Sunday, January 24, 2010


Haiti or Bust

For a while I have felt that I should go on a "missions trip" with my church, which (if you don't know) means that a church will send people to a foreign country for some humanitarian project, but which also serves to spread the gospel. So an obvious thing would be to go build a physical church building in a poor country, but my own church has also sent people to help with shelters for girls in Moldova, to work with families that literally live in a huge garbage dump in Nicaragua, and so forth.

Soon after I attended an informational meeting at my church on this year's missions, the earthquake hit Haiti. Ever since, I have strongly felt that I am supposed to go to Haiti to help there. At first this struck me as insane, but I decided that if I'm going to Haiti, I'd rather travel by airplane than inside a whale.

I have discussed the matter with my wife and she is OK with it, so now the next step is for me to register with some type of agency. I did a little research and right now the situation is still so volatile that only professional emergency responders are going there. But various relief agencies are taking information from interested "average" people so that when the time is appropriate, they will be contacted about getting to Haiti to help.

So, does anyone have any personal experience with a Christian organization with which I could register? Obviously I want to make sure I am dealing with reputable people before buying a ticket to Haiti. And as far as the Christian preference, it's not that I want to proselytize the Haitians. It's just that I would personally feel a lot more comfortable taking orders from a private person who is serving God, rather than a staffer at a more bureaucratic organization who is technically taking orders from George Bush.

Libertarianism can be boiled down to "I got mine, screw you."

That sounds awesome. I hope you'll be blogging about it. Best of luck.


Is that what you got out of Bob's post? I must have missed that part.
Why not use competitive advantage to more efficiently effect rebuilding by not going to Haiti personally?

Because the most proud and memorable moments of your life are often those times when you simply acted. We don't always need to burden ourselves with calculations that we can not practically perform.
Earning via competitive advantage and paying someone else to do more physical work than you yourself could do is entirely practical. Creating a memorable moment makes sense, but that's not very charitable. I'm not sure why abrogating core economic principles should be a proud moment -- if we're proud to "simply act" then we should support the Hopenchangers' decision to "simply act" and elect Barack Obama, right?

As a specific, practical counter suggestion, why not do some extra consulting work and pay for 2 or 3 out-of-work recent college graduates to rebuild more houses?

Because I am pretty sure that God wants me to go. I didn't want to at first when the idea occurred to me. In fact I very reluctantly sent an email to one of the groups, and I was relieved when he wrote back to say, "We're not sending anyone right now, it's too dangerous."
It would be Obama you'd be technically taking orders from if working for a government bureaucracy, not Bush.

I found out that they changed presidents the last time I did a "George W Bush is NOT MY PRESIDENT" troll.


But seriously, it's great of you for doing this. I don't have any recommendations, just please, stay safe. I know a few people in Waco who went with a team from Antioch Community Church (part of Antioch Ministries International).

(Captcha: dotan ... come on, that's just wrong. A national disaster is a tropical country is not the time to think about your tan.)
The only two organizations I know enough about to recommend (WorldVision and Evangelical Friends Disaster Service) don't actually send volunteers overseas... So, I actually can't be of much help there. Do you have any groups in mind?
Try Interfaith Ministries in Wichita, KS. Wonderful folks with many Haiti-trip veterans.
I know several people who have volunteered through Nazarene Compassionate Ministries and had a positive experience.
Episcopal Relief and Development has an excellent reputation.

May God watch over you when you go.
Episcopal Relief Agency has an excellent reputation.

May God bless you on your journey.
Bob, if you get to the point of seriously planning to go to Haiti, please let me know. I propose that if you instead donate cash in the amount equal to your expenses and foregone opportunities while in Haiti, I will add $300 to the donation. I know it's probably not enough to make a big difference in your decision. But, if you're on the fence, perhaps consider this a bump from God in the other direction :)

Will anyone else make a similar offer to keep Bob focused on improving our country's understanding of economics?
BJP wrote:

I propose that if you instead donate cash in the amount equal to your expenses and foregone opportunities while in Haiti, I will add $300 to the donation.

Since I'm thinking I'll be gone for a week, and I normally work the equivalent of 5 days a week, how about you pay me $60 the next time I feel like watching movies all day?
No dice - in my scenario, I'm paying for you to produce more of the stuff I like - your economics writings; in your scenario, I'm paying for you to not produce stuff I like.

I *would* agree to donate $60 for every Bob-Haiti-day-equivalent of cash that you donate (up to $300), as long as you give me your word that you weren't going to make that donation before I mentioned any of this.

Not sure if you understood what I was saying. I was joking of course, but what I meant was, the next time I feel like blowing off work and just watching movies all day, you send me $60 and instead I work.
Yep :) But of course that's less of a value proposition.

But I'm entirely serious on the Haiti trip or any marginal Haiti donations :)
Bob, you've obviously got the best of intentions. But I think going to Haiti would not be that helpful for Haitians. Consider Alanna Shaikh's comments, on Bill Easterly's Aid Watch blog:

Don’t go to Haiti. It’s close to the US, it’s a disaster area, and we all want to help. However, it’s dangerous right now and they don’t need “extra hands”. The people who are currently useful are people with training in medicine and emergency response. If all you can contribute is unskilled labor, stay home. There is no shortage of unskilled labor in Haiti, and Haitians will be a lot more committed than you are to the rebuilding process.

Unless you have specific skills that are in shortage there (your obvious economic abilities notwithstanding), I think you would not be very helpful to the situation in Haiti. The money you would earn domestically in that week would be far more effective, provided you gave it to a well-organized group with an established track record in Haiti.

Thanks for the quote; that was interesting. But I had planned on teaching the Haitians how to solve a constrained optimization problem. Surely they need to act efficiently now more than ever!

But seriously I am not just hopping on a plane. I am waiting to hear back from various organizations (some mentioned above) to see if they need people to go. Obviously I want to actually fit in with a group that is doing something useful.

As I keep stressing, this wasn't my idea. For those of you who are atheists, well, you'll just have to chalk it up to the "voices Bob is hearing" and give me a pass because I'm insane. For people who believe in God, well, you understand why it's pointless to argue with me.
Fair enough. If the voices say to go, who am I to dissuade you? Though I would caution that lots of people have believed they had similar justification for some pretty dreadful ideas.

Just make sure you're careful, and plan well enough (as you seem to be doing) so that you don't end up hindering the workers who are already there.

And let us faithful readers know what we can do to help you.
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