What Haiti Really Needs

This year we observe the tenth anniversary of September 11th, 2001, a day in our nation’s history that changed everything. Before 9/11, most Americans had never heard of Osama Ben Laden or the Taliban, nor could they easily point to Iraq or Afghanistan on a map. The event was indeed a game changer, not only for the United States and the West, but for the entire world. The tightening of security in air travel, the creation of Homeland Security, and the forced collaboration of once competing agencies like the FBI, CIA, and local agencies are but the tip of the iceberg. Not to mention the “military action” we initiated with other members of the global community in this ongoing “war on terrorism.” The West received a rude awakening: “You cannot continue your dealings with the Arab nations with a ‘business as usual’ attitude.”

Such was the case when a 7.2 earthquake struck the island of Haiti a year ago in January, tragically setting off what some have called the “Haitian 9/11.” Before the earthquake most Americans couldn’t point to Haiti on the map, but the most devastating earthquake in the small nation’s history killed nearly 250,000 people and left more than a million homeless, and countless scores maimed and injured. Like our 9/11, Haiti’s earthquake was a game changer for the hundreds of missions and relief agencies and other NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) on the ground in Port-au-Prince.


NATION IN NEED: Haitians wait for the distribution of emergency supplies following the 2010 earthquake. Photo from Wikipedia.

One need only take a brief scan of the media outlets to hear pundits express their shock as to how little has been done in the past year in terms of relief, aid, and development. As Reuters reports, “despite billions of dollars of donations and aid pledges from some of the world’s most powerful leaders, a 12,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping presence and an army of relief workers, the debris that clogs much of the city and a million homeless people living in tents are blunt testimony to the unfinished recovery task. Meanwhile, the nation’s cholera epidemic, which began this past fall, continues to run rampant.” Oxfam, the British based charity organization, offered more staggering statistics and an even sharper critique of the relief efforts, saying that various projects had been crippled by lack of leadership and cooperation from the Haitian government and the international community.

“At the anniversary of the earthquake, close to one million Haitians are reportedly still displaced. Less than 5 percent of the rubble has been cleared, only 15 percent of the temporary housing that is needed has been built and relatively few permanent water and sanitation facilities have been constructed,” the report said. According to a Chronicle of Philanthropy survey of 60 major relief organizations, the same dire facts were revealed, stating that of the more than $1.4 billion donated to Haitian relief through such organizations, by Americans alone, only 38 percent of these funds have actually been used to provide recovery aid. But these statistics are faceless until you hear the voices of the Haitians themselves. Mackenzy Jean-Francois, a 25-year-old university student in Port-au-Prince is quoted as saying, “When you go around the country and through the tents (in the survivors’ camps) and you look at the situation people are facing one year after the disaster, it’s hard to see much sign of how that money was spent.”

This seems to be the question at hand, “Where has all the aid money gone?” However, I think this raises an even deeper question: How is it that, prior to the earthquake, thousands of aid organizations from the international community operated in Haiti for decades, spent billions of dollars, and yet failed to transform an island the size of Maryland into a prosperous nation? Despite the best of intentions, Haiti remained the poorest country in the Western hemisphere even before the earthquake.

HOMEGROWN RELIEF: While international efforts received significant media coverage, much of the rescue effort was conducted by Haitians themselves. Photo from Wikipedia.

Before our 9/11, it was commonplace in the U.S. to witness, even in our movies and television shows, the competition and lack of coordination and cooperation between agencies who existed to “protect and serve” — CIA, FBI, and local authorities. It seems to the average citizen, because of the ongoing threat of terrorism, that this has ceased to a large degree. However, it appears in general that “business as usual” continues in Haiti; insufficient coordination, lack of cooperation, exclusion of indigenous input, focus on quick fixes, it is with good reason that Haiti earned the moniker of the “Republic of NGOs.” “It seemed the more NGOs that came to Haiti, the worse off Haiti became,” said Pastor Louis Pierre, a Haitian expatriate living in Chicago. Indeed, Timothy T. Schwartz’s 2008 book, Travesty in Haiti, takes a graphic look into the world of food aid, orphanages, Christian missions, and fraud that is, quite frankly, frightening.

Of course, not all aid work is intended to harm or wreak havoc on those they serve, but sometimes our good intentions can create a “pathway to hell” for those whom we meant to help. Fonkoze.org, Haiti’s alternative bank for the organized poor, and CHFinternational.org, whose goal is to “to build the capacity of local partners, governments and the private sector to create communities who are economically, socially, and environmentally self-sufficient,” are but two NGO’s that need to be modeled. Empowerment, sustainability, and self-sufficiency appear to be the very things they are accomplishing. Every organization will “say” the latter is their goal, but outcomes are what tell us the truth. How many times have we personally made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight and at the end of the year found out that we actually gained? Goals and outcomes are not the same.

When completely unexpected catastrophic events occur, the world reacts in horror, chaos unfolds, and there is a generous outpouring sympathy, not to mention cash. Will we continue to donate funds to aid organizations for whom it is in their best interest to solely “feed” people in crises rather than to, at some point, equip them to feed themselves? Furthermore, will we support “development” organizations that use funds to exclusively fund American-owned and operated “contractors” so as to keep the funds flowing through their organizations and to their own, while under-developing the communities they are claiming to help?

By not calling them to accountability, we are only continuing a state of dependency whereby the beneficiaries are never equipped to build, sustain, or grow their communities and economies independent of Western oversight and funding. This was the state of Haiti before the earthquake, and it seems to be the case a year after this tragedy.

Is development about the nation being saved, or about the development of the organizations and corporations that are ostensibly there to serve? To many of us watching, it seems they are serving themselves rather than those who are suffering. Just as our extended “war on terror” has dragged on with no assurance that there will ever be victory, the prolonged aide to Haiti that we foresee must also have a definitive exit plan, one in which this nation is not further crippled but truly “aided” and “developed.”

Related Articles: “Pat Robertson Was Right” and “Reunited by Earthquake.”

Pressing Past the Heartbreak

“If Job weren’t in the Bible, I probably wouldn’t be a Christian,” says Aslan Youth Ministries co-founder Craig Bogard, whose personal tragedies have not stopped him from ministering to the needs of kids in the poor communities of central New Jersey and Haiti.

Craig and Lynn Ann Bogard grew up in a small, predominantly white community in New Mexico but sensed a call to minister to African American youth in central New Jersey after a short-term mission trip to the area in the early 1970s. Thirty-five years later, despite living through periods of relying solely on God for their next meal, the Bogards are still at it. They have faced the kinds of challenges that only a deep and abiding faith could pull them through — fundraising struggles, misunderstandings about their motives by both blacks and whites, and, most recently, the untimely deaths of their two beloved sons, Daniél, 28, in 2004 and Dustin, 25, in 2007.

I’ve been aware of the Bogards’ Aslan Youth Ministries for many years, but only just met Craig Bogard last month. As I listened to this slight, serious man recount Aslan’s history, what I really wanted to know was: How do you keep ministering to other people’s children when your own were taken from you?

Craig says he asks himself that question every day, and did so that morning before our interview. The still-grieving father opened up to me about his new life of “pain management” after I told him about the death of my own child. We shared our thoughts on the bittersweet experience of ministering to children who come from seemingly hopeless situations while our own cherished children seemed to have lost sight of the hope we instilled in them. “If Job weren’t in the Bible,” Craig says, “I probably wouldn’t be a Christian.”

He cites Lamentations, chapter three as a source of strength. It’s a difficult chapter that begins and ends with pain, but tucked into the middle are these words: “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD. I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning” (Lam. 3:18-24, NIV).

Quoting a long forgotten source, Craig says, “I’ve done so much with so little for so long, I can do almost anything with nothing.” These days, even with a drop in ministry donations reflective of the economic downturn, the “nothing” the Bogards make do with tends to be more spiritual and emotional than material. Still, God provides.

On the warm summer day when I visited one of Aslan’s three urban day camps, longtime volunteer Brenda Bouldin served both snacks and Bible knowledge to a group of campers while Lethea “Queenie” Ferguson, Aslan’s area program director, organized an outdoor game and the executive program director, Kat Eagles, pulled the threads together.

Queenie says what’s different about the Bogards is their passion for “kids nobody really wants or has time for.” She adds, “Their heart for children takes priority over programs.”

Relationships always have been the heart of the ministry, according to Lynn Ann Bogard (left), who was in Philadelphia straightening out passport issues in preparation for a youth mission trip to Aslan’s affiliate ministry in Haiti on the day I visited. By phone she later told me that program-driven ministry puzzles her and that Aslan’s success with kids has never been based on her or her husband having some intrinsic understanding of the African American experience. “We are not black and never will be,” she says. “It’s never had anything to do with things like that.” She says their ability to transcend barriers “almost underscores that we don’t have to be the same to care for others. We listen because we’re related, not because we’re the same.”

Much of what Lynn Ann contributes to the ministry nowadays depends on what needs to be done or what she feels competent to do. The 61-year-old says her lower profile is a result of both grief and age. Like Craig, she grapples with a spiritual conflict that, in the wake of her sons’ deaths, she doesn’t see ever ending “because there has been too much loss and what feels like betrayal.”

Still, her sense of calling is undiminished. “It’s not based on how I feel or what I’ve been through or anything else. As confused and disillusioned as I can be, God’s call is still written on my heart. Changing that would be like trying to take freckles out of someone’s skin. It is part of who I am.”

I didn’t meet Doug Eagles, Aslan’s chief operating officer (and Kat’s husband), on the day I visited because he too was preparing for the trip to Haiti by collecting donations for the personal hygiene kits that he, another adult, and nine teens would deliver.

Aslan’s work in the Caribbean nation, which began in 1996, was inspired by a youth mission trip that Daniél Bogard took to Uganda. It has three unique goals: 1) to introduce urban young people to their African heritage and to the rich African culture of Haiti; 2) to acquaint young people from difficult home environments in the U.S. with the often more difficult situations faced by young people in other parts of the world; and 3) to offer them the opportunity to develop leadership and personal skills through humanitarian aid projects.

In 2008, Craig told The New York Times that the only way he and Lynn Ann could emotionally survive the deaths of their sons is to be able to see their dream in Haiti become a reality. “Daniél and Dustin were the entire inspiration for it, pushing us every step of the way.” Lynn Ann says the same is true for their continued ministry in New Jersey. Her sons believed in the work “with their whole hearts.”told the Asbury Park Press, “We teach kids that you learn to lead through serving … to look beyond your need to others’ needs.” Not only do the Bogards model this value every day as they look beyond their own grief, but so do the Eagles, who joined Aslan full time after Dustin’s death so that they could support the Bogards and help assure stability in the ministry. Lynn Ann says she and Craig couldn’t have continued on without this young, energetic couple. Likewise, both Queenie and Brenda have been serving Aslan’s youth for more than a decade each.

Craig adds, “Both Daniél and Dustin struggled for years with substance abuse, but this is not what defined them.

Ultimately, it was the drugs that took their lives away, but their lives were filled with service to Christ both in New Jersey and in Haiti. At the end, their hearts were just broken. What is discouraging is there still seems to be such a stigma attached to anyone with addiction problems.”

Earlier this year, talking about the Haiti work, Craig

I think God crossed my path with the Bogards’ at just the right time. A week after I interviewed them, my husband and I volunteered once again to serve in our church’s Vacation Bible School program. There was a charismatic young man who helped with the VBS music. He reminded me of my late son, and it hurt. At one point, I wondered if I could keep doing that type of ministry year in and year out. Then I thought about the Bogards, the Eagles, and Aslan’s other volunteers, and I said to myself, “God will help me press past the pain.”

Wyclef for President

Or maybe not. His recent decision to run for his native Haiti’s highest office was shut down by Haitian authorities. But it makes us wonder: Is a celebrity like Wyclef Jean equipped to lead a nation? Wyclef Jean is still trying to run for president of Haiti and it’s probably a bad idea. Despite confirmation that the Port-au-Prince born, Brooklyn-raised musician is ineligible, Jean remains optimistic he can appeal the decision and re-enter the election. Last week, Haiti’s Electoral Council officially removed Jean, as well as 14 others, from the list of candidates. Ravaged by a deadly earthquake and still deeply embroiled in the internal dissension born of years of political unrest, Haiti remains the poorest and least developed country in the Western hemisphere. For people of faith called to care for “the least of these,” the outcome of the November 28 election is important. Haiti needs a strong leader who can guide the country out of the muck and mire and into the process of rebuilding a nation. It remains to be seen whether or not that leader is Wyclef Jean. Since the artist first announced his candidacy, many have dismissed Jean for his lack of political experience, alleged mishandling of nearly $400,000 in funds donated to his Yele Haiti foundation, and his virtual absence in Haiti since January’s deadly earthquake. Most notably actor Sean Penn and former Fugee Pras Michel have openly shared their skepticism concerning his ability to run the fledgling country. And though there is sufficient reason to think Wyclef Jean may not be the next great president of Haiti, Christians should be careful of the kind of metrics they use to assess their political leaders. According to Lisa Sharon Harper, executive director of the New York Faith & Justice organization and author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican … or Democrat, a sense of calling and character should be the primary benchmarks of one’s fitness to lead. A presidency isn’t just a professional milestone or an arc in someone’s career, she cautions. “[Haiti needs] someone for whom words really mean something. An honest candidate isn’t trying to just tickle someone’s ears.” In addition to integrity, says Harper, a candidate must have a deep commitment to meekness. It’s a trait she defines as “controlled power,” and a quality, she quips, the previous U.S. administration lacked. “The president must be someone who prefers humility over the exercise of power. Scripture says the meek will inherit the earth.” Judging by the solutions some candidates are positing to rebuild Haiti, it won’t be long before the president-elect will need to know how and when to exercise power. As a means of recovery, many have identified multinational corporations as the saving grace to help rebuild Haiti’s infrastructure. There is danger in this type of support and a very real threat of further incapacitating the country, Harper warns. “A corporation can be a blessing and a cursing on a nation. If the land itself is owned by a corporation, that means the people on that land are also owned by it, and the laws of the corporation become the laws of the land. They have to be wary of that kind of contract, where the country is owned very literally by a corporation.” Understanding the nuances of this type of international diplomacy and the new role Haiti will play in our global economy will be key, and that important fact would likely be lost on an inexperienced candidate. Jean, the son of a Nazarene pastor and nephew of a Haitian diplomat, will need to prove that the worldliness he’s gained from his artistic career has equipped him for this type of work. But whether or not Wyclef is capable to lead will be a moot point if we cannot determine whether or not he is eligible. Last Sunday he tweeted, “Tomorrow our Lawyers are appealing the decision of the CEP. We have met all the requirements set by the laws. And the law must be Respected.” It’s unknown exactly why Jean’s bid was rejected, though it’s likely due to his failure to meet residency requirements. In Haiti, a candidate must live in the country for five consecutive years prior to the election. According to a spokesman for the electoral board, the decision was unanimous. Photo of Wyclef Jean by Ali Dan-Bouzoua from Wikipedia.

Misguided Compassion?

Misguided Compassion? for urban faithTen American missionaries are jailed in Haiti for attempting to rescue needy children whose lives were uprooted by the earthquake. The missionaries’ plight underscores the potential costs of discipleship, but also the consequences of good intentions gone awry.

A group of Americans, comprised of church volunteers from two Southern Baptist churches in Idaho, recently left on an emergency mission trip to Haiti. Their mission: to rescue children recently orphaned or abandoned in the aftermath of the horrific earthquakes that rocked the region in January.

Unfortunately, they ran into an unforeseen complication that torpedoed their endeavor and thrust them into international headlines: It was against the law.

In response to their attempt at altruism, Haitian officials detained and charged ten of them with kidnapping. And as of this article’s publication, they are being held indefinitely in a Port-au-Prince jail, awaiting their due process.

As was the case in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, many across the U.S. have left the comfort and security of their homes in order to help the masses affected by the calamitous quake in Haiti. Relief work always has its risks, but lending a hand after a monumental earthquake in an already poverty-stricken country like Haiti is a difficult undertaking with a unique set of challenges.

So, the last thing that any of us want to do is diminish these missionaries’ acts of service by playing armchair missiologist and publicly second-guessing every detail of their decision-making. And given their denomination’s sterling reputation for disaster relief, I’m sure that this group of Southern Baptists had nothing but the noblest intentions.

Nevertheless, these Americans are in a real pickle, and I can’t help but wonder if things might have gone differently had they taken more time to count the cost of their actions beforehand.

According to various reports, the group had not established much of an infrastructure to support their stated intent of building an orphanage in the Dominican Republic. Not only that, they apparently had little experience with international charity work. And a Dominican official has recently gone on record as having warned the group that their plan was illegal. Despite their pastors’ best efforts to defend the team members through the media, they have been unable to provide any evidence to counter the perception that they acted, if not maliciously, then irresponsibly. And now new reports about lead missionary Laura Silsby’s dubious history with relief work complicates the picture even more.

Lacking expertise in either international adoption or relief work, I’ll leave it to others to pontificate on the specific hows and whys, but I can say that these kinds of rescue efforts are tricky, nuanced affairs. And if, as was reported, there were actual Haitian parents who begged the group to take their children in the hope that they might have a better life, I can understand their sense of urgency in wanting to establish this orphanage.

But it saddens me to ponder the possibility that, amidst all the rush of preparation and the emergency fund raising and the packing of clothes and the righteous momentum that would accompany such a crusade, no one considered the possibility of a backlash.

Innocent as their motives may have been, it’s hard not to view this incident as one more example of well-intentioned White people with an abundance of resources rushing into a situation with a savior complex, doing more harm than good in the process. When celebrities like Madonna, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie make headlines with their adoptions, there’s an implicit assumption that all you need to become an international hero is to be White and have money.

Far past being a trend, it has literally become a punch line. Christian Lander, author of the blog Stuff White People Like, recently appeared on the new TBS late-night series Lopez Tonight with the following bon mot:

“And White people love having Black friends, because they possess the most desired accessory of all — Black children.”

This pattern is problematic because it sets up the well-intentioned do-gooder from the outside (whatever their skin color) to think that if they are to give downtrodden children a better life, they must be the ultimate arbiters that decide what a better life should look like and where it should take place. (Indeed, this is one of the main gripes that many folks have against the Oscar-nominated film The Blind Side, in which a wealthy and compassionate White family uses its money and connections to create a better life for a homeless Black teen, who goes on to become a successful NFL player.)

In his best-selling classic Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby offers a timeless nugget of wisdom for those who are struggling to discern God’s will for their life: “Find out what God already is doing and join him there.”

The idea here is that if God stirs up a desire in you to go someplace and undergo some form of ministry, you need to understand that when you arrive, you’re not bringing God with you — He was already there in the first place. And if you go with a spirit of humility and continue to listen to His leading, He’ll show you how you’re supposed to fit into His plan. If God gives you a burden to feed and clothe and love on orphans in Haiti, then find the people who are feeding and clothing and loving on orphans in Haiti — because you’re probably not the only one.

The truth is, despite all the criticism that has been heaped upon these intrepid volunteers, there are some great positive takeaways. Among them is the fact that, while most people were content to give only $10 by sending a text message, two churches sent a real team of real people that actually had a real, tangible, viable presence on the ground. That, in and of itself, is impressive.

And while it’s easy to criticize their lack of planning, if everyone in an emergency waited to act until there was an airtight plan, nothing would get done. We need people in the body of Christ who can marshal resources and champion causes and actually get people moving in the right direction, just like we also need people who can help navigate treacherous hazards.

After all, the point of that passage in Luke 14 is that Jesus wants us to count the cost of discipleship — and become full-blown disciples anyway. Too often, too many of us have become adept at counting the cost as a means of disqualifying ourselves, and thus, maintaining the status quo.

As I was bouncing these ideas off of my wife Holly and getting her feedback for this column, she crystallized perfectly the tension that we must live in if we are to represent Christ well:

While we don’t want Christians to be seen as people who act without proper planning, on the other hand, we also don’t want Christians to be seen as people who don’t go to Haiti to help, but instead sit at home criticizing those who do.

Amen to that.

And as my pastor used to say, if you can’t say “amen,” then say “ouch.”