Sunday, March 07, 2010

Religious confusion in Haiti

This was a heartbreaking read.

Some Voodooists in Haiti showed up to pray for the dead and were pelted by rocks by by-standers, their Voodoo religious instruments urinated on.

The incident was blamed on Evangelicals, but I'm going to consider that claim a little dubious for now considering the lengths the author went to explain the real tension in that country.

Tensions have been running high since the Jan. 12 earthquake killed an estimated 200,000 people and left more than 1 million homeless. More than 150 machete-wielding men attacked a World Food Program convoy Monday on the road between Haiti's second-largest city of Cap-Haitien and Port-au-Prince. There were no injuries but Chilean peacekeepers could not prevent the men from stealing the food, UN spokesman Michel Bonnardeaux said.

Religious tension has also increased: Baptists, Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientologists, Mormons and other missionaries have flocked to Haiti in droves since the earthquake to feed the homeless, treat the injured and jockey for souls. Some Voodoo practitioners have said they've converted to Christianity for fear they will lose out on aid or a belief that the earthquake was a warning from God.

Everyone's selling something, I guess. Nothing's really free, not even charity.

I confess I know absolutely nothing about being a missionary, other than it is a job one takes knowing the only gratitude is the spiritual kind. It's a great way to live a life of poverty and danger. You only have to read the New Testament to understand that. No one can lower the esteem I have for anyone who chooses that path.

That said, I wonder sometimes what our Evangelical missionaries really are selling. I don't mean that in a cynical way. Just in a curious way, especially when I read stories like this. Do missionaries challenge people to weigh the costs of taking up the Cross? Or is it the more wholesale "Sinner's prayer and a biscuit" sales pitch?

Living in Haiti must look very much like Hell on Earth, and serving there as a missionary all the same. I pray for those people who are having to make difficult decisions with food and health care with such a short supply and so much need. Surely we say, "Give it all away," but do we give our conversions first dibs on the stuff? I would guess so. I would guess that's the pecking order, because I can't imagine any other way to manage such a finite supply with so many in need. And I would guess that's why we have people living in fear of anything that might cut off their very survival.

As much as Haiti has shown the best side of us -- so willing to jump into the mess and lend a very gracious hand -- it has also shown the very worst of us. I  need only to reach back a few weeks and point to an over-zealous Christian who used it as an opportunity to get around international laws.

No doubt, so many of us saw this as an opportunity to deliver the Gospel to a people where it had been culturally resisted, and I say, "Amen" to that. What I pray for though is that the desperate and urgent needs of these people are first met and that Evangelical missionaries are able to set themselves apart from the other competing missionaries as people who understand that. And perhaps Evangelicals worldwide should up the ante by providing so much aid and care than it exceeds the need. I know if my neighbor needs a loaf of bread, all he needs is to ask me. I'm not going to require him to sit through a 10-minute sermon and convert right there. My charity is just the opening salvo in a relationship I intend to continue. But first, the bread.

Haiti is devastated. This earthquake disaster is much worse than, say, Katrina, because there is no federal government to step in -- early or late -- to assist and provide order. Anarchy is the likely the rule, not the exception. It's going to take years to rebuild what little they had. So our commitment to Haiti as believers must be full-time, full-term, lest we look like just another group with something to sell.

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