So you want to help Japan

The thoughts and prayers of many are on the terrible situation in Japan, following its devastating earthquake and tsunami.

In addition to praying, a few people might be wondering about making airline reservations - thinking that they should go there to help people caught in that terrible tragedy.

For them, I have only two words: Don't go.

It doesn't matter how skilled you are with a hammer or power tools. The fact of that matter is this: The last thing a country with millions of homeless people needs is more homeless people - especially homeless people who don't speak the language, don't know the customs and who are totally reliant on locals for food, transportation and everything else.

The Japanese have enough problems and challenges with the needs of people in their own nation; they don't need the additional burden of babysitting a bunch of well-meaning foreigners.

So what can you do if you want to help? As with 2004's Southeast Asian tsunami, and last year's Haitian earthquake, the best way to help people in Japan is to send cash. Cash is the gift that aid agencies desire above all else. It's the most versatile and flexible - it can be turned into anything that people need.

Since Japan is a highly developed country, it is unlikely to need much in the way of blankets, clothing and other material aid from foreign countries. And even if that ends up being the case, cash donations will allow groups to buy materials in Japan, or in nearby countries, thereby stimulating local economies and helping businesses that may be suffering as a result of the disaster.

As for where to give donations, that's an interesting question this time around. It is usual, when a disaster strikes, to warn people to be careful who they give to - disasters have a way of attracting unscrupulous groups that want to be where the money is going.

But the situation in Japan is unusual. Not only is Japan is one of the richest countries in the world, it has been among the top providers of foreign aid - the Japanese are more accustomed to giving assistance, not receiving it.

Since aid organizations mainly respond to disasters in the developing world, and since Japan has not needed assistance on this scale before, few international aid groups, if any, are involved in charitable work in that country. For many, this will be a different kind of response; requiring them to find new partners.

Church-related aid groups that have announced plans to respond to the needs in Japan include World Vision, Adventist Relief and Development, Canadian Baptist Ministries, Canadian Lutheran World Relief, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, Emergency Relief and Development Overseas, Mennonite Central Committee Canada, Nazarene Compassionate Ministries, Presbyterian World Service and Development, Primate's World Relief and Development Fund and the United Church of Canada.

Our thoughts and prayers are on Japan today. At the same time, it's important for Canadians not to forget the many other needs around the world. The disaster in Japan is almost beyond imagination or comprehension. But we still need to remember that the Japanese are better off than most countries when it comes to responding to an emergency of this magnitude.

The same can't be said for countries like Haiti and Pakistan, the latter of which experienced terrible flooding last year. These two countries, and others like them, continue to struggle for assistance and attention - millions of people around the world continue to need help, long after the media glare has subsided.

So, yes, please give to help Japan. But also give to help people caught in other disasters around the world.

Dear Readers:

ChristianWeek relies on your generous support. please take a minute and donate to help give voice to stories that inform, encourage and inspire.

Donations of $20 or more will receive a charitable receipt.
Thank you, from Christianweek.

About the author

John Longhurst is faith page columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press. He blogs at On Faith Canada and Making the News Canada