Newsletter - Haïti (april 2015)
VISIT TO HAITI – NOV-DEC 2014
In November 2014, I had the pleasure of returning to Haiti, and this time I stayed for 4 weeks in the country. I had not been there for 12 months and this was my fifth visit to the country. My previous visit had been very encouraging with many signs of the Word touching people and their lives.
Life in Port-au-Prince is not easy at the best of times. There is a great deal of chaos and much violence on a daily basis. The guard at the place where I stayed had his gun at the ready every time he opened the gate! There are signs of rampant corruption but most people have a struggle to survive on meagre earnings. The political authorities are too busy preparing for the next elections to care for the real needs of the country.
The memory of the 2010 earthquake is passing but the huge scars it left are still to be seen everywhere. There’s a lot of rebuilding going on, but people do not seem to have learnt the lesson and are building in the same way as before.
Last year, I had traveled for the first time to Gonaïves, a sizeable city along the coast half-way up the country. The Lord had greatly blessed my visit then. This time, I pushed further up to the North-west province, right to the northern tip of the island. Then I stopped for a few days in Gonaïves on my way back.
As last year, the whole visit was very encouraging and I was kept very busy, often from dawn till dusk. But this time, the work was more a consolidation of what had been achieved in the past.
In preparation for our going to the Northwest, my friend Moïse had spontaneously decided to make an earlier trip to spy out the land. As he works for the UN forces present in the nation, he was able to fly to Port-de-Paix by helicopter. But he decided to come back on the coach to see if I could survive the journey. Although he warned me, I was not ready for the reality! During that initial short visit, Moïse had made a lot of useful contacts.
To start with, everything was upset when my flight from Europe was postponed for a day. That gave me time to visit friends and brethren in Paris, a blessed time indeed as I was able to see my dear brother Félicien, from Congo, for the last time (he has just passed away a week ago). But the delay meant a change of plans for the first couple of days in Haiti as I had planned to go north straightaway. The day I had originally planned to fly to Haiti marked 16 years to the day since I started going to Africa on my own. Many memories crowded into my mind and much thankfulness to the Lord for guidance, protection and so many dear friends made in the process.
The Northwest province
The flight to Port-au-Prince (via Guadeloupe) was uneventful, and I got there in time, to be met by an ever smiling Moïse. Early next morning, Moïse and Leslie – a friend of his, came to fetch me and we boarded the bus for Port-de-Paix, on the northern coast.
Google Maps says that the distance is 137 miles (220km) and should take just over 2 hours. But the only road there has been so damaged by the recurrent hurricanes and virtually no maintenance that it took about 9h30 to reach that major city on the northern coast.
The coach driver was a sort of madman whose name must have been Schumacher in a former lifetime! The company we used called itself “the pride of Haiti”, but Moïse was so ashamed of this “pride” that he kept grumbling a good part of the way! The experience was really unforgettable and so bumpy that I bruised my head on the ceiling of the coach to the point of bleeding. The “road” was just an assemblage of rocks with very little dirt between them. One hoped that each turn on the way would be the last, but the journey kept on. And all the time, one is thinking that the return won’t be much easier!
We got to Port-de-Paix late in the day, too late to hold the meeting planned by the friends there. This was a real shame as will be seen later. We were immediately whisked to a nearby 4x4 vehicle which took us to Jean Rabel, another 30 miles (45km) away, which we reached in about 2 hours. I must admit that I do not remember much of that part of the journey, being in a semi-comatose state after all those hours of traveling.
Jean Rabel is a medium-sized town and the centre of a large district. It is a quiet place set in lovely hilly surroundings. The reason for our going there was that this is the place where our first student on the Preachers’ Course came from.
I had planned to spend the week-end with him, teaching in the local church. In the event, he had moved away several years before without letting me know (quite a normal occurrence in Haiti). We had meetings in the local Baptist church most of the weekend. Sadly, the leaders were not very interested in the Gospel and we did not receive much support from them. Quite a number of people came to the meetings but it could have been much better if these men had caught the vision.
There is a local religious radio station in the town, “Radio Fraternité”. They have broadcast our radio programmes regularly for a great many years, and they asked me to preach there twice. Georges, the man who heads the station, in whose home it is located and where we stayed, is very enthusiastic. We had a lovely time of fellowship with him. Let’s pray that hearts were touched by the Word carried on the airwaves.
After the week-end, we returned to Port-de-Paix. The church leader in Jean Rabel agreed to drive us there as he was traveling that way, but only after we paid him a hefty sum of money for his fuel. Where your treasure is, your heart will be also!
The welcome in Port-de-Paix was very enthusiastic, especially after Moïse’s former visit. Unfortunately, we only had one day to spare there. I was asked to teach the Word to a group of church leaders, and the Lord blessed the Word. We made some very good contacts with the men present, including a dear brother from the US who has been in the town since 1975! Moïse was able to sell quite a good number of books. Jeanvil, one of the students on our Preachers’ Course, is involved in running a local radio station. He asked me to come and preach there in the afternoon, which I gladly did. In the evening, I was invited to speak briefly to some young men studying at a local Bible school. Again, there was a good interest in the message. All this was an appetizer for future things, I believe. Several church leaders in the town seem to be willing to have the Gospel preached and taught to them on another visit.
Moïse has already been there again with more books, and there seems to be interest in having the books left there permanently.
Back on the dreaded coach for several hours, but another company with a good driver! The way back to Gonaïves took less time than a few days before! Gonaïves is a large and lovely town set by the sea and surrounded by barren hills. Over the years, most of the trees have been cut down, and a few years ago, the place was devastated with flashfloods because of this. The way between Port-de-Paix and Gonaïves is among the hills and the scenery is often breathtaking.
We stayed in Gonaïves for a few days and built on the good contacts made last year. In particular, a whole series of meetings had been set up in a Bible school which seems to be a sort of focal point in the town. Last year, in opening the proceedings, the leader of the school had made it clear that they did not want to be taught the ideas of men but the Word of God “centered on Christ”, as he said.
The occasion did not disappoint me as I was given the freedom to just open the Bible and teach. Many younger people study at that school and they listened carefully before asking many questions. Many other people came as well. As last year, the interest in the Gospel was real and discussions lasted outside the building well into the evening, only stopping because security demanded that we got back to our lodgings before it got too late.
The planning of our stay there was not as good as we could have hoped, and this was obvious to everyone. So, we got together with the leaders and agreed to stay in close contact to improve this for any future visit.
On Sunday morning, I was invited to preach in a local church, and then to speak on a local radio station. The technicians asked if they could broadcast the programmes “Échos de la Vérité” regularly. We readily agreed and I was able to leave many files with them. Let the Word ring out in that city!
That particular station is attached to a large church and belongs to a “prosperity message” entrepreneur. Josias, our driver, pointed to the comparison between the huge hut which this man has erected for the meetings of his group and his own “castle” not too far away. At least, the message is true for someone! The wonder is that people are ready to put up with such nonsense – may the Word open the eyes of the blind!
After the few days in Gonaïves, we made our way back to Port-au-Prince, the capital, for a full schedule of meetings in churches and Bible schools. As on other occasions, leaders are very keen to organize meetings, but people are so busy in such a big city that plans did not always produce the expected result as far as attendance is concerned. Still, the Gospel was preached and people heard.
For the first time in Haiti, I was prevented from preaching in a place where I had been before. This was sad, but it shows that the Gospel of grace is not always a welcome sound for all. Last year, the former pastor of that church had been murdered just a day before I was invited to preach. That worship service had been a very emotional occasion, when the Lord had led me to preach from the words of Peter: “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!”
Since then, a man has replaced the murdered man and, although he has heard me preach several times, he is not so interested in the message of grace. I had been invited to preach at the wedding of a friend and at the Sunday morning service, but instead the church leader insisted on speaking himself.
On the Saturday, he did so for over half an hour, from beautiful Bible texts such as Ecclesiastes 4:12 (the three-fold cord is not easily broken) and Ephesians 5. But not once did he use the word “Christ”, quite a feat when one comes to think of it! This shows the great need there is to preach the only message/person that saves and to teach local men to do that too. On Sunday morning, I was invited to speak in two other places instead and the Lord blessed the Word.
We have a number of students in Haiti and in particular in Port-au-Prince. I met with several of them on Sunday afternoon, and preached in some of their churches throughout the week. A visit to a student in Saint Marc (a town by the sea half-way to Gonaïves) was cancelled at the last minute, which gave me a welcome break.
Last year, through friends in the US, I had made contact with some men who run a Bible school situated in the plain just to the east of Port-au-Prince. I was invited there this year to preach the Word at several meetings. I had one long session with the “young couples” (!), and this was really uplifting. Most people want recipes for how to live a better life, find the right partner, and such things, and I guess most of those present were probably looking for that sort of things. But many responded very well to a message rooted in the Scripture and centered on Christ.
I also had a whole morning with the students of that Bible school. Again, the opportunity was encouraging. We looked at the action of the Spirit of God on the Word of God in the work of the Gospel. Both students and leaders expressed their desire for me to do this again whenever I can return.
The bookshop in Port-au-Prince is still in operation. The friends involved in that ministry have relocated the shop to a place nearby, probably not as well situated as the old one, but with more potential. They plan to expand the place, which would certainly be an improvement.
We had sent a very large consignment of books some months ago. The container had just arrived in the port, but the books could not be cleared through Customs before I came home. This was a shame, as we were limited throughout my visit in the number of titles we could take with us
The sales have been slow over the past few months. The more popular books are not available for the moment, due to our recent inability to reprint. The refurbishment of the shop, though very much needed, has also occupied the minds of the men there. I am sure that they will need to make the new place known to people in the city.
Moïse has the great desire to visit the various churches in the Port-au-Prince area to sell the books. Unfortunately, he has been busy with various other things despite his desire to give more time to this work. He plans to return to Port-de-Paix, in the north, with the books just arrived, and to explore the south and west of the country where he has never been. We need to look more closely into the way we operate in Haiti so that the message may spread more effectively.
Since starting to write this letter, I have had word from him that he has indeed gone to Port-de-Paix and had very good contacts there, with the possibility of leaving a consignment of books with a local brother. He has also been to Les Cayes in the south-west, for a sort of Convention. The reactions to the books have been very positive in the main. One “important monsieur” came to look at the book-table and commented that the books seem to be empty. Claiming fame for his several diplomas from the US that man was very scornful. Moïse only answered: “If your diplomas are not rooted in Christ, they’re not worth anything!” Love this man!
Future plans for Haiti
I would have liked to return next Autumn to Haiti, but it looks very unlikely that I will be able to do so, as dates for various elections have been set around that time. Security is already precarious at the best of times (Moïse speaks of murders every day), and it certainly will not improve as the political agenda gets busy.
Let us pray for this little country, one of the poorest in the world. There is a lot of chaos and anarchy, as well as rampant Christless religion (don’t these things often go together?). The voice of the Shepherd must resound so that the lost sheep there may hear, live and follow Him, to the glory of God’s name!