PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Southern Baptist rebuilding efforts
in Haiti since the devastating earthquake 15 months ago have made good progress
— and the improvements are as much spiritual as physical, leaders in the effort
“Rebuild Haiti,” a cooperative Baptist venture to put as many as 6,200 families
in decent housing by the end of 2013, has completed 796 homes, with another 130
nearing completion, said Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global
Response (BGR). Haitian Baptists also are participating in the initiative as
are the International Mission Board, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and
Florida Baptist Convention.
“In the aftermath of the earthquake, getting an effective program of rebuilding
was very challenging,” Palmer said. “Moving people and money into the country,
assembling all the supplies needed, just dealing with the nuts and bolts of
getting things done in a place devastated by the earthquake was hard. Doing it
in a way that enables Haitians to stand on their own, rather than continue the
dependency patterns of the past, made it even a greater challenge.”
Fritz Wilson, director of disaster relief and recovery for the Florida Baptist
Convention, said the decision to use local labor and supplies has multiplied
Rebuild Haiti’s impact.
“A key component in the strategy is that we are purchasing materials from
in-country sources, work is done by Haitian men whom we have hired from the
communities, local churches are helping us identify the people who need the
houses the most, and we are building homes back where people lived before the
quake so that they do not have to relocate,” Wilson said. “This means we are
impacting the communities much more than just providing houses, by putting
money back in the economy, providing jobs and elevating the church’s status in
The Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake killed 300,000 people and left more than 1
million homeless. Even before the earthquake, Haiti’s people were the poorest
in the Western hemisphere. Currently, only about 2 percent of the rubble had
been cleared and aid officials said clearing all the rubble would fill 1,000
trucks a day for more than 1,000 days.
More than $11.2 million has been donated to the Baptist relief effort through
various channels. The Florida convention reported the $7 million they received
included $171,665 sent by individuals, Sunday School classes and individuals
specifically to build houses. State Baptist conventions also have gotten
involved in Rebuild Haiti, like the Kentucky Baptist Convention, which has
earmarked $200,000 for the effort.
The challenges of rebuilding communities from the inside out are being met as
partners in the joint venture demonstrate a spirit of cooperation and work
alongside Haitian believers to achieve a shared vision, Wilson said. He noted
that Haitian Baptists assisted in designing a 12-by-16-foot cement block “transitional
home” for quake survivors and looking into the future at what kind of
communities would reflect God’s love for Haitians.
“The brightest spot in this is how the partners are all working with a common
mission and vision,” Wilson said. “It is much like the tribes of Israel working
on the walls of Jerusalem. Each group working on our own section, but we are
tying it all together to push back the darkness.”
Communities like the Port-au-Prince suburb of Damien need more than just
physical rebuilding, Palmer said.
“Most disaster recovery efforts focus on the externals like reconstructing
buildings, but Christian recovery also understands the need for an inner change
that creates new lives,” Palmer said. “In Rebuild Haiti, we are encouraging
community members to lift their eyes beyond their own needs to the needs of
others. We have structured the initiative to encourage people to take
responsibility for their future and work hard to make a better life for the
“What we see happening in Damien is not only is a community getting new houses,
they are also getting a new community,” Palmer added. “As the houses are being
constructed, we see more people helping and sharing to ensure that everyone
gets what they need. For example, one widow received a house but didn’t have
enough money to furnish it. The local church members used their own money to
buy her a bed, chair and small table.”
The change in Damien has been dramatic, said Jo Brown, who works with her
husband David to direct BGR work in the Americas.
“When our assessment team arrived in Damien after the earthquake, the community
felt very eerie,” Brown said. “I was ready to leave the moment we got there.
People were sitting on the ground, staring blankly into nothingness. We saw
practically no businesses.
“A year later, Damien has been transformed. Many small businesses have cropped
up. People at the building sites — all ages, both male and female — are
carrying block and needed items to the sites. We see hope and hear laughter.
People smile and greet each other and stop to talk.
“Where I once felt fear, now I am able to walk alone in this community, even
after dark,” Brown added. “Each morning before work is started on the sites,
the U.S. volunteers join hands with the Haitians and sing and praise God. The
focus is not on what the North Americans are doing, but on God’s provision.”
The change in Damien is a good example of a vision to see “people experiencing
a full and meaningful life with hope and peace that inspires them to raise
their families in confidence, build their communities with dignity and share
this life with others,” Palmer said.
“We see homes built, but people are being built up as well. We see communities
working together for the benefit of all and we see people whose lives are being
literally transformed” by the message of hope Baptist volunteers are living out
among them and sharing verbally, Palmer said.
“I want to thank Southern Baptists as well as others for their gifts and
volunteerism that is such a key part in this transformation that we’re seeing,”
Palmer added. “And I want also thank our Haitian partners who are opening up
their lives to the transforming power of God.”
People in Damien and other Rebuild Haiti communities won’t forget who helped
them find new life when their world was in a shambles, said David Brown.
“Our friends in Haiti want their friends in the U.S. to know how thankful they
are to God that they were not forgotten in that desperate hour,” Brown said. “Haiti
has such a long way to go, but we have begun to see the first fruit of what we
believe will be a harvest of new life in Haiti.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Kelly is an assistant editor and senior writer for Baptist
Press. Barbara Denman, director of communications for the Florida Baptist
Convention, contributed to this article.)
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