My wife and I have tried to talk to our 3 year old about Haiti since the earthquake. She brings it up sometimes, when she hears anything about a broken house or kids who need help (or any word that rhymes with Haiti). When we first talked about it, the main thing she took away was “I don’t want Earthquake to come to my house.” We’ve tried to explain that an earthquake is not, as she imagines, a person resembling Ursula from the Little Mermaid story, but just something that happens, like rain. Maybe she gets that now, I don’t know. Anyway, we were hoping that the main thing she got out of it was that we need to help people who are having a hard time–e.g., the people there need money, so we should give them money. But I think another thing that came out of our talking about what happened was that she understood the importance of building houses well. Let me explain.
David Brooks wrote a very helpful op-ed piece in the NY Times right after the earthquake; his point was that the tragedy wasn’t a natural disaster as much as it was a poverty disaster. The problem wasn’t just the earthquake (the same scale earthquake hit San Fransisco in 1989 with only 63 deaths); the problem is poverty–bad construction, infrastructure, and services. I’ve tried to explain this to my daughter, that it wasn’t the earthquake that was so terrible but the poverty.
And she related this to the story in Matthew 7, where there are two guys building houses. One guy builds on sand and the other on rock. After a rain storm, the first guy’s house is ruined. At home, we have a good picture book with this story in it, and you see how sad the guy looks. And P’s always like, “He’s so sad.”
So when we talked about Haiti, she said, “Did they build their houses on sand?” And I said, “Yeah, pretty much.” I didn’t know what else to say.
That story in Matthew 7 definitely is a call for decision: which person are you going to be. But it can also be a call to reach out to people who are building “on sand.” That can be people who are rich but aren’t rich to God, and it can be people who are poor and are poor to God.
I talked to our elementary students about this last month at a Sunday service. I told them about San Fransisco and asked why the earthquake was so much worse in Haiti. They hit it, poverty. And we talked about Haiti’s root problems, beyond the really important needs of food and shelter and medical care. And how those problems–the fear-based religion, the hopelessness, the habits of oppression–are uniquely met by Jesus, and by us as we carry the gospel to people. There are things that only we, as people with the Holy Spirit and the gospel, can give.
I know it’s been a month since the earthquake, but it’s still in the news and relief efforts are still and will be ongoing for some time. And maybe the Illinois earthquake this morning has your kids talking about Haiti again. So if it comes up, maybe it’s a chance to talk to your kids about poverty and the spiritual strongholds within poverty–and about what the gospel can do.
Maybe you’ll end up talking about what people with the gospel have tried to do and how it’s worked (for example, William Wilburforce’s legacy) . . . or how it really hasn’t worked (for example, those missionaries in Haiti under kidnapping charges or the poverty that’s still rampant in black America). Maybe you’ll end up talking about how the world is so changeable . . . or how things don’t seem to change. Maybe the kids will feel like giving both lament and praise to God. And I guess that’s part of maturing. But I hope that our kids are learning that the gospel is powerful and that, with the gospel, they are part of something serious and exciting.