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
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
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.
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
“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
“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
“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
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
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
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
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
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.)