In Chinese calligraphy, the characters for Crisis contain the characters for Opportunity.  In every crisis there is an opportunity for committed action and amazing results.

Wednesday Morning, January 13.  Like most Americans, I am focused on the horrifying images streaming in on the News network as the full magnitude of the Earthquake in Haiti becomes apparent.   What do to in a crisis like this?  How to help?  Who to turn to? What can be done at this point?  Is there anything, anything at all you can do beyond sending a cash donation to your favorites charities?

First, you ‘let your heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.’  That’s the compassion we all feel.   A ten year old girl gets pulled from the rubble of a collapsed building in Port-au-Prince, and she could have lived, but there was no doctor to treat her injuries. So she has to die. Horrific.   Breaks your heart, as it breaks God’s heart.  Compassion.

Then, you pray.  You ask God to something.  “If you, God, are All Good and All Powerful, then why did you allow this to happen, and why don’t you do something to change the situation?  But then you realze that the way God responds to crisis situations like this is by sending his angels—both extra-terrestrial and human—to the scene for search and rescue, medical aid, humanitarian assistance, trauma relief, prayer and spiritual support, and the ministry of presence.   All this is set in motion and empowered by prayer, so you pray.  Prayer.

Then what?  You make yourself available: “Here am I, Lord, send me.  I’m ready to do something, willing to go to Haiti, if needed, ready to respond to whatever You are asking of me.  You sent me into other global crises over the years–Famine in Haiti 1979, AIDS pandemic in the 1980’s, Children of Chernobyl projects in the 1990’s, Refugees from Kosovo in 1999,  Hurricane Katrina 2003, Orphan Care in Malawi beginning in 2005, Communities of Shalom beginning in 2008.  As I’ve done before, I’m ready to respond again to a clear call.  I’m available.  Patiently waiting and available.  Availability.

Okay, time for action.  With my Contact List and Blackberry at the ready, I scroll down and prayerfully ask myself—Who do I know in Haiti, who might have family and friends in Haiti, who like me has been to Haiti, and who most likely is already responding to the crisis in Haiti?   Committed Action.

I left a voice message for my friend, Chuck Watson, with whom I traveled to Haiti way back in 1979 when we monitored food distributions with Nazarene Compassionate Ministries during a drought and famine on LaGonave Island. He continues to do mission in Haiti, and I knew he would have a current mission which I could support. Awaiting his return call….

11:30am.  Incoming email from my friend Paul S. Moore, founder and president of CitiHope International, updating his board, staff, colleagues and friends on the state of their mission projects in neighboring Dominican Republic.   Paul’s wife, Tamara, he said, was en route to Port-au-Prince on a mission with World Vision.  After six hours, he finally was able to confirm that she was safe, together with other World Vision US staff on mission there, having gathered as a group in a hotel lobby for the night, not in rooms for fear of aftershocks.

I responded to Paul with an offer to help, both personally, and for WorldHope Corps to co-sponsor a medical airlift for Haiti.  CitiHope does good work in Domican Republic, so they are well positioned to offer humanitarian assistance to their neighbor in Haiti.

I scrolled down into my Pending Shalom File to find the email of someone who had contacted me last May about starting a new shalom zone in Haiti.  I remember responding to her at the time that I thought we needed to wait until after the National Shalom Summit in the Fall of 09, and then revisit the possibility in the Spring of 10. I found and re-read the email from Valerie Mossman-Celestin, not knowing if she was still in Haiti or somewhere in the States.  Quickly, I emailed Valerie and asked her, “First of all, are you okay, is your family safe?  Are you connected to help and hope?  And second, are you there still interested in starting a community of Shalom?”

Valerie’s response:

Thank you so much for remembering! I am here in Grand Rapids. Last night was a very long night, as my husband (Haitian) attempted to reach family members. This morning, he reached the siblings in Port-au-Prince.  Part of the house was down, but they are okay. We have so many other loved ones that we have been unable to connect to.  Mizak, location of HAPI, was also hit hard. We have one American on the ground who made it through for about a minute to say that most of the homes were destroyed, including his. So, Yes, there is still interest in Shalom! And this would bring a message of hope and encouragement.

Valerie and her husband now live in Grand Rapids, and from there, run a small mission project with artisans in the rural area of Mizak, about 2 hours away from Port-au-Prince.  Haitian Artists for Peace International (HAPI) was the group of local artists who with their local church want to be trained in how to start a shalom zone in their area.

“You’re in Grand Rapids?” I replied.  “What a coincidence.  I’m heading to Grand Rapids on Thursday to attend the funeral of a friend and former staff member who died in a terrible car accident last week.  I’ll get there early, so maybe we can have dinner together and discuss whether the time is now for a shalom zone in Haiti.” Our connection by email seemed providential.   Co—incidence sometimes means God-incidence.  Divine appointment.  Cyncronicity.  Kairos.

Thursday:   I met with Valerie and a dozen shalom team leaders in Grand Rapids committed to starting four new shalom zones in Grand Rapids and interested in re-activating their historic sister church relationships in Haiti through Communities of Shalom.

Friday:  I attended and spoke at the funeral of a friend (see separate post and reflection).  I could not separate the tragic death of my friend at 35 years of age from the thousands of tragic deaths in Haiti.  Truly a terrible week in the world.

Saturday: I heard that Jayda, leader of Nine Strong Women in Newark, was unable to attend ShalomZone Training at Drew because her mother, who is Haitian, lost 6 family members in the earthquake.  And that Franc, a Drew alumni from Haiti, currently in training as part of the Montclair, NJ shalom team, has a burden for mission in his homeland.  Drew President Bob Weisbuch sent out an All-Drew email message that the University will find ways to respond to the needs in Haiti this semester through our civic engagement initiative.

Once the search and rescue efforts subside, and the disaster relief phase is over, there will be years of rebuilding in Haiti.   The Opportunity in this Crisis, beyond initial heroric responses, is to help Haitians rebuild their country, not to what it was before the earthquake, but to develop sustainable communities with infrastructure for systemic change.  In the words of the charter of Communities of Shalom, the Opportunity is to boldly believe that

“From the fires of destruction, the ashes of despair, and the chaos of these times, will arise new communities of faith and hope, new communities of hope and daring, new communities of God’s Shalom.”–First Shalom Team, Los Angeles, 1992.

And to work toward this vision together in the face of disorder and death.

Sunday:  Tragically, I heard that first one and then two of our United Methodist colleagues died in the Earthquake.   We had received news reports on Friday that  Sam Dixon, Clint Rabb, & Jim Gulley–United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) US staff executives in Haiti—were rescued from the rubble of the collapsed Hotel Montana after 50 hours, that they needed treatment, but that they were alive. But over the weekend, we learned sadly that Sam Dixon (who I knew) and Clint Rabb, had died from injuries sustained in the aftermath of the earthquake.  Staff members at the Board of Global Ministries in New York are in shock and dismay, yet carrying out relief efforts through UMCOR on the ground.  

In many and sundry ways, God seems to be saying to me (and I believe to all of us), that there is a way to respond to this present crisis, there is a way to make a difference.  There  are prayers to be prayed, gifts to be given, time to be set aside, divine appointments to be kept, mission tasks, yet to be assigned, in the coming days, weeks, months, and years ahead in Haiti—our neighbor in time of need.  So, let us remain open and available to what God has in mind for us to do.  It starts with compassion, which leads to prayer, which makes us available, which leads to committed action—human and divine.  The key is to tap in and stay tuned to the kairos of God. 

Once you act, in some small, prayerful and committed way, other like actions and reactions occur, hidden assets are uncovered and aligned, resources mobilized, the dots start to connect, cyncronicity is evident, and divine appointments can me kept.   This is how God works in the world. Together, God and the people of God achieve great results, achieve Shalom–God’s dream come true.   Let us begin it now. 

The Power of Committed Action

“The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.

All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise would have occurred.

A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. 

Begin it now.”  —Attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 

How to Turn Crisis into Opportunity?

Let your heart be broken (allow yourself to feel compassion)

Pray (most neglected action)

Make yourself available (the easy part)

Wait patiently (the hardest part)

Take action with others (small, symbolic, bold, committed action)

Recognize the Kairos (right time, God’s time)

Accept your divine assignment  (however small you think it is)

Expect great things and amazing results (Begin the process now)