In the midst of the debris and despair, believers are rising to the challenge to rebuild Haiti for Christ.
The mid-morning sun beat down on the van as we inched along in a typical traffic jam in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I was with six coworkers from Regular Baptist Ministries on a weeklong missions trip to the poorest, least developed nation in the Western Hemisphere. We were under the leadership of Chris Hindal, director of GARBC International Ministries. While street vendors tried to sell their wares from beneath large umbrellas or tarps propped up by sticks, a mass of Haitians walked in the market area carrying baskets, crates of eggs, even old mattresses balanced on their heads. Behind them, half-destroyed concrete buildings and piles of rubble and debris were a constant reminder of the 7.0 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people on Jan. 12. The poverty was palpable. As our van passed a long stretch of trash, Jason LaBombard, webmaster and designer for RBP, pointed to a little boy by the side of the road. I looked back to see the boy scooping water into a bucket from a sewer drainage channel.
Progress and hope have eluded this island nation, crippled not only by natural disasters but by a perpetually corrupt political and economic climate (Haiti ranked 177th out of 179 countries in corruption, according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index in 2007). Dozens of temporary tent cities still hold more than a million displaced Haitians who have little hope of finding work and permanent places to live. The two main religions—Vodou and Roman Catholicism—continue to oppress their followers with false spiritual hopes.
It would seem that God has abandoned Haiti. But that’s not the attitude of the pastors and believers we met there. During our time in several churches and orphanages, we discovered that true hope is alive in the Body of Christ. The Christians believe God has begun a great work that will one day result in the rebuilding of the nation for His glory. The earthquake has awakened many to their need for God. First-time decisions for Christ are occurring every week in the churches. It will take time and assistance from the larger Body of Christ, but by God’s grace, the light of the knowledge of the glory of God is beginning to penetrate the darkness of Haiti.
Caring for the Churches
Upon our arrival we were welcomed by Prédestin Hérard, who is hope personified. Always smiling, he is a full-time pastor and president of the Association des Énglises Evangeliques Baptistes d’ Haiti, an association of 28 Baptist churches in Port-au-Prince. He also oversees three orphanages and a Bible institute, translates all of the Bible institute’s English curriculum, and is a husband and the father of two young daughters. He planned the itinerary for our group and coordinated transportation, drivers, cooks, and translators.
As a result, our team ministered to about 200 children in three boys’ and girls’ orphanages, delivered donations of shoes and supplies, conducted ladies’ Bible studies, distributed tracts in two large tent camps, toured a large Christian mission, visited the only fundamental Bible institute in Haiti, and saw some of the Baptist churches that had been damaged or destroyed by the earthquake.
Eighteen churches along with 10 pastors’ homes were affected by the quake, which will take time, money, and construction expertise to rebuild. Chris Hindal has rented a guesthouse for church groups and building crews to use when in Haiti. One prayer request is for a couple, preferably with construction experience, to live in the house as hosts and oversee the rebuilding of the churches.
To help the churches become self-supporting, Prédestin and the pastors are working with Frank Gainer of MacroMicro Enterprise Development (MMED) to develop church business plans. The generated income will allow the churches to pay expenses, such as pastors’ salaries. One business idea is to purchase a van that can be rented to groups for day trips, but the plan hinges on donated seed money.
Meanwhile, Jim Bearss of On Target Ministry in Des Moines, Iowa, is providing Bible training for 20 national pastors at a time, following the model of 2 Timothy 2:2 (teaching faithful men so they can teach others). Bearss raises the funds (about $800 provides a year of seminary-level training for one pastor) so faithful men can attend the Bible institute.
Caring for the Children
Children are plentiful in Haiti (half the population of Haiti is under age 15), but food and nurturing are not. So Prédestin currently oversees about 200 children in three Christian orphanages with funds provided by Wordsower International. Its founder, Jason Nightingale, says 12 more boys were dropped off just after we left by desperate parents who could no longer care for them. “We don’t turn any away,” says Nightingale. The goal is to feed, educate, and raise these children to maturity in Christ so they can be sent back into Haitian culture to rebuild the nation for Christ. To that end, Nightingale is raising funds to rent homes and provide school uniforms and shoes for each child. He also is purchasing property on a mountaintop to build a facility, school, and chapel for 500 children. His vision is to repeat that model 10 times in Haiti.
For now the children are in rented homes scattered throughout the city. Nightingale’s son and daughter-in-law, Josh and Elisha, recently moved into the girls’ home with their nine-year-old daughter, Jaden, to act as houseparents to the more than 60 girls, ages 1 to 19. They have several paid staff on site, including an older lady who comes to lead morning and evening devotions, but the children keep them busy. “We clean, cook, take care of babies, manage the property, everything,” Josh says.
Lessons from Haiti
What did we learn from the Haitian believers? Editor Jennie Bensen was impressed by their generosity, faith, strength, and patience in the face of adversity. “Instead of becoming angry with God, they meet more often together, some every night, for prayer and singing,” she says, adding that one group told her they sing for an hour and a half every night.
Case in point: When we arrived late (another traffic jam) to a ladies’ Bible study at Eglise de Dieu Maison de Refuge, three dozen women had been singing Creole hymns while they patiently waited. The ladies were eager to listen as editor Jonita Barram taught several Bible lessons through the help of an interpreter. “Continue,” they said as each lesson concluded. Before we left, they all prayed for us simultaneously. And we promised to remember to pray for them.
We also learned that we could trust the Lord, who had “many people in this city” to help us (Acts 18:10). The steep, rocky hills and narrow, rutted roads of Port-au-Prince are tough on vehicles. On our last night in Haiti, our trusty van was not working, so Prédestin divided our group into two borrowed vehicles to attend a prayer service at his mountainside church. The car I was in, along with Prédestin, Chris, Seth Olson, and Jason kept stalling, however. After hammering under the hood no longer worked, our driver attempted to start it by rolling backward downhill and “popping the clutch.” Instead, we backed into another moving car. We sat stalled in heavy, sluggish traffic surrounded by honking horns and yelling, but Pastor Prédestin never got flustered. “No problem,” he said with a grin as he came back to our car after a long time of negotiating payment with the other driver. Eventually a friend of Prédestin’s showed up in another vehicle—a fully armed police truck, actually—to deliver us to the service already in progress.
Jason reflected on the experience. “A Western, affluent mind-set could easily take issue with the brokenness of Haiti’s infrastructure,” he says. “But the Lord opened my eyes to the strength of community and the beauty of the Bride in Haiti. Time and time again, the network of believers and not-yet-believers alike who were connected to Pastor Prédestin responded immediately and selflessly. And I was the beneficiary of their care.”
We walked inside the small church to the sound of Creole hymns being sung a cappella. A single oil lamp flickered in front, illuminating a Bible on a table and silhouetting the Haitian saints who stood in several wooden pews. While waiting for us, they had been singing, praying, and hearing testimonies from the rest of our group. “Amen” and “Merci, Jezi” (Thank You, Jesus) flowed freely from the lips of the believers as Chris Hindal greeted the believers and encouraged them.
Jon Norris, RBP marketing project coordinator, wrote about it in his journal. “Surrounded by such a fervent cloud of witnesses, God’s presence became so clear. These fellow believers are shining lights in the dark country of Haiti!”
One of those shining lights is Sony, a Sunday School teacher in Prédestin’s church who gave his testimony while driving us back to the guesthouse that night. “The Christian life—not easy. Very difficult,” Sony told us. Desktop production artist Seth Olson was struck by Sony’s acute understanding of difficulty in a land where daily life is a struggle but where Christ says to press on.
“So often as Christians, we try to find the easy way out,” Seth says, “but that is not always what’s best for us. God allows trials to come into believers’ lives in order to strengthen their walk with the Lord.” This is certainly the case in Haiti.
The church in Haiti is pressing forward and has not fallen into fatalism. We can learn from the Haitian believers’ simple devotion to God and belief in His power to transform lives and nations. They know that despite great hurdles, Christ is still on the throne and He is the true hope of Haiti.
What You Can Do
Pray regularly for the people, church leaders, and ministries working in Haiti to bear lasting fruit; for those who lost loved ones to be comforted and helped; for election of honest government leaders.
Give a monetary gift to GARBC International Ministries to help with church rebuilding and orphanage needs. Take a church offering. Send it to GARBC, 1300 N. Meacham Road, Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.
Send a team. Especially needed are individuals with building experience who can act as foremen in the construction work. The guesthouse is equipped to handle up to 20 people. Contact www.garbcinternational.org or contact Chris Hindal at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Linda Piepenbrink (MA, Biblical counseling, Maranatha Baptist Graduate School of Theology) is editor of Middler children’s curriculum at Regular Baptist Press. Prior to joining RBP in 2007, Linda worked on Clubhouse, Clubhouse Jr., Virtue, and Today’s Christian Woman magazines and at the Milwaukee Journal. Jason LaBombard (photos) is a web designer for Regular Baptist Press.