By: Rev. Martin Hawley
Church building status on Thursday.
For this June trip into Haiti, Alan Lutz and I were accompanied by our new friends and brothers in Christ, Sam Haupt and Seth Wallace, from Mission to the World (MTW). Our flight into Port-au-Prince arrived more or less on time, yet we found ourselves in a different airport environment that our previous trip into Haiti. If you remember, our last trip in February we had to travel via a flight into Santo Domingo because the Port-au-Prince airport was still closed to commercial traffic after the earthquake. Our trip prior to that had been in September and was uneventful. This time, our plane was actually met with a standard retractable boarding gate as is typical in the US. On past trips, we had simply disembarked the aircraft unto the tarmac using an old-fashioned rolling stairway.
Once we deplaned into the gate area, we were directed to a gigantic, modern transit vehicle which took us several hundred yards to the temporary terminal. The lines were long and there were two of them, yet they processing moved more quickly than on our previous visits. Due to the new security measures since the earthquake and a change in personnel, Pastor Paul was not allowed to meet us in the baggage claim area. In fact, Jean had to wait for us outside a security fence until we reached the exit gate for arriving passengers. We were able to locate Caesar, the one-armed chief baggage handler who runs the whole show outside the airport and us most useful in keeping the tip-seekers at bay.
We did not have too much extra luggage this trip, for the additional military duffle bags of school uniforms and other supplies, as well as the boxed radio station components, were refused in Atlanta and not allowed to travel along with us on the trip. Apparently there are excess baggage restrictions during the summer travel months to Haiti — even if you are ready and willing to pay the added fees.
As we stepped on-board the Souls Winning van and began our trek from the airport to the compound in La Plaine, we immediately began seeing continued signs of the tragedy that had happened in Haiti back in January. There was a large tent city not far from the airport and we continued to see them in various places along our route. We also were continually reminded of the earthquake devastation by the still as yet unrepaired buildings and piles of rubble that greeted us around virtually ever turn of the busy streets.
Our first stop was a quick check-in at our hotel — the Continental — which Jean Paul was able to arrange for us at a very reasonable rate, because he was called upon to repair their air conditioning! We got our rooms and settled our belongings, surveyed the hotel’s facilities, and then loaded back into the van for the rest of the journey to the compound.
Watching the parade.
I have to confess that my expectations of improved conditions since our February visit were largely deflated on our way to La Plaine. In fact, I began to realize that very little had changed for the majority of Haitians who had been impacted so severely by the quake. The sights of continued destruction and despair left me little prepared for the marvelous sight which greeted me as we turned the corner onto the street where our ministry is located.
As the van approached the compound, some of our brightest pastoral students swung open the gate, greeted us with smiles and waves, and with faces beaming with joy, welcomed us into their transformed home. In the moment, we beheld the glorious provision of God and the beauty of Gospel restoration as we gazed upon the nearly completed edifice of the new church and school. After all that we had seen on the way from the airport, what a stark and breath-taking contrast stood before us!
By this time it was mid-afternoon in Haiti, and so we spent the remaining daylight hours renewing old friendships with the orphan children and the pastoral students, as well as making new friends with all the construction workers, who were working around the clock under Pastor Jean Raphael Cean’s supervision in order to have things ready by the scheduled Sunday of dedication.
We were so very pleased by the beautiful Caribbean blue with which all of the buildings were being painted – even the old orphanage house now matched the rest. And each of the buildings also shared green metal roofs. How marvelous it all appeared under the bright Haitian sky. Everyone was frantically at work, on both the exterior and the interior of the church. We walked into the new worship space, so bright and so large as to utterly dwarf what had stood there before. I could not help but remember how often we had worshipped together before out in the open, with only a woven canopy and rented chairs. Yet now we would have a space to glorify God for many more believers, shaded from the sun and protected from the rains, with brand new, freshly built pews, lighted and even cooled a little by ceiling fans. No more packed dirt floor either. For now the people of God in this place would have the blessings of ceramic tile flooring.
Working on the church doors on Friday.
We watch and excitedly talked, photographed, and videoed inside the new sanctuary, watching the Haitian tradesmen ply their craft in sculpting concrete and stucco, grinding and painting wrought iron, painting exterior surfaces, and carefully laying beautiful tile.
When we toured the compound in Thursday evening, we wondered just a bit how it all would come together by Sunday. And yet we were so amazed and thankful to God that we had to trust that His people would have everything in readiness for the great day of celebration.
On Thursday we were also treated to a terrific Haitian home-cooked meal with Jean and some of his staff and family at his rental home. Our fare included pick lese (Haitian spicy cole slaw), lightly cooked carrots, grio (pork), and fried plantains. We were delighted and surprised to find out that Jean’s wife, Jocelyn, and his daughters Amanda and Natalie, had flown in from the U.S. just to be with us for this wonderful ministry milestone.
Friday morning came rather early for us with the power for the room air conditioners going out around 3:00 am and the roosters crowing their alarm around 4:00. Some of our team awoke to showers with warm water, some to showers with cold water, and some to showers with just a trickle of water. In my case the toilet required manual tank manipulation in order to flush. It had a water supply, but the handle’s tension arm was broken and so the plunger could not be opened by flushing the exterior lever. This is a minor problem to have — believe me — when you stay somewhere in Haiti!
We spent most of the day Friday at our mission compound. Although we did take time to survey the 11.5 acres of land which is for sale near our present site. Jean later learned that this land might be purchased for between $90,000 and $100,000. We believe the Lord is calling us to develop a larger orphanage, for the need is so very great. There were already many orphaned street children in Haiti prior to the earthquake. But since the earthquake Jean Paul says that the surveys indicate there are now 17,000 orphans of the street in La Plaine alone! In addition to the larger orphanage, we see additional land as necessary for the creation of a medical clinic and a vocational-technical school. Some of our orphans have been with Jean for the entire seven years he has been in Haiti and they are nearing high school graduation. We need the capacity and resources to train them further to become leaders and self-sufficient contributors to a transformed Haiti.
Church building progress on Saturday.
The construction team did not stop work on Thursday at dusk as might be expected on a building site in the United States. We were told that the workman had continued well into the night using generator-powered lights. And the extra effort over the evening hours into Friday morning was evident to all of us on the team when we reached the compound.
While at the compound on Friday, I was fascinated by the young man working under the cornice of the church entryway. He was basically sculpting out of cement and stucco the tri-layered pediment molding that here in the U.S. would have been created by a carpenter from wood or wood composite materials. It was amazing to see him create straight edges and sharp corners using nothing but a trowel and a level, relying upon his eyes and his experience to create the masterpiece that became the church’s entrance. The work of this mason was just one of many examples of the incredible craftsmanship we saw throughout the building site.
Friday was also a day of planning for the dedication service. Pastor Jean spent some time with each of us outlining the role that we would be serving in during the Sunday celebration. It was on Friday that I learned I would be leading the responsive reading from the dedication of Solomon’s Temple in 1 Kings. Also, that Jean wanted me to recite the prayer Solomon prayed from the same passage. It is the traditional way a new church is dedicated in Haiti. The challenge in all of this for me was that it all had to be done in French. Our brother Alan Lutz was designated to preach the dedication sermon, while Sam Haupt of MTW would be asked to speak near the beginning of the service.
Jean found a wonderful U.S. style restaurant for us to have lunch on Friday. The owner patterned the signage and the menu items based upon American tastes, although the food still had a definite ‘Haitian’ bent. You could order hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, sub sandwiches, and even some desserts like chocolate cake. I especially enjoy the Haitian soft drinks, that use cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. Besides Coca-Cola and Pepsi, there are also Crown Cola and King Cola flavors. Much of the time we were offered Crown Cola in their distinctive and very sweet Champagne flavor.
As we departed the compound on Friday evening, it was evident that the workmen were going to stay and labor again through the evening. It turns out that Jean did as well, straining to see that everything was as ready as possible for the Lord’s Day dedication service. We returned to our hotel and enjoyed a Haitian-style dinner together, began preparing our ministry parts for the Sunday service, then turned-in for the night. Jean advised us that he would allow us time to prepare the next day (Saturday), and so would not be picking us up until early afternoon.
As it worked out on Saturday, Jean had far too much to do — even with working throughout most of the night — and did not arrive at our hotel until late afternoon Saturday. While we waited for Jean, I decided during the late morning and early afternoon to step outside the gate of our hotel and venture into the side street to take pictures of the local Haitians and practice my Creole a little. There were some interesting encounters along the thoroughfare, which leads to a busy part of town. One young man I encountered was learning English and wanted to practice with me. Another older man came by who could only speak Creole and was entirely broke and asked for money. When Jean arrived we decided it would be better for him to eat with us and then return to the compound and go home for some rest ahead of Sunday’s big events. We did stop a street vendor near the gate and purchased some sugar cane which we had wanted to try.
Saturday we also discovered that local Haitians who do have money like to reserve the hotel’s pool for parties and very loud DJ music. The festivities at our hotel went on well into the night. In fact they were only marginally interrupted by a tropical thunderstorm which blew through our area that night.
On Sunday, Jean remained near the mission compound in order to coordinate the final logistics of what was about to take place. Sam, Seth, Alan, and I were picked up in the Souls Winning van by some of the young men who are studying theology through Jean’s pastoral institute (Timothy Project). This time, we did not travel the full distance to the compound, but instead were dropped-off at the beginning of the road that leads to mission. We were joining the throng of Haitians gathering at the open soccer field where the dedication procession was set to jump-off. As we exited the van, we climbed a few steps up the hill, past the ruined wall and gazed into the flat plain, which was filled on one side with another tent city, and in the middle was teaming with hundreds of people forming-up for the parade.
Boy scout troops.
The boy and girl scouts were lined-up double file in front, followed by the marching band, then the pastors and church leaders, and finally the church members and visitors. There were also a number of local police and additional boy scouts handling security and traffic control. Just before we began the parade, the visiting choirs emerged from a nearby compound in their crimson robes and also joined in our formation. Seth and I positioned ourselves as best we could to collect photos and videos of this historic kingdom event. My particular concern was to obtain images of the procession emerging from the ruined walls of the soccer field and emerging onto the street — a street which two years ago had been the scene of a demonic Voodoo sacrifice procession.
Procession leaving the soccer field.
The parade kicked-off about 9:30 am with the scouts and an escort vehicle in the lead. After some photos, I joined the other pastors in the procession right behind the marching band, which was playing all sorts of triumphant Christian marches. The pastors behind me were quite animated and joyful as they knew what this march was proclaiming — we all knew what the powerful symbolism really meant. We were boldly declaring the claim of King Jesus over this stretch of road, this neighborhood, and all the work of our ministry in La Plaine and in Haiti! In one sense the Haitian pastors were little different from those of us coming from the U.S., because many of them were taking photos and short video clips of the procession using their cell phones. All along the route, area residents stood outside their fenced compounds or stopped on their way on their bicycles or while walking in order to observe this amazing spectacle.
Procession forming a line at the church on Sunday for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The celebration march ended at the new church entrance for a ribbon cutting and official opening remarks by the chairman of the deacon board and also the building contractor, Pastor Jean Raphael Cean. The parade participants were joined by then with many others who had come directly to the compound for the dedication service. The crush of the crowd and the rising heat lead Jean to decided to cut the ribbon and move everyone inside for the remaining opening declarations, rather than continuing this portion of the observance outside.
I watched with great glee as a continuous line of Haitian brothers and sisters entered the new sanctuary — first the three large choir groups — Jean’s Presbyterian Singers in the lead. Members and guests for the dedication service need to have pink tickets for seating, which were collected by members of the Souls Winning Boy Scout Troop. I immediately noticed something different as these men, women, and children filed into the church. Unlike the faces of despair, hopelessness, and sorrow I had been seeing among Haitians out on the streets, these singles, couples, and families wore the joy of the Lord and the hope represented by this wonderful day written all over their faces. The festive nature of this event was also represented in all the beautiful decorations the ladies of the church had placed in the sanctuary on the walls and windows before the service. Just before the worship began, Jean took Alan and me over to his office in the orphanage and we all donned our robes, which our brother had wanted us to use for the dedication. Thank God he had installed ceiling fans in the sanctuary — one directly over the pulpit!
Once everyone was seated (the place full to capacity with pews being added at the front), a joyous worship service continued the special observance with hymns, prayers, praises, and preaching for more than three hours. In honor of the partnership between Reformation Hope, MTW, and Souls Winning ministries, the national anthems of both Haiti and the United States were played by the band. The anthems were followed by a time of special recognition of the fine police officers who have continued to protect and assist our Haitian partners through hurricanes, an earthquake, and in daily situations.
What followed after was a series of choral and ensemble musical offerings of worship. Haitian tradition for opening a new church also includes the recitation of King Solomon’s dedicatory prayer from 1 Kings in the French translation. By God’s grace I was able to read this extremely long passage while the congregation remained standing in a posture of prayer. Afterward, I gave a very brief exhortation from Hebrews chapter 12, reminding everyone that as marvelous as the new church facility truly was, they as believers in Christ were actually the temple of God through the indwelling Holy Spirit. Pastor Alan Lutz then gave an anointed sermon which faithfully declared the Gospel of Christ and called for those present to come to Jesus. The service concluded with Jean leading the Presbyterian Singers, a prayer, and a benediction. By this time it was almost 2:30 pm.
After the dedication service came to an end, everyone formed a line to receive the celebration meal. We were served rice and beans prepared with a Haitian mushroom called “Juju,” which turns the rice dark brown. There were also potatoes and onions prepared together, and a special treat — beef. It is quite rare for most Haitians to have beef for a meal. In fact Jean told us that many of the brothers and sisters would be eating beef that day for the first time in over a year. For dessert there was fruit cocktail.
Once the meal was finished and folks began heading to their homes, our team continued visiting with the Souls Winning staff and all of the Boy Scouts who were busy packing up their tents. I took some photos of Alan with the scouts as he is working on a joint partnering between the scout troop at his church and our scouts in Haiti. It was also a pleasure to photograph Jean with all of his family, including his oldest sister, who had not been back to Haiti from the U.S. in quite some time. One of Jean’s brothers, who remains a Voodoo priest, also attended and told us that he was wrestling with becoming a Christian. By this time, it was time for us to return to our hotel to prepare for our early flight out of Haiti the next morning.
We returned to our hotel still processing all the wonderful things that the Lord had accomplished on this trip and through all the preparations which had gone on before. Jean remained with us for a while as we fellowshipped in the hotel’s little dining room. Eventually, we shooed Jean away so that he could enjoy some additional time with all of his visiting family. He told us that he would pick us up the next morning around 6:00 am. Although it was delayed in departure, by God’s grace we had another safe flight back into Miami on Monday morning, then a short layover for a late lunch before arriving into Atlanta around 5:40 pm.
The dedication of these new buildings represents much more than the achievement of RHI’s long-cherished plans and aspirations. It represents yet another Ebenezer or memorial of God’s faithfulness in providing for this ministry. It also represents the kingdom partnership between believers united in fulfilling the Great Commission and in bringing real hope to those who once had no hope at all. With the completion of these two projects, the mission in Haiti rises to a new level and thus calls us yet again to envision what God intends to do next. We continue marching forward, working together for spiritual and physical transformation in Haiti.
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