Local Missionary Team Returns from Haiti
Special to The Pulse
BY ANDY RINER –
On December 23, our team of fourteen short-term missionaries boarded American Airlines flight 1665 departing Port Au Prince, Haiti. Lord willing, flight 1665 would re-enter the United States through beautiful, bustling Miami, Florida 2 ½ hours later. Our team was exhausted from a week of almost non-stop work, but the prayers and overwhelming generosity of those who supported us from home allowed us to be well-supplied and energetic while in Haiti. Thanks to faithfulness of many people, we were blessed to visit two orphanages, conduct four Vacation Bible Schools, organize two minor care medical clinics, package hundreds of Christmas gifts, Bibles and articles of clothing, and distribute hundreds of pounds of food. By the estimate provided by JoyHouse Ministries, our team touched approximately 1100 Haitians during our week of mission work.
Adding to our exhaustion, our team had traveled almost four hours by bus through congested, chaotic traffic from Gressier, Haiti to the airport in Port Au Prince. In Port Au Prince, the streets were bustling with vendors selling their goods. Vendors sold bread, meat, vegetables, prepared food, clothing, and other items. Most of the markets in Port Au Prince are open air, and are without running water, waste disposal, or other modern facilities. Many of the buildings surrounding the vendors remain damaged from the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked the city of 3 million people in early 2010. In addition to taking us through open air markets, our journey to the airport gave us a street level view of the most apparent poverty and dire living conditions in the Western Hemisphere.
After our airliner took off, we could observe the dire conditions surrounding Port Au Prince from the air. Rusted tin roofs and tarps topping makeshift wooden structures dotted the geography surrounding Port Au Prince. An aerial view of the brackish water surrounding the beaches on the Gulf of Gonaive bore witness to the effects of excessive runoff from the deforested mountains. Flying to the northwest of Port Au Prince, the mish-mash of wooden, tin topped, tarp covered structures and brackish water gave way to Haiti’s dominant feature, the mountains. Sparsely populated villages peppered the tops of the deforested mountains. To describe the topography in Haiti, one common proverb advises, “dèyè mòn gѐn mòn” which translates in English, “behind mountains are more mountains.”
By contrast, approximately 710 miles away sits Miami, which is one of the more affluent places in the United States and, therefore, the world. High rise hotels and resorts cover miles of beautiful, sandy beaches. Modern department stores, sporting venues, swimming pools, and modern highways with orderly traffic flows dominate the pancake flat cityscape. The 2.5 hour flight from Port Au Prince to Miami is like traveling through a portal between two different worlds.
Shortly after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Port Au Prince in 2010, Dallas Avenue Baptist Church connected with JoyHouse Ministries in Gressier, Haiti. JoyHouse Ministries is a non-profit organization which functions to teach, support, and foster Christian living among Haitians. A vital component of this mission is for JoyHouse to establish personal relationships with pastors, interpreters, and workers to provide a base of operations for visiting mission teams. In addition to spreading the Gospel, these relationships have the added bonus of providing jobs and stimulus to the local economy. Sensing the need for mission teams to minister outside of the city of Gressier, many of the team members have desired to visit Haiti’s rural mountains.
Pastor Benito is one of the Haitian pastors who partners with JoyHouse. Many of his friends describe him as a modern day Apostle Paul. Like the Apostle Paul, Pastor Benito is known by his countrymen as a church planter and teacher. Benito’s primary ministry is to pastor a church and administrate a Christian school in Lѐogâne, Haiti. If time and space permitted, I could write a volume on the work God has done in Lѐogâne though Benito.
Although he currently lives near Lѐogâne, Pastor Benito was born in L’Asile, Haiti. Some time ago, he planted Macedonia Baptist Church along with a school in L’Asile. By way of reference, L’Asile is approximately 92 miles east of Port Au Prince and is a four hour bus ride from JoyHouse Ministries in Gressier. Pastor Roy Snider, formerly of Dallas Avenue Baptist Church, now pastors Southside Baptist Church in Snyder, Oklahoma. Southside Baptist supports Macedonia Baptist Church through JoyHouse Ministries. The relationships established by Dallas Avenue and Southside Baptist Churches allowed our team the opportunity to travel to L’Asile.
The journey from Gressier to L’Asile covers miles of beautiful countryside, –including 10% hill grades—views of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Gonaive, and several towns along the way. Macedonia Baptist Church lies beyond the mountain village of L’Asile, and is accessed by dirt roads which cross a bridgeless river. To our team from rural Arkansas, we felt like Macedonia Baptist Church was in the “uttermost part of the earth.” (See, Acts 1:8) In fact, our hosts shared with us that no U.S. based mission team had visited the area served by Macedonia Baptist Church in the last 30 years. Having visited Haiti twice, I have always been warmly received and told to “make [my]self at home.” Despite the lack of modern conveniences, nowhere have I ever felt more welcomed than in L’Asile. If space permitted, I could write pages about the meals, accommodations, and hospitality provided us in L’Asile.
Despite its charms, L’Asile is a challenging place spiritually, educationally, and economically. As is the case in much of Haiti, the ancient West African practice of Voodoo strongly influences and oppresses spiritual life in L’Asile. Voodoo adherents commonly pay priests to perform rituals which hold empty promises of physical healing, monetary blessing, or other benefits from the spiritual world. Although the educational situation in Haiti as a whole is incrementally improving, there is little equal access to adequate education in L’Asile. To add to L’Asile’s isolation, there is no electric service, no indoor plumbing, and no running water. Neither are there many visible signs of affluence. Most families in the area exist at subsistence levels. And so it is throughout the countless cities, towns, and villages I could see through the window of my airliner as it speedily ascended toward Miami.
Anyone who has travelled abroad can identify with the sense of pride one feels upon returning to the United States. After visiting in a country without a functioning government, even the function of the Department of Homeland Security seemed orderly and modern. Although our country is far from perfect, we are blessed beyond measure to live in the United States. Unable to contain myself upon seeing the American flag for the first time in a week, I excitedly exclaimed to our group, “stars and stripes forever!”
Then, returning home to tell others about my experiences, I have found that friends and acquaintances are both curious and perplexed about the situation in Haiti. “How can such a beautiful place with the warm, wonderful people I visited continue to languish? What will it take to fix Haiti?” These types of questions are natural for us. As Americans, we are repeatedly told –sometimes to our detriment— in political campaigns that the “American spirit” or “new ideas” can overcome any problem no matter how big. Overcoming challenges is what Americans do.
In contrast to American thought, the Haitian outlook toward problem solving is more fatalistic. Characteristic of the complex oral tradition in Haiti, the Haitian proverb, “dèyè mòn gѐn mòn,” (behind mountains are more mountains) describes more than just geography. Flying over Haiti at airliner speed, one gets a sense of the physical size of the country of Haiti. Travelling the neighborhoods and villages of Haiti, one gets a sense of the enormous physical and spiritual need that exists. Like the Haitian mountains, behind one set of Haitians with needs are another set of Haitians with more needs. Thinking like a Haitian, reality sets in, on a solely physical level, what good did it do for our team to touch approximately 1100 people in a nation of almost 10 million souls? (Dèyè mòn gѐn mòn!) Behind mountains are more mountains!
But in the work of God’s kingdom, our outlook should be neither Haitian nor American. Like the author of the Haitian proverb, Jesus used mountains as an object lesson. In Matthew 17:16-20, His disciples confronted a problem that could not be overcome by human might. Seizing the opportunity to teach truth in love, He showed them how to overcome and admonished them that faith as small as a mustard seed could move mountains. As the Haitian proverb teaches us, the work in Haiti (or wherever else we are called to serve) is never ending. Though Christians cannot solve every problem, we are to be faithful in the tasks placed before us. Behind mountains are more mountains, but Lord increase our faith in you so that we can overcome them!