I have called every Haitian-American pastor of our conference I could reach to talk with them about what they have heard about relatives and friends in Haiti. Most congregations with Haitian-American members report grievous news of deaths, injuries, missing persons, and property damage. The earthquake in Haiti has caused a catastrophe of human suffering.
There is also grief in our church over the deaths of two General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) staff members, the Revs. Sam Dixon and Clint Rabb, who died as a result of being crushed in the collapse of the Montana Hotel in Port-au-Prince. There were staying at the hotel while directing United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) work in Haiti. Truly, we are all in pain because of the grief and suffering of the Haitian people, and we experience what the apostle meant when he said, "If one member suffers, all suffer together with it" in the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:26).
Many people want to ask, "Why?" in a time like this. Some people lose their faith in God when suffering comes, no longer able to believe in divine providence. The question is inevitable if we were to understand God's providence as being a matter of God's will directly causing everything that happens. However, in the heart of the Christian tradition, we do not understand God's relation to the world in this way. God does hold the world, put limits on evil, and guide history toward its final destiny. But, God also grants to the creation freedom. With freedom, events occur which God has not willed. Without freedom, there is no goodness or beauty in the world. In the midst of natural and human freedom, God is at work in the world.
The Christian understanding of divine providence is expressed eloquently by the apostle when he says, "In all things God works for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28, variant translation). Nowhere is God's providence more revealed than in the cross of Jesus Christ, where what should not have happened is used for the accomplishment of the divine purpose. So then, in times of catastrophe, we look with the eyes of faith for what God is doing--pouring the Spirit into the spirits of those who grieve and suffer; inspiring human solidarity in a time of trouble; calling others to pray for and to help those who cannot pray or help themselves; and over time even bringing some good out of terrible suffering.
I think we United Methodists primarily respond to disaster not by trying to give theological answers (although we cannot avoid saying something about our understanding of the ways of divine providence), but by being in mission through prayer and action.
Our conference has provided means for us to be a part of the work of relief and recovery in Haiti by giving us ways to give to UMCOR and to the Methodist Church in Haiti. Thank you for your faith and love expressing itself through your generous gifts.
O living God, you who are an ever present help in trouble, be the strength and hope of all the people in Haiti and their relatives and friends wherever they are on earth. Bless the government officials, soldiers, providers of aid, and missionaries who are present to rescue, serve, and rebuild. Guide us by your Holy Spirit in our response so that we may share in the work of caring for your people; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.