If your family is like ours in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, questions begin to surface: What can I do? What can my family do to make a difference?

In any emergency or catastrophic event, every informed family takes up one of three roles—intentionally or not. So the first thing we must determine is, what are the roles, and which one will our family assume? And more importantly, how does the role we engage relate to our family's purpose in this world?

Bystanders. Bystanders are those who are aware that something tragic has happened, but they are ill equipped, disinterested, or unable to help. Perhaps they live too far away, or they don't have the resources, skills, or opportunities to help out. Or maybe like many in Haiti, their own troubles are so crushing they can't take on one more heartache in this world. Whatever the case, bystanders see the problem but don't get involved.

Victims. The victims are those who have suffered loss, injury, or even death. In Haiti so far, over 150,000 people have been buried with an estimated 50,000 still unaccounted for. Can you imagine how many families—moms, dads, children, siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents—have been affected? The survivors are left questioning so many things. Why did this happen? Who will help me? What do I do next? Where do I turn with my grief? Why am I still alive?

Obviously, with the Haiti event, this is not the role in which most of us find our families. But we have certainly had such situations in our own country in the recent past with hurricanes and other natural disasters. If you think about it, families may not have a choice about being victims of circumstance (feeling the effects of tragedy, loss, and suffering), but every family certainly has a choice about allowing their circumstances to victimize them. As an example, I have seen many individuals and families who experience tragedy rising above their circumstances to help others. Which leads to our final role.

Rescue workers. These are the individuals who tirelessly put aside their comforts, sometimes risking their very lives, in order to help save others. They might be getting involved from a distance, giving what they have or getting others involved with them to aid the rescue process. Or they might be those on the front lines, handing out food, offering a shoulder to cry on, bringing chaos into order, or digging through rubble to find as many survivors as possible. And after the dust settles, these same kinds of people are there to lend a hand to rebuild lives. In stories of loss and grief, this category of people are always regarded as the heroes. They are the ones who bring hope and help save lives.

Haiti is just one instance in a world both near and far of major hurts, loss, and anguish. In fact, it's only a part of the greatest tragedy of all—a world full of people who are lost and suffering without Jesus. People are dying every day who don't know Jesus, and almost as bad, people are living every day who don't know Jesus. I can't imagine struggling through the hardships, losses, disappointments, and sorrows of this world without the comfort and peace of knowing Jesus and His love. Without Jesus, there is no true hope, no lasting peace, and no chance at inner abundant life.

This reality in most of the world around us—as well as the world at large—raises some questions: What is my family here for? As believers, is parenting a more significant and eternity-impacting role than I've given it credit for? Am I satisfied with happy, well-adjusted, even ambitious kids who happen to love God, or is there something more?

The Invitation