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It’s been a year!

It’s been hard to miss the one-year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake in the media this week. For me, it’s gone quickly and I find myself saying, “Wow! It’s been a year!?” I’m guessing many Haitians are looking around the streets saying the same thing but meaning something very different. Certainly there has been progress in recovering, but so much remains to be done.

One of our colleagues in Global Mission, a Haitian national, resigned his post here in Chicago to return to Haiti and help with the recovery. To hear about his family’s experience from his wife’s perspective, check out this video:


The ELCA and its partners have done a lot these past 12 months, rebuilding homes, providing temporary schools, and preventing the spread of cholera. And we remain committed to the long-term recovery of Haiti, with plans to do much more! To learn more what’s happened these past 12 months as well as what’s underway, visit our Haiti Earthquake Relief web page. Keep praying, and please also consider making a donation. It’s not too late to help!

-Nancy Michaelis

Smitten and trying to respond

“He smote the bank!” cackles Jean Stapleton, after John Travolta, as the archangel Michael, casually unleashes a bolt of lightning in the movie “Michael.”

Earthquakes, oil spills, floods, droughts—there’s a lot of smiting going on, and a lot of preparing for it, not with sackcloth and ashes but catastrophe scenarios and emergency response plans and drills.

I discovered this last week at a talk on the Great Storm of 1861-1862—the one that turned California’s Central Valley into a 300-mile long puddle; the one that forced the California state government to move to San Francisco; the one that damaged 7/8ths of all housing and destroyed one out of every eight homes and a third of all taxable property in California.

Sacramento in 1862

This fascinating, safely distant story of a smitten state was followed by an anxiety-generating winter storm scenario that the U.S. Geological Survey is creating. The hypothetical date of this “extreme precipitation event” is January 2011; May 2011 is when the agencies and emergency managers and responders will hold their practice drill. Based on the understanding that California has a “mega storm” every 300 years (and destructive as it was, 1861-62 wasn’t a mega storm), these experts are:

…examining the possibility, cost, and consequences of floods, landslides, coastal erosion and inundation; debris flows; biologic impacts; physical damage such as property loss from wind, flood, and landslide; and lifeline impacts such as bridge scour [when the sand and rocks around a bridge give way, leading to collapse], road closures, and levee failures. Consideration is given to the disruption of water supply and the impacts on ground-water pumping, seawater intrusion and water supply degradation. The scenario is depicting the economic consequences of these damages in terms of repair costs and business interruption, public-health implications, and emergency response.

The USGS guy painted the picture starkly and dramatically. When he finished, the room was silent. Finally the emcee stood to thank the speakers and said, a little shakily, “well, I guess it’s time we all move to the foothills.” We took home delightful reading: “The ShakeOut Earthquake Scenario,” which modeled the aftereffects of a hypothetical 7.8 earthquake on the southern San Andreas Fault as the morning rush hour was ending. That Southern California earthquake drill, involving 5000 emergency responders and 5 million citizens, has already taken place. (Watch this USGS video on the earthquake scenario and  the ARkStorm winter storm project, and check out the Old Testament imagery.)

Appalled and intrigued, I went to the Internet, and discovered I could learn how a New Madrid mega-earthquake would affect the Midwest, where almost no anti-seismic measures are in place. Briefly, five to eight states would be affected; local mutual aid would not work; bridges over the Mississippi could be uncrossable for several hundred miles, for years; transmission of natural gas, oil, and electricity to much of the east coast would be affected for many months, along with the supply of wheat and grains to other parts of the world; there would be significant out-migration. (Question for discussion in this FEMA exercise: what could or would emergency managers in one local jurisdiction like Memphis do when faced with such a catastrophe?)

Or I could choose a scenario for a slow-developing catastrophe like Lake Mead going dry, leaving 22 million people in three states without water. (Discussion question: How can emergency managers in Las Vegas prepare to respond?)

Or I could browse peak gas scenarios, 2012 Armageddon scenarios, global warming scenarios, armchair quarterback analyses of the Black Plague, the Irish Potato Famine, the 1917 Influenza Pandemic, Hurricane Katrina, or Limits to Growth, the 1972 scenario published by the Club of Rome that projected nine different outcomes based on the variables of world population, industrialization, pollution, food production and resource depletion. Only one of those nine is hopeful; the others are so dire, a catastrophe response plan would be pointless.  Recent studies confirm (says Wikipedia) that current “changes in industrial production, food production and pollution are all in line with the book’s predictions of economic and societal collapse in the 21st century.”

Things are not looking good.

It’s tempting to call my efforts to live a sustainable life foolish. To quit trying to support alternative systems and behavior. To chuck  my bicycle for a really big car. But I think I’ll stay the course.

Why? For starters, imagining catastrophe is the first step in trying to mitigate it. The literature of catastrophe helps us grasp the scope of what we face, and discern what part of it is in our control. The silver lining to spending a sunny  afternoon imagining my hometown underwater was learning just how many people are collaborating on the response.

Second, letting go of the idea that everything is in our control is just plain healthy. No amount of clean living and recycling can prevent an earthquake!

Third, there is power in individual and collective action. Martin Luther thought so, too. Asked what he would do if the world were to end tomorrow, he said, “Plant an apple tree today.”

Smiting happens. But faith kicks in where reason ends. I’m voting for faith, for the apple tree, for the bicycle helmet. And I’m  spending tomorrow curled up with “A Guide to Emergency Preparedness for Sacramento County.”

Anne Basye,  Sustaining Simplicity

Haiti through Andrew’s Eyes

The news from the earthquake in Haiti permeates our media and our hearts.  When we turn on the television there are images of death and destruction, and for some loss and despair.  At times like this hope can seem hard to grasp.  Andrew Brown is a former classmate of mine at California Lutheran University; his numerous trips to Haiti have greatly impacted his life and deepened his faith.  I was able to ask him a few questions about his experiences.  I hope that his answers help to paint for you a living picture of the country and it’s people.  Please read on as Andrew helps us to see into the heart of Haiti.

How many times have you been to Haiti and what did you do while you were there?

Andrew: I have been to Haiti on four different occasions.  My first three trips I took to Haiti were work trips focused on building an orphanage, hospital, and school for children living just outside downtown Port-Au-Prince.  My last trip, however, was to visit friends and film their stories for a documentary.  All of my trips to Haiti have been extremely humbling experiences and root my life again in Christ’s work.

What is your favorite memory from your time there?

Andrew: Where to begin.  I think my favorite memories are the times I get to share with my Haitian friends.  Leonard is a Haitian man who works as a “Taxi driver” in Haiti.  He is usually our driver when we are in Haiti working or visiting.  Leonard is the kindest man I have ever met.  The times I have been able to share with Leonard fill my life with purpose to be a better person.  You often hear him shouting the Lord’s praise in song on our car rides or simply shouting, “No problem!!!”  Each time I have been to Haiti he has kindly opened his home to my friends and I.  It is somewhat dangerous for a Haitian to open his house to white people as it puts a target on them as being rich, or privileged.  Leonard does not care.  We are his friends.  And he opens his home for us because God called us to do so.  The faith Leonard demonstrates is often incomprehensible.

My other memory, although a little more difficult to understand are the times I have spent in hospitals and orphanages.  Holding children who are very ill or massaging lotion onto the dying.  I never realized how my hands, how my presence, could soothe a crying child, or calm a dying man.  I get to be Jesus for a moment and feel the presence of him through my hands.  Those little moments are always in my heart and resonate with me whenever pain and sadness exist.

How has your experience in Haiti impacted your life?

Andrew: The relationships I have built with Haitian friends over the years continues to impact my life everyday.  Many of the men and women I have met have very little by world standards.  But yet I find myself being called to become a better person because of the faith they have in God.  It has caused me to remember their faces and in time of trial praise God for all of the blessings in my life.  The people of Haiti have instilled a sense of urgency to serve.  Since the moment I arrived in Haiti, I have not forgotten their faces or their smiles.  I feel called to give my time, my talent, and my gifts to the Lord who has created me.  The people of Haiti have taught me what it means to love unconditionally, and to have faith in a God who’s plan isn’t always prevalent.

What is one thing we should all know about the people of Haiti?

Andrew: The people of Haiti are some of the most incredible people I have ever met.  They have literally been plagued by corruption, famine, poverty, and injustice for 200 years, and yet continue to love each other and their country so much.  The people of Haiti are good.  They will give you the shirt off their back, even if it is their last.  Haitians are the hardest working people I have ever encountered.  They will prosper and they will succeed.

Have you personally heard any updates from people you know in Haiti? Would you be willing to share?

Andrew: I have a very close friend who has been working in Haiti since Thanksgiving of 2009.  I received word this morning through Facebook that she has been working around the clock at a make shift outdoor clinic.

From her Facebook: “I know very little other than I am ok. We are working through the night at an outdoor clinic. 3 hours of sleep since the incident. I have to be honest it is kind of terrifying to be here. It is a total battelfield. My heart races all the time. Thanks so much for your prayers.”

Other than Joanna, I have heard various reports of other friends in Haiti being safe, but the news is very scarce.  It could be many days before I am able to really understand the gravity of loss to the great people of Haiti.  Their words are piercing.  But God is good and in control.

How does your faith affect your response to the recent earthquake in Haiti?

Andrew: I think in any time of catastrophe, our faith is challenged.  We ask ourselves, “why do bad things happen?”  I don’t know that I have that answer, but I do know that God is good.  Faith is something you cannot see, and the basis of faith is to trust in the Lord in times like these.  That is what faith is built for, times of darkness and hurting.  So although it can become easy to question God and His plan, your faith grows exponentially in times of trails.  God allows us to suffer because it unlocks our ability to love unconditionally.  When we struggle we are able to love without question.  We come together, separate our differences, and remember the common good of humanity.

Is there is anything else that you would like to offer?

Andrew: “‘I may have lost a loved one, but also I may have lost my country.’ You feel so sad, terribly sad. Everyone does. But Haiti’s the kind of place where people develop an incredibly strong will. The motto of Haiti is ‘L’union fait la force’: ‘in unity there is strength.'”  -Haitian-born American novelist Edwidge Danticat

If you are comfortable, would you please write a short prayer that readers could pray for the people of Haiti?

Andrew’s Prayer: Father, the people of Haiti are hurting.  They are crying out in pain asking for your healing.  May your hand come down on them and provide them the strength they will need to rebuild their country.  May you comfort those who have lost everything.  Father, may you sing praise through the streets of rubble that Your will be done and you are present in every corner of their country.  Father, give strength to the rescue teams.  Father, bring compassion to the world and give us the desire to share our resources necessary for healing and rebuilding.  Just be present Lord.  In any way.  Haiti needs you.  The world needs you.  May we remember the unconditional Love you give us in these days of hurt.  Be with us now and forever. Amen.

Andrew currently resides in California; he is still a member at the church where he grew up, Calvary Lutheran Church, Golden Valley, MN

You can help make a difference today. Please consider making a donation to help the ELCA’s efforts in Haiti. We are currently working with the Lutheran World Federation. Our partners in Haiti have survived the quake and are already working on the ground. Please make all donations directly at You can also read more information and download bulletin inserts for Sunday here. Thank you for your gifts and your prayers.


Bad News/Good News

Does it seem like each morning’s news brings a report about another global disaster? In my darkest “oh-no-not-another one” moments, I just want to turn the TV off, push the paper away, and set my internet news pop-ups to “entertainment only.”

But I can’t totally disengage. Even if I really wanted to, my colleagues and our ELCA doesn’t let me. News clippings sent inter-office, phone calls from pastors, gifts sent in by children with prayerful notes… all bring me back to the reality of our broken world.

Of course, there’s another reality as well, and that’s the promise of God’s abundance. I’m reminded of this as I read budget reports detailing spending plans for the overwhelming generosity we received last year for ELCA World Hunger Appeal. My World Hunger/Global Mission colleagues had made spending plans based on a modest increase in giving, but certainly didn’t know that an additional $2.5 million would arrive at the very end of the year! What amazing generosity sent on behalf of our neighbors- near and far- who live with hunger and poverty!

Many of these “surplus” plans focus on our response to the global food crisis, one of those awful ongoing disasters we hear about so frequently (read more and give here). Our gifts to ELCA World Hunger help alleviate this crisis through a two-pronged approach. First, we are providing funds to our partners for emergency food and other relief efforts. But even more importantly, we have made a concerted effort to invest in long-term sustainable development that will help our partners help communities better withstand the ups and downs of the food market. For example, because of the generous giving to the World Hunger Appeal last year, we were recently able to make a special gift to the Kenya Evangelical Lutheran Church to provide tools, supplies and irrigation for a community to grow nutritious produce for their use and for market. In the long-term, this will have a far greater impact that food relief alone, and we are grateful to be able to make this special gift possible through our companion church.

So, on the next bad news day, when I just want to pull the metaphorical (and literal) covers over my head… I’ll remember that God truly is at work in our world. God’s work. Our Hands. Thanks be to God!