I would never tell my good friend Dr. Mark Elrod of Harding University (Hail!) to go to hell. He’s too nice a guy for that, plus he has this “condition”–an enlarged heart. Not the type that would cause you to keel over in the middle of a pick-up basketball game, but the kind that bleeds heavily when people are suffering. It’s a malady we could all use a little more of these days.
As for Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh, those purveyors of post-quake logorrhera, and the political dude from South Carolina who when speaking about people on public assistance used the analogy of denying animals food so they couldn’t “breed” but now “regrets” saying that even though it brought him much attention and fired up his “evangelical” base–I would wish them all straight to hell in a handbasket.
Or maybe a parachute.
Now before someone gets on here, as sometimes happens on this blog, and yells “ALL ABOARD THE TRAIN TO CRAZYTOWN!, allow me to explain. Mark, you see, has already been to hell and back. In fact, he returned from there to Searcy, Arkansas this past Monday, changed for life but still in one piece. He surprised all of us last week by suddenly announcing that he was going to Haiti (which I think we could all agree is as close to hell on earth as one could possibly get at the moment) as a representative of Harding to scope out possible ways that the University community to assist that tragedy-torn country and her people as quickly as possible.
Philip Holsinger, Harding alum, photojournalist and missionary who has spent considerable time in Haiti prevailed upon Mark to go, and with that “condition” of his, of course Mark said “Send me!” Andrew Baker, head of the Church and Family Institute at Harding, was a key figure in arranging the trip, and other “higher ups” approved it. Now it’s no secret that a few of those Harding “higher ups” don’t care a great deal for Mark’s personal politics. I know this may come as surprise to those of you who may have been off mining lunar rocks, but that kind of thing happens in many circles these days.
But the powers that be nonetheless figured correctly that Mark was the perfect person to represent the University on the trip. They were willing to put past differences behind them and sign off on this anyway because it was the right thing to do. We need a little more of that kind of “bipartisan” spirit these days.
Kudos, Harding. That’s the kind of pure, unadulterated religion that might shake a little contribution money out of me this year.
Once there, Mark and Philip experienced enough heart-rending pain and tragedy to last ten thousand lifetimes. They traveled around and made numerous contacts while surveying the damage. What they noticed immediately was that with many homes and building destroyed, countless Haitians are living in makeshift “tent cities,” fashioning shelters out of whatever bits and pieces of tarp, cloth, sticks and rope that can find. Since they’re likely to be outdoors for some time to come, meager accommodations like that will be unsuitable for the long haul, especially when the rains come.
After camping beneath the stars themselves, Mark and Philip knew what needed to be done; Tents and Tarps, a Harding University student body-sponsored drive to send 4500 tents and tarps to Haiti by February 1st, one for each undergraduate member of the student body, was born. To date, Harding students have raised over $17,500 which much more on the way. If you live near Searcy and have a tent to contribute, you can contact the Institute for Church & Family at 501-279-4660.
If you’re like me and you don’t own a tent and your idea of camping is “roughing it” at a Motel 6, then you can now donate online at the Tents and Tarps website. A contribution of $50 will house one Haitian family.
This fledgling effort is an ambitious project, and it’s going to take a lot of coordination with contacts who have an intimate knowledge of the culture and lay of the land to meet its goal. But, as it turns out, Providence may already be at work. Since it’s Mark’s story and he tells it better than I ever could, I’ll let him fill you in:
“Philip and I missed our connection to Dallas in San Juan on Sunday and had to fly to Philadelphia for the night, where we ended up sleeping on the floor of the airport. Compared to some of the other places I slept last week, that wasn’t too bad.
On our way through security, we met Pat, a woman from Belgium who works for a travel agency in Delaware.
When she told me where she lived, my jaw hit the ground — I don’t run into people from Delaware very often, particularly in the San Juan airport. As it turns out, Pat lives about a mile from my parent’s house (near the WaWa on Rt. 13).
We then learned that Pat had spent the night at the Good Samaritan Clinic at Jimani on the DR border on Friday and that we probably slept about 25 feet from each other on the roof of the clinic. She also accused me of being the one who was doing all of the snoring that prevented people from hearing the aftershocks.
Pat had gone to Haiti to check on some friends after the earthquake and to deliver medical supplies and she did all of this on her own. She speaks both French and Creole and has a lot of contacts in Haiti that can help us get the tents delivered.
This morning, she gave Philip a free ticket to Haiti and it looks like they’ll be working together in Port-au-Prince to get Harding’s tents and tarps delivered.
The only thing that brought us together was missing a flight in San Juan.
I experienced too many other “coincidences” like this one to believe that the hand of God was not moving Philip and me in a direction that is eventually going to cause good things to happen in Haiti.”
Eureka! Amid millions of pieces of rubble, a small shiny nugget of Grace to serve as a foundation for rebuilding a country. That incident alone may not solve the problem of theodicy and “why bad things happen to good people” once and for all, but it seems to me to be a compelling sign that God actually does give a rip.
Back to Robertson, Limbaugh and the political dude from South Carolina and my wish that they would go straight to hell. Of course, I’m not proposing that we get all medieval and send them off to a place of everlasting, conscious torment. I don’t care much for torture, and I think there are some compelling reasons to believe that a place like that might not even exist. Besides, none of us are the sum total of our worst moments.
I’m talking about the kind of hell that could burn off the dross, refine, and actually do some good. Like getting them out from behind the cameras and microphones, putting them in some work clothes and dropping them into Haiti, and once there, giving them a tiny shovel and telling them, “Welcome to the real world. Now get to work.”
The odds are very good that once they have looked into the eyes of the suffering and seen the Imago Dei, that they would be less inclined to treat them like inanimate objects on which to score theological and political points. They might also come to realize that there are various levels of hell in their own neighborhood, or at the very least just across town.
You know, come to think of it, I bet there are some fine members of the 82nd Airborne Division who might be able to assist in the transfer.