Posted by: Andrea Mullins | 15 January, 2010

Engaging Poverty Before and After Disaster Strikes

Photo courtesy: NY Daily News

We sit before our TVs overwhelmed by the extent of the need in Haiti, struggling with our desire to help and knowing that for the most part we can only give aid from a distance, and even then, wonder how the aid will reach those who need it so desperately.

Because of this, I’ve asked two New Hope authors to help us understand the situation in Haiti and how we can help.

Meet Mark Russell, author of The Missional Entrepreneur: Principles and Practices for Business as Mission. He speaks from first hand knowledge of human need and how we can intersect with hope.

Helping in Haiti by Mark Russell

Haiti is a hurting and challenging country. For years, it is has been beat down to the point of devastation through corruption, inept management, slash and burn agricultural techniques that have obliterated its national forests and wasted its natural resources.

The lack of infrastructure in the country has left it vulnerable in many unfortunate ways, particularly open to human suffering and pain. On January 10, 2010 a 6.5 magnitude earthquake rocked Northern California. There was damage but no deaths. On January 12, 2010 a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti. As soon as I heard the news, I knew this would be serious. Initial news reports cited hundreds of deaths. But based on my experiences in Haiti I wondered if the number would not grow into the tens of thousands. Within a day it became clear that we are looking at a truly enormous catastrophe.

Last year I traveled to Haiti on a mission to find and empower entrepreneurs to build an economic system in Haiti from the ground up and lead to long-term change and stability in Haiti. While I was there I could not help but notice that even in the metropolitan areas, buildings were in obviously poor condition.

I interviewed entrepreneurs in a coastal village and met, Liza, the shining village star who had built up a desalination business. Everyone admired her and she told me about how she supported her husband and three teenage children from the profits of her business. A quick back of the napkin calculation showed me that her net profits over the past two years had been $1.60 per day, still well below the universally accepted line of extreme poverty of $2 a day.

This is why an earthquake in California goes by without any serious human suffering, something of an inconvenience, while a slightly stronger one in Haiti is completely devastating leaving the country almost immediately incapable of caring for its victims.

As the world looks at the images that are quickly emerging from Haiti, our hearts will reach out to them. In recent years the church has quite powerfully reached out and helped hurting people after crisis, the Asian Tsunami of 2004 and Hurricane Katrina are recent and poignant examples. This is a part of our church history as well. The early church grew exponentially during plagues in large Roman cities in the second and third century. Christians ministered to the sick and suffering who experiencing their love became followers of our Lord.

In a similar way, the church needs to respond quickly and effectively to minister to the injured, the crippled, the dying and the loved ones of those who have passed on through this recent earthquake.

But we should not cease to remember Haiti when the images have quit pouring in and we have returned to living our normal work a day lives. Without building up a robust economy in the shambles of this earthquake, Haiti will remain vulnerable to human suffering.

As soon as the clouds of confusion left by the earthquake have cleared, there lies a golden opportunity for the church, namely to aid in the rebuilding of Haiti through just and principled business development. This is without a doubt what Haiti needs for the long-term. And this is why I believe business can serve a unique purpose in God’s and the Church’s mission to a broken world.

There are two avenues through which the rebuilding of Haiti can come. The first is through the hard working entrepreneurs, like Liza, who are ready to do whatever it takes to support her family and her community. In the long run, they do not need a hand out but rather a hand up to be empowered to work for the glory of God and the good of their people. A small microloan of $50 can be sufficient to help such an entrepreneur get rebooted. Anyone or group of people can make such a loan through or better yet through a Christ-centered microfinance organization, like HOPE International (

The second avenue for the economic rebuilding of Haiti is through the foreign investment of time and skills. Haiti needs kingdom people to come, live among them and support them in the long-term rebuilding of their country. These kingdom people will need to invest their lives in the lives of the Haitians and be able to help them develop businesses that can serve genuine human needs and create revenue streams for the Haitians to live in a sustainable way.

For years when the Church talked about people moving to another country and living among another group of people for the sake of the Gospel, we referred to these people as missionaries. In fact, we still do. However, 15 years ago when I started working as a missionary, the missionary was viewed as something of the polar opposite of a businessperson.

Today, many have come to realize that a businessperson can be a unique kind of missionary who can bring not only economic assistance but also spiritual transformation.

In our hurting and broken world, we are seeing more clearly how our lives are interrelated and the various spheres of life (economic, social, faith) are also interconnected.

The time has come for the church to reach out to the “least of these” in Haiti, clothing the naked, giving drink to the thirsty, and food to the starving. But in the months that follow, we will need entrepreneurs who like the Apostle Paul will live and work among them, giving them a model to follow:

For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. (2 Thess. 3:7-9)

The Missional Entrepreneur: Principles and Practices for Business as Mission is available on and at all bookstores.

Mark L. Russell, PhD, has gained tremendous international understanding in his time living and working in Russia, Chile, and Germany, and in his extensive travel to more than 70 countries to carry out a variety of business, educational, humanitarian, and religious projects. Mark has been published in more than 50 academic and popular level publications. Mark lives in Boise, Idaho, with his wife, Laurie, and their children, Noah and Anastasia.



  1. Inspiring, practical, applicable, timely content.

  2. Thanks, Mark, for your thoughts. You raise some important and challenging questions as we assess how to best help Haiti rebuild.

    Sadly, foreign investment was just starting to flow into Haiti towards the end of 2009. Tourism was gaining momentum and several big international companies were looking to establish a presence in Haiti. In addition to going and starting businesses ourselves, we need to pray that these companies do not abandon their hopes & plans for opening businesses in Haiti.

  3. Thank you Mark for your perspective. For years Haiti has been called the “Empire of the NGO’s” since a large portion of its economy comes from non-governmental organizations (non-profit charitable agencies). As a result, much of the power of the country is held by the employees of larger multi-national NGOs, and by a few local leaders who have connections with smaller agencies and short-term church mission groups. As well-meaning as these NGOs are, to fuel an economy on charitable activities provides short-term help, but strips people of the empowerment of self-determination. The forces designed to create change actually become obstacles to it.

    Obviously at this point, it is the largest NGO’s that are the most effective at meeting the severe and overwhelming needs. However, at some point in the future, they will need to make sure they are giving over both the power they had before the earthquake, as well as the vastly increased power they’ve gained since the earthquake, to local entrepreneural leaders.

    This requires changing their donation solicitations from showing only devesating poverty and gut-wrenching need, to showing local entrepreneurs gaining independence from donations. It involves creating training and incentive for employees to become independent business owners. It will involve giving up control and power. Only in that way can Haiti rebuild without increased dependency upon others.

    For a while, the relief workers will be the most needed of all. However, at some point, their motto must be, “We will decrease and business builders must increase.”

  4. that is horrible what happened.

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