When I, as a parent, hear about a disaster on the scale of what’s happening in Haiti, I immediately think about the kids affected by the largest earthquake recorded in Haiti. My heart goes out to the three-year-old who suddenly doesn’t have a mom or a dad. For reasons he cannot comprehend, one minute his parents were caring for him, the next minute they’re just gone. Now what?
Or the ten-year-old who, having lost her parents, finds herself becoming the parent to her younger siblings out-of-necessity. How does she press on with that incredible responsibility?
In terms of relief, I find myself wondering what’s happening for these newly-orphaned children? With, according to the Red Cross, an estimated 50,000 people dead, there’s bound to be more than a few displaced children.
Those were some of the issues on my mind yesterday while speaking with Rich Stearns, President of World Vision, on the Focus on the Family broadcast. I knew Rich would have a good handle on such questions because World Vision sponsors 52,000 children in Haiti alone. However, I wasn’t prepared for what Rich told me:
“Jim, we’ve heard of stories of children sleeping next to the dead bodies of their parents because they don’t know where to go.”
Children cuddling their parents’ corpse? How does any youngster survive such an emotional shock? It’s bad enough to have to face the chaos within the disaster zone, but to have to face it without the arms of your parents would be a living nightmare.
Thankfully, as Rich explained, “World Vision is particularly on the lookout for such children. One of the first things we do is create these child-friendly centers—often they’re tents—where we bring children in who have been traumatized. We try to comfort and counsel them. We try to provide some play activities. We try to protect them from other dangers in a situation like this, and then ultimately we try to reunite them with family members—whether it’s a mother or father or an aunt or uncle.”
Clearly, organizations such as World Vision, Compassion, Samaritan’s Purse and Mercy Ships are providing a tremendous service for children and families alike. They are worthy of our prayers and financial support.
That said, as bleak as the crisis is, I believe it’s important for us to address the situation with our kids. This is an especially teachable season when their hearts and prayers can be “others oriented.” If they ask questions on their own, don’t brush them off too quickly. Allow the moment to simmer. God may be doing something deep within their spirit that will set them up for a lifetime of Christian service.
Of course, as a father of a 7 and a 9-year-old son, I struggle to know just how much of the graphic information I should share with them. Should I show them pictures of the long lines of wounded waiting for medical attention? What about the widespread looting, toppled buildings, crushed cars, and crumpled streets? That’s a question I asked Dr. Juli Slattery during yesterday’s broadcast. In short, she believes there’s a delicate balance between engaging the younger children during this teachable moment while maintaining the sense of safety as they examine such horrific happenings in Haiti.
For older kids, Dr. Slattery cautions that you may find a degree of indifference to “yet another catastrophe.” She recommends drawing them in by making an emotional connection; you know, ask “What if your best friend were trapped beneath the rubble? What if you didn’t know whether she was alive or dead? What could you do to help?”
Beyond making that connection to the heart of God, I think we can also remind our children that the Bible teaches, “faith without works is dead.” Indeed, this is the perfect time to put our love and faith into action. While you and I may not be able to physically fly to Haiti to lend a hand, we can pray. We can pray often. And we can provide financial support to those who are on the front lines caring for our hurting Haitian brothers and sisters.
As the old saying goes: If not now, when?
If not me, who?
If you missed yesterday’s Providing Hope to the People of Haiti broadcast, click here.