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6 months & counting: Volunteers toil, shed tears
Barbara Denman, Baptist Press
September 07, 2010

6 months & counting: Volunteers toil, shed tears

6 months & counting: Volunteers toil, shed tears
Barbara Denman, Baptist Press
September 07, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Tattered

red, yellow and green umbrellas edge Port-au-Prince’s broken and battered

roads, providing shade for street vendors who struggle to eke out a day’s wages

by selling everything from groceries and clothes to tires.

Gleaming buildings bearing

such names as CitiBank and Hertz and a myriad of automobile dealerships stand

in stark contrast to the rubble and garbage still strewn throughout Haiti’s

capital city.

Even as signs of commerce

have reappeared in the more than six months since the 7.0-magnitude earthquake

of Jan. 12, Port-au-Prince residents are forced to scrounge for life’s basic

necessities.

Seas of tents and blue tarps

form makeshift cities covering open fields, barren lots and river beds as the

nation grapples with providing housing for the estimated 1.5 million homeless.

A former police headquarters

stands vacant, its parking lot now home to relief agency tents.

Across the

street, a collapsed multi-storied building is tackled by workers with

sledgehammers and hauled away in buckets. For their efforts, they receive only

$5 a day in wages.

By some estimates, 3,000

NGOs — non-government organizations — are operating in Haiti. Yet despite their

massive efforts, there is much work to be done to help the crippled nation inch

toward recovery.

“Life has improved” since

the earthquake, concedes Phito François, the Confraternite Missionaire Baptise

d’Haiti (CMBH) director of missions for the Port-au-Prince area.

“The people are still living

a difficult life, living in the streets and existing with no food,” the Baptist

convention worker acknowledged. “They fear their life will never be like

before. They believe they will die in the streets.”

The tens of thousands who

live in tents cope with daily seasonal rains that soak their belongings and

leave them susceptible to diseases and pneumonia. People bathe in the streets

and many young women turn to prostitution for money, which results in unplanned

pregnancies, François said.

Yet a spiritual movement is

gaining momentum as Haitians cry out to the Lord, François said.

“There are no

places to sit in the churches, more benches are needed to hold the people.”

François and his fellow CMBH

pastors have held crusades and revivals throughout the country appealing to the

Haitians’ need for spiritual restoration and salvation. As a result, more than

150,000 people have made professions of faith and 135 new churches have been

started where the new believers are concentrated.

“They know only the power of

God can save them now,” François said.

At the mission house

It’s “Day 156” according to

a sign taped to the dining room wall at the Florida Baptist Convention Mission

House in Port-au-Prince. The reminder is needed. In Haiti, days run together.

Only Sundays stand out as volunteers put on clean clothes for worship in a

nearby Haiti church.

More than 1,000 volunteers

representing 30 state conventions have been lodged at the mission house as they

minister to the Haitian people.

There they eat together,

pray together and sometimes weep together. They begin each morning holding

hands with their Haitian brothers and sisters in devotions. Prayers are offered

in English and French Creole. At day’s end, they reflect on their labors and

insights.

“I don’t usually cry easily,

but I have shed a tear every day since I have been here,” Ryan Melius of

Santee, Calif., said during one evening meal. He and a team of fellow

California Baptists spent the week building temporary homes in Jacmel, south of

Port-au-Prince.

“The poverty here is

heartbreaking,” Melius said. “Yet the gratitude of the people and the presence

of the Lord is inspiring.”

As the mission team lifted

hammers and drove nails in Jacmel, neighborhood residents were spellbound by

the Californians’ presence and sense of purpose. At the end of the week, their

witness had stirred 106 Haitians to accept Christ. The volunteers also taught

construction skills to a Haitian man who then found employment to construct

other homes. Before departing, the team left all their tools — as well as their

work boots — for the Haitian workers.

In the past six months

Southern Baptist volunteers have performed a wide variety of ministries, “filled

with God stories,” said Fritz Wilson, director of Florida Baptists’ disaster

relief department and on-site incident commander for Southern Baptist Disaster

Relief.

Florida Baptists have been

in partnership with the CMBH for 15 years, starting more than 1,000 churches

and then assisting the congregations in their growth and ministry.

It is the CMBH organization

of directors of missions and pastors that has allowed Southern Baptist Disaster

Relief to flourish throughout the country, Wilson said. It is the churches that

have given Southern Baptists an opportunity to be there while other agencies

are unable to respond.

“We are six months into this

and have done an amazing amount of work,” Wilson said. “All around us are God

stories, of Him placing people in Haiti to have the right skill set that we

needed — even without our knowing we needed it.”

Wilson has coordinated a

team of Haitian employees as drivers, security guards and translators to

accompany each volunteer team when they go beyond the gates of the Florida

Mission House compound, which also serves as the CMBH offices. As many as 100

volunteers sojourn in the house each week.

Immediately after the

earthquake, volunteers met emergency needs — food and medical care — while

inspecting homes and counseling pastors in how to help their members.

Volunteers also have

journeyed beyond Port-au-Prince to outlying cities and towns where as many as

600,000 people fled to escape the devastation and danger from the earthquake.

The city of Jeremie, like others in the country, with a population of 30,000

before the disaster, has swollen to more than 100,000 residents.

In the heat of the summer,

temporary shelters for the homeless were built and collapsed buildings were

demolished with sledgehammers. Volunteers unloaded shipments of Buckets of

Hope, containers filled with food and cooking products from Southern Baptists throughout

the United States, and distributed them to needy families. Other teams

ministered in churches, leading revivals, discipleship training and sports

clinics to boost the morale of Haitian children.

Village revival services

Four bare light bulbs provided

the only illumination at the nightly revival services at the CMBH church in

Deloge, except when the electricity was malfunctioning in the tiny village

located between Port-au-Prince and St. Marc.

Each night four young adults

from Hillcrest Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., climbed precarious rocks

on a slippery and obscure pathway to arrive at the remote church.

One Sunday night, Richard

Kerins, 24, shared with those in worship, as well as those who stood outside

peeking through openings of the cement blocks, his own spiritual struggle and

attempted suicide. The strapping, good-looking blond told the Haitians he found

hope to keep on living through a renewed faith in Jesus Christ, beckoning them

to follow the Savior.

At the end of the worship, a

teenage girl came forward to accept Christ and returned the next morning for

discipleship training.

It was a night Kerins said

he will long remember — the first time he had led another to Christ.

Pastor Renuad Charles called

the night “extraordinary. You don’t know the value of this one soul.”

By week’s end, the team,

ranging in age from 21-27, saw 35 conversions, including 12 children who prayed

to receive Christ.

Range of ministries

Through Southern Baptist

cooperation, state conventions, associations and individual churches have

adopted specific ministries in locations across Haiti.

Southern Baptists also are

partnering with other evangelical relief agencies, including the Salvation Army

and Samaritan’s Purse, to construct temporary homes for the displaced. These

two organizations have donated building materials while Southern Baptists

volunteers supplied the labor.

At a village invisible from

a highway east of Port-au-Prince, Marie Carme Jean is among those who lost

their homes in the earthquake. The mother of five, ages 15, 13, 11, 6 and 4,

was forced to move in with relatives. But through the efforts of her church,

New Eglise Baptist d’Haiti, Southern Baptist volunteers cleared the debris from

her damaged structure and built a temporary shelter for the family from

materials donated by Samaritan’s Purse.

“The yellow shirts came to

help,” she said, describing the attire worn by the Baptist disaster relief

volunteers.

In a week’s time, 10

temporary homes were built in the village, obvious by their tin roofs, wooden

beams and bright blue tarp walls, and concrete blocks from their original homes

have been salvaged to rebuild permanent homes.

Herman Charles, a deacon in

the New Eglise church, lingered outside the new dwelling for the family of 12.

His young son stirred beans in a pan over an open charcoal fire while, nearby,

an old woman sat on the ground washing clothes in a simple wash bucket in her

lap.

The interior of the home is

distorted by the sun bearing down on the vinyl walls, casting an indigo hue.

The family suffers through the oppressive heat of the afternoon, their only

ventilation from air pockets at the roof. Yet it provides shelter for the

youngsters and his five-day-old newborn, Charles Evan, who slept quietly in a

bed while his siblings rested on bare shelves constructed from plywood and

2x4s.

The father expressed concern

that the blue tarp can be cut by thieves with a sharp instrument to harm his

family. But he says it is better than being out in the open where they had

lived the past five months.

When the fall begins,

Florida Baptists will take on a new ambitious task of building 1,000 new

permanent homes to replace the temporary homes and help other homeless families.

The work will be done by Haitians trained with job skills and given wages to

improve both their lives and the economy.

Details will be announced in

the near future, Wilson said.

“What people in the U.S. may

not understand about relief work is that it is a marathon,” Wilson said. “That

is especially true in Haiti. We are not in a sprint, we have only gone the

fifth mile. Now it is time to shift gears.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Denman

is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention. Biblical Recorder Editor Norman Jameson wrote about his experience while in Haiti. Follow his daily blog by reading the first entry.)

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