Food shortages are ravaging Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. One [eighth] of Haitian children die before their fifth birthday; and life expectancy in the country is only 50 years. Last month, riots over food prices had to be put down with tear gas, as people demanded their president’s withdrawal. In turn, Haitian President Renè Prèval, in a radio address on April 9, acknowledged the suffering of the people due to skyrocketing food prices. But he ominously warned that the police could no longer tolerate violence and chaos.
The anger on the streets might be put in perspective when you consider that the men and women of Haiti have actually become so hungry they have turned to eating cakes made out of dirt. Do a simple Internet search on the subject, and you will see a number of videos of Haitians using salt, water, butter, lemon, and clay to make mud cakes. These thin discs are then left to dry in the sun.
In an interview with National Public Radio, Louisiana Shary, a vendor in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, explained: “My children are hungry; things are too expensive. I can’t give them food even if I sell all my merchandise. With the profits I get, I can’t feed them . . . It’s too little.”
I’m not sure how you react, hearing news like this. For me, it is often too easy just to shut it off. We have heard countless stories of hunger and famine around the world. It is too easy to think, “What a shame!” and then flip the station or channel.
That is why, when I heard about some prisoners in upstate New York and how they responded to this crisis, it really caused me to do a double-take.
When a prisoner in Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility read an article titled “Hungry Haitians Eat Dirt to Survive” in the New Readers Press, he did not shrug his shoulders and say, “It’s not my problem.” Instead, he rallied his fellow inmates, who contributed $157 to a charity, Hope for Haiti, to help feed the starving. Since prisoners earn between 12 and 25 cents an hour (if they are lucky enough to have a job), this is an enormous sum.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we saw the same thing with the inmates in the Prison Fellowship InnerChange Freedom Initiative® prison in Texas. And it was not a one-time thing. Every time I visit that prison and worship with the inmates, I see them walk forward and drop their contributions in the offering basket: from candy bars, to cans of sausage, to toiletries-things the inmates bought in the commissary for their own use, and instead are being given to the homeless in Houston.
You may recall that when a food shortage came in the days of the prophet Elijah, he went to the home of a widow. By faith, the widow, who was facing starvation with her son, fed Elijah from what little flour and oil she had left. Or, remember Jesus’ story about the widow’s mite.
The Bible tells us these stories because the generosity of the disadvantaged, the marginalized, the have-nots, convicts us of our own lack of it. Sure, these are tough times-great economic anxiety, high gas prices. But that is the time when Christians do their best witness. We are not consumed with ourselves. We want to help others who are in worse conditions.
Thank God for those prisoners who show us the way.