As the Haiti earthquake has come and gone I still find myself transfixed by the coverage. Short bursts of 140 characters, video clips, pictures, news articles. As stories come in it’s hard to ignore. And it’s not the bird’s eye view of CNN that’s so engaging, it’s the people I know, the friend of a friend, or the city or village where I know people. I’ve wondered why Haiti is different, different from other tragedies of late. I do think part of it has to do with the spread of social media. But there’s something else.
It hit me last week when I read the story of Aaron Ivey and his adopted son still in Haiti. Aaron blogged about the earthquake:
I remember seeing images of the tsunami that hit southeast Asia in 2004. They were on the news constantly, and I was saddened by the footage of loss and sorrow. But, I didn’t know anyone there. I didn’t have friends, muchless family members that were affected by the tragedy. Everything changes when your friends and family are directly connected to something so tragic. I feel the weight of this Haitian burden in an unexplainable way. For my son, Amos, who slept on a mattress outside last night. For my friends Licia, Lori & Zach who no doubt began stitching wounds in the early hours of sunlight. For my friends Troy & Tara and their beautiful kids, who are anxious and worried about food and fuel supplies to run generators. For all the kids that I’ve held and kissed and played with at Real Hope For Haiti and Heartline. For my Compassion kid, Wonsli, his grandmother, and all ther kids in his project. The list goes on…faces I’ve memorized…names I’ve learned. Real people, because I’ve been there. Not just images or footage this time.
The impact of the Haiti earthquake is so deep because Aaron has deep connections to Haiti. Personally I don’t have deep connections, but I do have connections. My church has a 20-year partnership with Haiti. My grandparents have friends who started a ministry in Haiti. We’ve bought goats in Hait as Christmas presents for our grandparents (goats for the people in Haiti, not goats for our grandparents—though that’d be kind of cool). I have a friend who traveled to Haiti with his entire family on a missions trip. Another friend has family who are adopting from Haiti. And I know several nonprofits like Compassion International and charity: water that do good work in Haiti. I mentioned a Twitter comment before asking why it takes an earthquake for people to respond to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and I responded that many of us cared about Haiti and acted long before the earthquake.
These connections make my heart break for Haiti. The city of Leogane matters to me because I’ve supported people who live there. These connections made me launch Color4aCause in order to do something. I didn’t have those connections for the Southeast Asia tsunami. It was a big deal, but I lacked that personal connection.
It’s kind of sad that we need a personal connection to care so deeply, but there it is.
And that made me realize something—we need more personal connections. We need to be involved in more places—giving of our money, our time, our compassion—connecting us in a deep way to people all over the globe. Why? So that the next time there is an unspeakable tragedy we won’t be able to turn away. We’ll remember that we have missionary friends in Sudan, or friends working in Turkey, or several friends who served in Pakistan, or a child we sponsor in Guatemala, or we know a child adopted from Korea, or we helped build a well in Liberia, or we gave a micro-loan to someone in Bangladesh, or we support a nonprofit in Mexico, or we’ve traveled to El Salvador, or however you want to get connected.
Of course we can’t be connected to the whole world. But what if every one of your friends had a deep connection to one country, like Aaron Ivey has to Haiti? If that country were suddenly in trouble, your friend would care deeply, and if you’re any kind of friend you would, too. Call it compassion by connection (or six degrees of Kevin Bacon?). I wish we could be compassionate without a connection, but it seems like we need some kind of slim connection to really care, to really act. Otherwise it’s too easy to look away.
And we can’t look away.