Generous Orthodoxy  

Monday, March 01, 2010

Well-meaning rescuers cause problems

I just posted an article in Tips by Nicholas Kristof, extolling World Vision and other evangelical and Roman Catholic organizations for their work in the troubled zones around the world.

Yesterday I heard a talk by the head of Episcopal Relief and Development who said that it is better to support longstanding, experienced organizations than it was to rush to the area personally with no well-defined mission or special expertise.

And a few days ago I read an article about the Haitian situation which quoted Dale Winslette, 51, a volunteer with Give Me Shelter Ministries in Shalimar, Florida, which has been providing food and medical and dental care in Haiti for the past four years. Mr. Winslette said there were many missionaries who were mostly interested in returning to their churches with grand stories of good works. “These people are so zealous to get out there and say, ‘Look what I did; look at these kids I saved,’ ” he said.

Even doctors who have flown into Haiti on private or chartered planes have sometimes been less than helpful, according to Dr. Scott Nelson, a veteran Adventist missionary.“The community trusts us [the Adventist doctors and nurses], but when other groups make shortsighted decisions it undermines everyone’s credibility,” he added. Dr. Nelson and other veteran missionaries faulted the new arrivals for frequently acting on their own instead of collaborating with more established missionary groups that plan on staying in Haiti for years to come.

All of this adds up to the great need for us to give significant support to the established organizations with longtime experience and proven effectiveness. The Episcopal Church has had a strong presence in Haiti for 150 years, and so it is in a position to be really helpful. (Most of the publicity has focused on the Roman Catholic Church in Haiti, so this fact is an important corrective). The Episcopal Bishop chose not to flee to the countryside, or to the US where his severely injured wife is receiving treatment, but has remained with his destroyed cathedral where the people continue to gather for worship and mutual comfort despite the loss of their building. Therefore, Episcopal Relief and Development is one of the most effective funds to support right now for those interested in Haiti. (If you are interested in Chile, then there are other funds that have better connections there.)

The article concludes:

“The outpouring of compassion is heartwarming,” said Sarah Wilson, spokeswoman for Christian Aid, a British organization that receives much of its financing from church members and has a longstanding operation in Haiti. But she added: “People shouldn’t come down here for an experience. They should stay home and write a check.”

Here is the link to the article