“In Haiti, it never ends,” one relief worker I met recently in Haiti told me. He was right.
It was early November, and on top of losing an estimated 200,000 people to the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake, the remaining displaced and traumatized population now had Hurricane Tomas hovering to the south and a cholera epidemic spreading from the north.
Although Tomas did not make a direct hit, it dropped enough rain on the mountains to cause major flooding.
Cholera deaths have topped 3,500. National elections held in November have been denounced as corrupt and there is no agreement on whose names should be on the second ballot. The situation in Haiti can indeed seem hopeless.
Yet Christian Reformed personnel are providing help, comfort and hope, backed by $12 million dollars, $8 million of which came from CRC donors.
Their optimism and commitment to being agents of change in Jesus’ name amazed me as they drove me past acres of tent camps on rutted roads lined with garbage and earthquake rubble.
These missionaries from the U.S. and Canada make up Sous Espwa (Source of Hope), an integrated team sent by
- Back to God Ministries International, the media ministry of the CRC
- Christian Reformed World Missions
- Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC).
Even more remarkable are the Haitian leaders I met, the ones who lead the Christian organizations with whom Sous Espwa works.
These leaders lost family members, friends, homes, and churches. Yet they continue ministering, ever hopeful of the healing message they bring to their communities.
The following stories are about only a few of those leaders and how, with the help of the Christian Reformed Church, they are rebuilding Haiti, one day at a time.
Broadcasting a Message of Hope
Reformed Perspectives, or Perspectives Réformées as it is known in Haiti, has been broadcasting a gospel message of hope despite facing enormous challenges after the earthquake. Radio is still the primary method of mass communication in Haiti.
Rev. Sem Hypolite, director of the program, lost his home and had to send his wife and baby to live in the countryside. His assistant, Margalita Petion, lost her mother.
Many of Haiti’s large radio stations were destroyed by the quake, driving up the cost of air time.
Nevertheless, the program has aired a number of messages recorded by Rev. Paul Mpindi specifically for post-earthquake Haiti. Mpindi is the French-language minister for Back to God Ministries International.
Despite the earthquake, 3,000 Haitians continue to work on their related Bible study lessons.
In addition to covering the cost of a replacement home for Hypolite, $55,000 will fund new radio messages in Creole, the language far more Haitians speak than French, said Lesley Millar Toussant, with Sous Espwa. And there will be a trained pastoral counselor available at the ministry follow-up center to listen and pray with people. (See http://perspectivesreformees.com/ or http://www.backtogod.net/.)
Independence for the Injured
“Please, Give Me a Limb” is the newest program of Ministè pou Devlopman Kretyen, or MDK. An estimated 10,000 people in Port-au-Prince lost limbs as a result of the earthquake—in a city that was already home to several hundred thousand people with amputations.
Rev. Lemete Zephyr, director of MDK, collects equipment for them to use: walkers, canes, crutches, wheelchairs. They register with and receive their equipment through local churches, which allows MDK to also help them with earning a living.
If funding can be found for it, a micro-credit program will help people with amputations start small businesses. “In this society, amputees are rejected, seen only as someone to be helped,” Zephyr said. “We’re also educating society through radio and conferences to accept and give opportunities to amputees.”
MDK also trains pastors and deacons and produces simple Bible study and discipleship materials in Creole. New materials are available to help deacons doing pastoral care in a post-earthquake society.
“Leadership is the key to change,” said Zephyr. “Community members can organize and have more impact.” (See http://mdkhaiti.org/Welcome.html.)
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Pwogram Fomasyon pou Ogan-izasyon Dyakona or PWOFOD also trains deacons and leaders to help transform communities using literacy and micro-credit programs.
After the earthquake this ministry worked with people at Camp Bethel, a tent city that received little aid because of the danger of gang-related violence. The deacons helped people get organized, lent tools for clean up and rebuilding, and arranged food distribution.
But the ministry’s office building was completely destroyed, which also meant a loss of rental income that helped fund its programs.
The micro-credit program was wiped out after some people with loans died, others moved away, and still others lost everything they had.
Pierre Mérisier, program coordinator, said it has been difficult for staff to see the program get set back like this. “We were close to being self-sustaining,” he said. “It is quite hard for us to get out of this. We ourselves feel like small children, set back again.”
Rev. Ernst Jean-Louis, literacy coordinator, noted that they have to be careful with their preaching because people are angry—with governments, the international community, and God.
“If a person has lost a husband and two kids, how do you talk about God’s love?” he asked. “We’re working on how to present good news in times of tragedy.”
He also noted that more people are attending and getting engaged with the church. “Some see hurricanes, earthquakes, and flooding as signs that we are in end times, that time is short,” he said.
The CRC is supporting this program by providing a pre-fab building for an office, along with furniture and computers. The program will receive an extra $20,000 for each of the next two years until a new building is constructed. Volunteers from North America are expected to be instrumental in that project.
The ministry will also receive $15,000 for cleanup and a survey at Camp Bethel.
Haitian CRC as Salt and Light
The Christian Reformed Church of Haiti continues to be salt and light in the communities where it has congregations, particularly in the Jacmel area, south of Port-au-Prince.
Leaders of the Haitian CRC have suffered too.
E. Jean Edouarnus Estivil, Haitian CRC diaconal coordinator, ran home after the earthquake to find his three-story home in Port-au-Prince collapsed with his mother and two sisters inside. He was able to free one sister, but they couldn’t get his other sister out until well into the night. She suffered partial paralysis.
When they were able to dig out his mother’s body, Edouarnus drove her until the roads were impassable, then carried her another six hours on foot to make sure she had a proper burial in Jacmel.
He also lost his best friend, Caleb, national youth coordinator for the Haitian CRC. Caleb, like so many other young adults, was in late-afternoon classes at his university when the walls came crashing down. Caleb was never seen again.
Sous Espwa provided Edouarnus with a new home, where he is now the sole provider for his seven siblings.
Edouarnus said he received great comfort from fellow Christians such as Jenny LeMahieu and Zach King from Sous Espwa, and now he comforts others.
“The God of all comfort comforts us so that we can comfort those in any trouble,” he said, quoting 2 Corinthians 1.
Rev. Elihu Metellus, president of the Haitian CRC, was helping complete construction of a new church building when the quake struck. The building survived intact, but Metellus learned that his own church in Jacmel had been destroyed. Many other buildings in that town were also leveled.
With $130,000 from the Christian Reformed Church in North America, the Haitian CRC will provide community members with cement for home repairs.
It will also help 100 vendors restart their small businesses.
Son-beam International from West Michigan will help rebuild the Jacmel church.
CRECH helped 124 teachers from 33 schools provide group therapy and trauma counseling for more than 3,000 children following the earthquake. CRECH also picked up the tab for the teachers’ salaries for months while parents couldn’t pay.
CRECH is the Consortium for the Reinforcement of Christian Education, founded by Christian Reformed World Missions and others to support Christian schools and write curriculum for them.
Director Louisenette Casseus reported that up to 70 percent of their 400 schools now meet in tents. “Because of wind and rain, the teachers walk home carrying all their supplies, bringing them back again the next day,” she said.
There may be an initiative to help rebuild schools, but details are not yet available. For more information, see http://crechhaiti.org.
Indeed, in Haiti, trouble never seems to end. Haitian Christians know from hard experience that there is ultimately only one solution for Haiti. As Rev. Jean-Louis said, “The fact that our security is in God is now more real in our lives.”
And so these leaders carry on, one day at a time, trusting God to provide strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.
For more information or to donate to any of these programs, contact Christian Reformed World Missions at 1-800-346-0075 (U.S.) or 1-800-730-3490 (Canada). Or visit www.crwm.org and type “project giving guide” in the search box.