Beautiful, ugly, rich, destitute, wondrous, desperate, miserable, mysterious, tender, spiritual, charming, superstitious, wild, industrious, surreal, scary, hopeful: that’s Haiti. It’s a country that will break your heart and then fill it with love, joy and faith.
How can you not love a country where people name their businesses God is Good Barber Shop, God Bless Bazaar, Almighty God Pharmacy, Body of Christ Auto Parts, Christ is Love Hotel, Christ Lives Construction Materials, El Shaddai Motor Parts, Jesus Forever Bus, and Thank You God Foods?
Haiti is the second poorest country in the world and the poorest country in the western hemisphere. The average worker earns $2 a day – and that’s only the 15% of the population which is employed. 85% have no income other than to merely survive by selling whatever they can in the market.
It became clear to me very early in our trip that the future of Haiti rests with the education of its children. Unfortunately, there are not enough public schools for all Haitian children to attend. That’s why the partnership of the United Methodist Church with the Haitian Methodist Church is so critical.
The Methodist Church of Haiti operates 105 Methodist pre-school, elementary and secondary schools. 20,000 children and youth receive an education in large part because of your support. But there’s more. Approximately 17,000 of those children receive a free lunch every day. For many, it’s the only food they will eat all day. The Haiti Hot Lunch program is the largest ongoing program sponsored by UMCOR.
Our 11 person Grand Rapids District mission team, led by Rev. Paul Doherty, spent most of our time at the Baudin Agricultural School, which we sponsor. We put in a temporary irrigation system, with a permanent system to come through a $40,000 UMCOR grant and a private donation. We also hired Haitian youth to paint the entire school, painted the lunch room ourselves, put a concrete cap on a well, and installed locks and lights. But we also visited 2 Methodist medical clinics and 4 schools, fixing a pump, helping serve the hot lunch and distributing school and medical supplies. We stayed in Cap Haitian with superintendent Chrisnel Leliever and enjoyed the hospitality of his household.
It will take time to process all that I experienced. But I do know this: last week I had a glimpse of the kingdom of God in all its fullness.
- After painting the entire school, the 25 (23 men, 2 women) agricultural students sang for us the Wesley hymn, “And Can It Be That I Should Gain.” The fervor of their singing sent shivers throughout my body. “Amazing love how can it be…”
- At worship on Sunday morning at the Baudin Methodist Church, we sat behind 30 young Haitian children, who sat quietly for 2½ hours, even when 2 goats peeked in the side door and beckoned them to come out and play. Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
- Dale Weisner of the Twin Lake UMC, who has been instrumental in getting the temporary irrigation system up and running, challenged the congregation, “I have a dream of fields of food. I have a dream that no child will go to bed hungry. I am an old man, you are the future. I need your help. I need you to learn how to grow food, then teach others. God loves you, and so do I.” Your old men shall dream dreams.
- Our truck broke down in the village of Milot. As we waited for help, I heard music. Peering over a fence into a vacant lot, I saw 5 youth playing brass instruments: 2 trumpets, 2 trombones and a saxophone. In the midst of oppressive poverty, the poor of the poorest somehow learned to play beautiful music. Make a joyful noise.
- Walking down a dusty road toward a market, a parade of children followed me, yelling “blanc, blanc, blanc” (white person). Fighting to touch my pale skin, they grabbed my hands and looked up at me with eyes filled with wonder and trust. And a little child shall lead them.
- At the Methodist school in Tovar, we were told that many children from schools without a hot lunch program peer in the windows, hoping to receive any leftover rice and beans. We gave a big plate of rice to the oldest boy standing outside and motioned for him to share. With one spoon, he took a big bite, then placed a spoonful of rice in the mouth of each of the other children, repeating it until the rice was gone. A foretaste of the heavenly banquet.
- Waiting for a flat tire to be fixed, we wandered into a field where 2 baby goats were nursing from their mother. Observing our interest, a young man picked up one of the babies and invited us to hold the goat. Soon a crowd of smiling people gathered. In that moment, Americans and Haitians were connected with each other, all because of 2 baby goats. We are all one in Christ Jesus.
On the last day, we visited a school way out in the hinterland. When school let out, the children found us in the church. Surrounding us, touching us, staring at us, loving us, they just wanted to be with us. We decided to sing “Jesus Loves Me,” then asked the children to sing a Haitian song. We kept alternating songs until it was time for us to leave. Never ever have I heard such joyful, vigorous singing! As we turned to go, Pat Bethke from Lake Harbor UMC, put her hands on the faces of each child, looked them in the eye and gently asked, “Do you know that Jesus loves you?” Somehow they knew what she was asking. And with shining eyes, they said one after another, “oui,” “yes.” Behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.
As we gazed at the precious faces of the Haitian children, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Who will they become? Will they be able to move out of poverty? Which one of these children will become a Methodist pastor, or a doctor, or a teacher, or a future president of Haiti?”
Thank you for supporting the Haiti hot lunch and other projects in your mission giving. You have no idea how important these programs are for the future of Haiti. If your church would ever like to sponsor a mission team to Haiti, or if you would like to go on a future trip, please contact me or Paul Doherty at email@example.com.
I have another challenge, but you’ll have to read it in the Grand Rapids Connection this week!