Response.  The Association of South Plainfield Churches gave $900 to Catholic Relief Services.  Other congregations in town have given untold amounts more.  But will our attention, aid, and prayers outlast the news cycle?

Before the earthquake, Haiti was a desperately poor nation, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.  In fact, in April 2008, the New York Times reported that, in response to soaring food prices, many in Haiti were eating mud cakes.

In Haiti, where three-quarters of the population earns less than $2 a day and one in five children is chronically malnourished, the one business booming amid all the gloom is the selling of patties made of mud, oil and sugar, typically consumed only by the most destitute.

“It’s salty and it has butter and you don’t know you’re eating dirt,” said Olwich Louis Jeune, 24, who has taken to eating them more often in recent months. “It makes your stomach quiet down.”

But the grumbling in Haiti these days is no longer confined to the stomach. It is now spray-painted on walls of the capital and shouted by demonstrators (“Across Globe, Empty Bellies Bring Rising Anger,” NYT, 4/18/2008).

While we griped about gas prices, people in Haiti starved because they could not afford food.

Port-Au-Prince, Haiti’s rubble-filled capital, is 700 miles from Miami and as far from Guantanamo, Cuba as Boston is from New York.  Haiti is in our neighborhood, and the earthquake is but the latest cause of our neighbors’ tremendous need.

What might it mean to love our neighbors in Haiti for the long-term?  This is a question worth praying about.  It’s related to big questions of responding to poverty.  In what ways might we wealthy Christians bring good news to the world’s poor?  The Holy Spirit has surely been calling on us for a long time to listen prayerfully to its urgings.  So let’s pray for guidance.

Let’s also educate ourselves.  We may start by learning about Lutheran World Relief and the ONE Campaign to Make Poverty History.

St. Stephen has long supported Lutheran World Relief.  Formed after World War II, LWR works through partners worldwide to provide crisis relief and long-term development aid.  With partners already in effected areas, LWR responded quickly after the 2004 tsunami.  Now, all these years later, it still works in India and Indonesia.  What is more, after immediately committing over 2 million dollars, 670 health kits, 1,500 layettes, and countless quilts (many given by Lutheran congregations and quilters like our Katie’s Quilters), LWR is already planning a three to five year response in Haiti.

In 2007, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America joined the ONE Campaign to Make Poverty History.  The ELCA website calls it:

an effort by Americans to rally Americans…to fight global AIDS and extreme poverty. Founded in 2003, ONE is the U.S. expression of international anti-poverty movements inspired by the Global Call to Action Against Poverty. Today, ONE has more than 100 faith-based and humanitarian partners that work together as ONE – to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and make poverty history.

Through political action, ONE advocates for:

* An additional ONE percent of the U.S. budget to address deadly poverty

* Debt relief for the world’s poorest countries to help them meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

* Making the rules of international trade fair so all may benefit from the global economy

Reading these goals, you may ask: What percentage of the U.S. budget addresses poverty now?  What is “debt relief,” and what are “MDGs”?  What do international trade rules have to do with poverty?  Our questions themselves witness to our need to learn as we pray.

On the web, this article will include links, videos, and more information.  Suffice here to describe ONE’s efforts on behalf of Haiti: a petition addressed to Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner,

to secure the immediate cancellation of Haiti’s $1 billion debt and ensure that any emergency earthquake assistance is provided in the form of grants, not debt-incurring loans.

ONE offers an opportunity to love our neighbors in Haiti in exactly the way we promise when we pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

May it be the freedom of God’s forgiveness—not a burden of guilt—that moves us to act.

Pastor Clark Olson-Smith