Considering the tragedy in Haiti last week, it’s obvious that those people’s lives will never be the same. Some have lost everything. Many are hungry, and many more are homeless. I met with a minister last June who goes into this region on a regular basis and ministers to the orphans and kids on the streets who were already homeless before this tragedy. I said all that to say this: I’m seeing a lot of energy right now—people from all walks of life sending help down there, and this is good. Some are even frustrated and wish they could do more. I feel a need to say that if you really mean this—that if you want to do more—then you’ll get your chance. You see, it’s going to take months and even years for these people to get their lives back to even the poverty level they were at just a few days ago. So relief for them needs to be long-term, not just now, while emotions are high. So don’t get discouraged if you can’t go to Haiti right now. Your time will come.
In a few weeks, most of the world will forget about these people. And that’s when the work will begin for some of you. The work will be just as needed then as it is now—rebuilding homes, businesses, and schools; restoring lives and restoring hope. So get your passport ready, and pray for the efforts that are already in place. Pray for those precious people—that God will show His mercy toward the survivors. And start praying for your own mission trip; God will open the doors as to when, where, and how.
At times like this, I am amazed at how people respond. They want to help in any way they can…especially those who, in the natural, don’t have much to give, like the working poor and the homeless. For me, one of the most humbling testimonies to this happened during Hurricane Katrina. At the ministry I was at in Nashville during that time, we were initially told that there would be more than 20 thousand refugees relocating to the Nashville area. Every bed was going to be needed. We decided that our job was to offer housing to the disaster relief volunteers and to set up a clothing distribution center. So we contacted the Red Cross and set up a system whereas they would call us with the names, sizes, and locations of the Nashville refugees, and we would take clothing to them.
With just a few phone calls, we had literally a warehouse full of coats, shirts, shoes, and blankets. These items came from Nashville, Clarksville, and as far away as Dover, Tennessee. I was overwhelmed at the response.
But the one that got me the most was this: One day, we were distributing food and clothing to the community (our poor didn’t go away just because others arrived, and so local ministry couldn’t stop). There was a homeless man there that day. We’ll call him Tom. He was in his mid-thirties, with black, curly hair. He always carried a backpack that looked like it was about to burst. It was obvious he had been on the streets awhile, and it wasn’t too difficult to figure out that he was mentally challenged. The first clue was that he always wore football shoulder pads under his top layer of clothing. The second clue was that he said the reason he wore the pads is that the government had done experiments on him; the pads were to keep him from hurting people with his touch because toxic chemicals oozed from his body.
Tom lived in a tent and camped under a bridge downtown. He was a regular on Fridays (food and clothing distribution day). On this particular Friday (as on several other Fridays), Tom and his buddies came before we opened and stayed till we closed, so I fixed them coffee and sandwiches. And, when I had a chance, I went out on the stoop and drank coffee and talked with the guys. The subject on this day was Katrina, all the people who had lost everything, and how things were going to look different at the ministry because of the 20 thousand refugees. (When all was said and done, Nashville got only about six thousand.) As we were talking, Tom got a really serious look on his face and said, “You know, I don’t have much, but I’ve got an extra tent at the camp. It’s not much, but if anyone needs a place to stay, they can stay with me.”
After I got the lump out of my throat, I replied with a smile on my face and a tear in my eye, “Tom, that’s awesome…. I will sure let them know.” That memory has almost haunted me at times. Here was a man who, in the eyes of most people, had nothing. But what he did have he was willing to share with someone who needed it more. I have no idea where Tom is right now. I haven’t seen him in more than three years, but his story has inspired me more than once when I’ve thought I had nothing to offer. So Lord, as I’m writing this, I pray that Tom and those who are hurting in Haiti have people around them to love on them, feed them, and give them a place to lay their heads. Give them hope and Your love. Show us what we have to give, and give us the strength to give it.