This week, our four-person missions team returned from a six-day trip to Haiti. The trip was originally intended to be a five days… but more on that later.
The travelers included two of my daughters, a filmmaker from our church, and myself. The purpose of the trip was to extend our ministry relationship with a pastor in the Fort Jacques region of Haiti. We had been having online communications with Pastor Voltaire Baptiste for many months beforehand, and our church had been providing informal support to his ministry, but we had never met him face-to-face.
Pastor Voltaire’s ministry includes leading a church of about 300 people, running a primary and secondary school for about 250 students, and providing an orphanage home for about 16 children. I’m writing about this information now, but please keep in mind that even these details were not entirely clear before our visit to Haiti. Understandably, we needed to place “boots on the ground” in order to fully appreciate the breadth and depth of the challenges that are faced by the people in Pastor Voltaire’s community. We believed that by seeing the nature of the ministry and the kinds of needs that exist, we would be better able to help meet those needs.
In the last weeks and days of planning our trip to Haiti, we were careful to recognize that although we were ostensibly going there to see how we could provide support to the ministry in Haiti, we thought that we should not have the attitude that we are supermen from the USA. We did not want our thinking to be that we had everything to give, and that they had nothing to give. We hoped that we would be able to humbly receive something from the Haitian people, by the grace of God, whether tangible or intangible, that would be in accordance with the picture of the church, the body of Christ, that we find this in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 12:12-26
12 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into[a] one Spirit. 14 For in fact the body is not one member but many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? 18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. 23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, 24 but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, 25 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
Having this in mind, we went to minister, and to be ministered to. We weren’t sure if we were a foot, a hand, an eye, or an ear. We weren’t sure of anything, except the sovereignty of God, so off we went.
As we arrived at the airport in Port-Au-Prince, we were very pleased to be met by Pastor Voltaire, a friendly and endearing presence in his community. Seeing him there was a great relief because he helped to soften the undeniable “culture shock” of entering the country. Trust me when I say – that point cannot be overstated.
During the first hours of our visit in Pastor Voltaire’s home, we were greeted with modest and loving hospitality by his family. Being treated with kindness and deference, their love for us was an example of Paul’s admonition in Philippians 2:3 to “let each [of you] esteem others better than himself”.
On our first full day in Haiti, our first stop was the school that Pastor Voltaire oversees. It is called “Institution Mixte Evangelique de la Vigne” which translates to “Evangelical Elementary and Secondary Institution of the Vine”. After several minutes of driving on impossibly steep and bumpy roads, we arrived at the colorfully painted school building of the IMEV. Having no running water or electricity didn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm of the students who were just like children in any schoolyard in the USA, playing games, talking and laughing in groups, awaiting the start of their classes.
Once classes began, we were taken on a tour of each grade and introduced to the children. Each classroom was organized with rows of forward-facing wooden bench desks, and with girls sitting on one side of the room, and boys on the other. Dressed mostly in the type of school uniforms so common in the Caribbean, they looked neat and ready to learn. Their external appearance gave little indication of the hunger that many of them undoubtedly were feeling. Pastor Voltaire mentioned to us later that the school tries to provide some food for students who are struggling with their learning because of hunger. The school does not have the resources to feed all of the students every day, but on some days, they can feed some. Surely this was a place that we would be happy to provide help.
With the higher grades, I was given several opportunities to present a bible lesson. This was done through an interpreter for the Haitian Creole language which is spoken by everyone there. After presenting my lesson, a short sermon really, I asked the students if they had any questions. After some amount of time overcoming embarrassment and an apparent fear of public speaking, the questions started coming. That is when I realized that these students had been taught large measures of the Word of God. They asked good questions, and hard questions. They were paying attention, they were thinking, and they wanted real answers.
Among the most profound questions, were these:
“Are you a racist?” (this was the week following our President’s alleged comments on Haiti)
“Why is there evil in the world?”
“What is your vision for Haiti?”
These questions provided the opportunity to share more about the love of God, about the gospel, and about the great commission work of going forth to disciple all nations in the obedience to Jesus Christ. After all this interaction, surely this was a place that we would be happy to provide help.
Our next stop was the orphanage. We entered the building which was very much like most single family houses in this region of Haiti. The rooms were somewhat dark for lack of electricity and with minimal furniture. There were metal bed frames without mattresses but with wire mesh on which to lay. We saw the little children going about what is a normal life for them.
We met the caregivers, a man with a gentle and caring spirit, and a handful of women who perform labors of love, feeding and caring for the little residents of the home. At mealtime, the sixteen full-time residents of the orphanage are fed with whatever food is available on a given day. That there will be food is not to be assumed. If there is any extra food, some of the neighborhood children will also come to be fed. There are daily bible lessons for the children and when they are old enough, they are able to attend the school that we visited earlier. Surely this was a place that we would be happy to provide help.
In the late afternoon, it was time to attend the mid-week bible study. Yet another building, this one built and owned by the church unlike the school and orphanage buildings which are rented, nonetheless also without electricity and running water. With wooden benches aligned to face the pulpit where the Word is preached, and with pink shiny fabric wrapped around the rough concrete structural columns, it is beautiful in its simplicity.
I was given the opportunity to address the church, followed by Pastor Voltaire’s thunderously delivered teaching on the topic of justification. By the middle of the study, we were all sitting in the pitch dark as the sun had set shortly after we had started. Those who had bibles also carried small lights so that they could read along with the passages that were presented during the teaching. It is a great triumph in irony that the Word of God can be preached as a “light unto our feet”, even in the pitch dark! Surely this was a place that we would be happy to provide help.
So far, we were observing a great many opportunities for us to be givers. We saw the great needs before us, but we were not the ones in need, we were the ones sent to mitigate the needs, or so we thought. That would all change on the last day of our planned visit.
It was Saturday morning. We had grown accustomed to the simple life of going to bed early because there was no light, eating what was placed before us, and bathing from a 5-gallon bucket. Simple, but filled with the peace, and fellowship of the Christian family in Pastor Voltaire’s home.
We said our good-byes and headed off to the city of Port-au-Prince to be dropped off at the airport. We were marveling at the view coming down from the mountains where Pastor Voltaire lives as we were heading to the coastal plane on which Port-au-Prince is built. After miles of downhill roads with switchbacks and dramatic views of the city below, we entered into the neighboring city of Petion-Ville. Now the roads were less steep but still running downhill into the busy urban areas. It was at that moment when a strange cyclically scraping sound began emanating from the underside of our small SUV.
Seconds later I notice Pastor Voltaire stubbornly applying the brakes but to no effect. The realization came quickly that we were driving down a hill into a busy city intersection with no brakes! It was only a matter of time. Would we hit another car, or a pedestrian, or a motorcycle? Pastor Voltaire only had seconds to decide and at a moment for which one can never be fully prepared, he chose to aim his small SUV at the butt end of a concrete “Jersey” barrier which divided the two sides of the road.
With the force of the collision, and of the airbag to my face, I found myself gasping for air, but also noticed smoke around me and heard someone yelling “get out”. I obliged. Standing outside the passenger side of the vehicle, bent over, and taking inventory of my body and the strange new sensations of pain of a kind that I had never felt before, the realization of everything that had just happened began to come to me. Then I turned around and saw my daughter Elizabeth stepping out from the seat behind me. I saw her face, and the large deep cut on her chin in the shape of an “L”. It was at that moment that I realized just how helpless I was. It was at that moment that I realized in such a profound way, and perhaps for the first time in my life, that I had run out of options.
I had no vehicle, no phone, no cash, little ability to communicate with the many men who were approaching us, and pressing in on us, offering to give us a ride, having no idea how to safely get to a hospital. My daughter and our friend were both bleeding from serious facial cuts and were both on the verge of unconsciousness. I did the only thing that I could do which was to try to corral everyone together so that we would not get separated amidst the press of the crowd, and then I cried out to God for help. My daughter Emily was by my side, relatively uninjured, and she joined me in that. Then help came, I don’t know exactly from where or how, but it came in the form of two local men driving a Toyota 4Runner, one of whom was a pastor.
They loaded us into their vehicle and drove like madmen (even by Haitian driving standards) to the hospital, getting into another small fender-bender accident on the way, at which they barely slowed down. Pastor Voltaire was in the seat next to me and although he had no visible wounds, it seemed to me that he might have been having a heart attack. While clutching his hand, we were all praying in that vehicle as we have never prayed before.
We arrived at the hospital and were taken into triage. I should note that the appearance of a hospital in Haiti is very different than what we are accustomed to in the USA, and I won’t go into details here, except to say that the workers were kind, and they did a good job with the limited resources which they had. Not long after we arrived at the hospital, many of Pastor Voltaire’s immediate family arrived along with the deacon of his church. They were there praying for us and helping us with anything that we needed.
After having been at the hospital for a few hours, and with medical care being given to those who needed it, we were told that we would not be able to leave unless we paid for the care. This will be easy, I thought, I’ll just pay with a credit card. Well, not so fast, because the hospital does not accept credit cards on the weekend. I would have to pay with cash, or stay until Monday!
Remember how I had mentioned earlier that I felt that I no longer had any options? Well, that feeling returned. After discussing the situation with the deacon of the church, it seemed that Pastor Voltaire’s family and church were preparing to pool their resources to “bail us out” of the hospital. It was at that point when I realized that the roles we once had, were completely reversed. We were now the ones having little or no options. We were the ones in desperate need. They were the ones who were preparing to provide for us in our time of need!
There are many more details to this story, but this post has been long enough already. This experience was a wonderful work of the Lord Jesus Christ in our lives to humble us, and to teach us that we are not self-sufficient. He taught us to reach out to Him in times of great need, and that He is faithful to provide that which is needed according to His perfect will and abundant grace.
He also taught us that His people, in spite of whatever limitations our human minds may assume about them, are often the means by which His faithfulness if expressed. We are all called to serve one another. We are all part of His body, His church, His kingdom. We are all called to perform that duty for which He has equipped and prepared us to do. Finally, if we are to serve one another, then we are also called to humbly receive that service from others. It is a great joy to be either the receiver or the giver when we are as the body of Christ because by doing either, we are experiencing the grace and providence of God.
Brian Fournier January 26th, 2018
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