Best Intentions

God will bring us through this. -One of the Americans jailed in Haiti

I’ve watched with interest the story of the imprisoned Americans in Haiti. Little by little the story gets clearer and cloudier. In the midst of all the other chaos now we have a prosecution. Those detained claimed that they were “trying to do the right thing,” they wanted most of all to “help the children.” Making it clear that they are not “child traffickers.” It reminds me of the saying that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

We might never know the true intentions of these people. In other words I do believe that they had good intentions, that they wanted to do the “right” thing. So many times we want to do the right thing but go about it the wrong way. Other times we are so convinced of our sincerity that it clouds our decision making process. In this case it was the lack of needed legal documents, but there are so many other examples of people trying to do the right thing in the wrong way, at the wrong time, with the wrong outcome.

For so long Christians have been participants in this kind of naive doing of God’s work. Jesus himself told us to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) So many times the history of the American church in the Caribbean and Latin America has been filled with this kind of mentality. With the intention of doing good, many denominations have done much harm and as I said in my last article have perpetuated the pattern of colonialism in the region.

Meaning well does not mean that one is doing well. If you want to help the children of Haiti, collect money, send health kits, make connections with your denominational relief work or with the many international relief organizations that are doing work there. Make sure that you know the language or have a translator. Make sure that you are following the laws of the land that you are serving.

In the end this kind of issue poses another distraction and stresses the already crumbled system. Now the Haitian government has to keep up with prisoners, find a way to set up some kind of investigation, prosecution and trial. In the meantime the eyes of the world are momentarily lifted from the devastation towards a different, and less important, direction.

Well meaning people can end up victimizing those who have been victimized already. False promises, false hope, false salvation has been at times the essence of the gospel for many who claim the name Christian. They have meant well but have not done the deep reflection on how their actions communicate and illustrate the good news of Jesus Christ. In their desperation many of these people have believed the promises made and have seen these “strangers” as the way out of their desperate situation.

As people of God we have a responsibility to live out our discipleship to the highest standard. When we engage in the work of Jesus in the world we must do our homework, prepare, and connect. We are not alone so we must carefully learn the sociocultural situation of those that we are attempting to help. Good intentions can many times lead to a bad witness of the good news to those who are observing.

We continue to pray for the people of Haiti. We also continue to call our own to accountability in the way that we help. As we continue to hear the call may we remember that the gospel calls us to best action not only to best intention!

This post originally appeared on Day1.org

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