Friday, January 25, 2019

"I Love It When a Plan Comes Together"

In the infamous words of Hannibal Smith in the TV show The A Team,  "I love it when a plan comes together!" The plan for our new church building in Haiti is coming together nicely. I made a working trip to the island on Sunday Jan. 13 and stayed thru Wed. the 16th. In four days we were able to complete about 1/3 of the rafters for the roof the new meeting hall. The new structure will give the United Church of God not only a place to worship each Sabbath, but also a learning center and a safe haven during the annual hurricane season. The 1700 square ft. building (which is built to international building codes - unseen in most of Haiti) is planned for completion around the 1st of April. Most of the brethren do not have electricity. The new building will have a dedicated transformer with reliable power and internet access for use of the brethren and community.  The metal roof has been ordered and our plan is to have it installed by February 10. This will officially “dry us in!”

On another positive note, on Tuesday morning, Jeanly Libersonn was baptized.  Jeanly lives a four hour bus ride from Mirebalais.  He made the trip to Mirebalais and stayed with Joseph Jean for about a week before the baptism.  He had been studying and communicating with Joseph form some time.  His family come from a different faith, and were not pleased with his new beliefs.  When he was getting ready for the trip to Mirebalais, his family hid his shoes and his clothes.  He had to borrow clothing and shoes for the trip.

A Bible Study was scheduled for the Tuesday night I was there. A heavy deluge of rain ensued, and deacon Joseph Jean thought it best to cancel. It had been extremely hot and humid since I had arrived. I was exhausted from the day’s hard physical labor, and had lain down for a rest. About 15 minutes later, Mr. Jean knocked on my door. He informed me that around 40 people had walked through the heavy downpour to attend the Bible Study, and we needed to go ahead with plans to conduct it. I got dressed and was immediately enthused and energised when I arrived and saw everyone joyfully singing hymns while waiting for the Bible Study to begin. We had a wonderful Bible Study.

We thank our God and Father for the incredible blessing of this building and remember the words from Psalm 127:1, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” Now we must begin to prepare for the spring Holy Days in our new building--the very first United Church of God Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread in Haiti. 



Building as seen from street-level

Side wall prepped for rafters

Rafters are going up!

Baptism of Jeanly Libersonn.  L to R, Mr. Michelet, Milot, Jeanly, Joseph Jean

Monday, December 24, 2018

December 2018 - The Walls Are Up!

Trip to Haiti December 2018


In December, Chuck made a quick trip to Haiti to oversee the next phase of construction on the meeting hall, to be dubbed “UCG Haiti Assembly Hall and Training Center.”  The walls have been almost completed, and it is time to start preparing for construction of the rafters for the roof.

Before embarking on this trip, Chuck cut short pieces of 2 x 8 boards to demonstrate the angle at which the rafters should be cut. These he took with him, along with some tools and supplies.

While in Haiti, Chuck and Joseph Jean traveled into Port-au-Prince to order the lumber and pick up ceiling fans for the hall.  

The trip went smoothly and it was satisfying to see the great work the Haitian Church members have done with the walls. The only disappointment was not having the opportunity to see most of the congregation.  This trip took place on a Sunday - Tuesday, so it did not encompass the Sabbath or Bible Study times.  

See photos of progress below.






Sunday, November 11, 2018

Trip to Haiti Nov. 2018-Making Progress!

Haiti Update
November 2018

We embarked upon my first (Chuck’s second) trip to Haiti on Friday, November 2.  Our flight was scheduled for departure shortly after 6:00 AM, so we left our house at about 4:00 AM.  Our luggage was stuffed just to the maximum weight.  We each had our carry on and personal items, plus a checked bag apiece.  We purchased secondhand suitcases with the intention of carrying them over with items for the Haitian congregation, and leaving the suitcases with them.  The suitcases were stuffed with clothing, shoes, food, and even hurricane ties for the church building that is about to be constructed.

Our nonstop flight to Haiti was uneventful, as was our progression through immigration.  As soon as we stepped out of the airport, we were in a different world.  A very busy, loud, crowded, disorganized one.  Thankfully, deacon Joseph Jean was there to meet us, with a big smile and a warm welcome.  With him was Miloet, a recently baptized young man he is mentoring.  Miloet was to sit in the back of the pickup truck to prevent our luggage from being stolen as we wound our way through the dusty and chaotic streets of Port-au-Prince.

Driving/riding through Port-au-Prince is a nervewracking experience, to say the least.  It is extremely crowded, and there appears to be no traffic rules.  There are no traffic signals.  People on foot, bicycle, and motorcycle mill around and dart across the street at will, often with no warning.  “Tap tap” vehicles were everywhere, and would pull out in front of you, stop suddenly in the middle of the road, and cut you off as you tried to make a turn. Tap taps are brightly painted buses or pick-up trucks that serve as share taxis in Haiti. Literally meaning "quick quick", these vehicles for hire are privately owned and ornately decorated.  It was amazing to see how many people could crowd into one of these tap taps.

We finally made it out of Port-au-Prince, and traveled two hours up and around the mountain to Mirebelais, home of Joseph Jean and our Haitian congregation.  After a stop to visit the Jean family, we checked into our hotel for a short rest before the Friday night Bible Study.

The Church van is currently out of commission, so Joseph picked us up that evening in his pickup.  He then drove all around Mirebelais, picking up brethren, until both the cab and the back of the pickup was full of people.  The first stop was to pick up our church pianist, Franelle, and his family.  As they climbed into the truck, I was handed their baby girl Rose to hold, and I was instantly in love with this petite, quiet, beautiful baby with big brown eyes.  Her older brother, Silas, climbed in beside me, and gave me the biggest, whitest, toothiest grin.  

Around 45 people attended the Bible Study, conducted by Chuck and translated to Creole by Joseph.

On the Sabbath, Joseph again made the rounds, this time picking up even more people.  Both the bed of the truck and the cab were full.  Around 65 people eventually showed up for Sabbath services.  I was struck by the number of children.  I counted at least 20 children, not including teenagers!  A few were scared of me, but most were very friendly.  They are beautiful children.  All were dressed in their best; which varied greatly from family to family.  

The opening songs were lively.  The Haitians love music.  As soon as the pianist arrived, he began to play, and those who were already present sang along until time for services.  After services, he played again for around an hour while some of the members lingered and sang along.  The sermon was given by Chuck, again translated by Joseph.  After services, everyone was served a meal prepared by Mrs. Jean and her sisters.  She had prepared a huge pot of rice and peas along with chicken, slaw, and beet salad. After a long afternoon of fellowshipping, Joseph again made the rounds to take us all home.  

On Sunday morning, Joseph picked us up, along with Miloet, Franelle, who is not only a musician, but also an electrician, and two members who are in the construction industry.  Chuck went over the plans for constructing the meeting hall on top of the Jean’s roof.  The engineering/electrical is to adhere to international building codes.  The four men worked through the plans, and arrived at a concise list of materials needed to complete the structure.  Once complete, this room will hold up to 200 people.  It will be used for Sabbath services and Bible Studies, and will serve as a training center for classes in English and computer skills.

On Monday morning, Joseph picked us up around 4:00 for our trip back to the Port-au-Prince airport.  A quick stop to pick up Miloet and we were on our way.  It was a long and white-knuckling trip, but Joseph got us to the airport on time.  We were sad to say goodbye to Joseph and Miloet, but we did and made our way into the chaos of the airport’s check in and security procedures.  Our trip home was again uneventful.

This trip marked a HUGE step in our goals to help the Haitian congregation, both spiritually and physically.  Our short-term goals are:
1.  Complete the church meeting hall/training center before the Spring Holy Days.
2.  This summer, send teachers to conduct the English and computer skills classes.
3.  Acquire a piece of property where a park and a community garden can be developed, the goal being to provide food for the brethren to eat and to sell/barter. We plan to provide soccer balls so the youth can have an outlet for good, clean fun, as well as learn teamwork.  You don’t see anything like this in Mirebelais--no soccer balls, cricket, or children’s toys of any type.  People do not have funds for those things.

We are very thankful and excited that Goal 1 is now fully funded, and getting under way!  We continue to pray for our Haitian brethren every day.  We also continue to thank Him for all the generosity that has been shown on behalf of the Haitian brethren, and we ask God to continue to bless all who are giving so much of themselves.  

Downtown Mirebelais
Downtown Mirebelais



Sabbath Services


Pianist, Franelle



 

 







 

Miloet

Building Site

Making Plans to Build


Preparing to Build


A Tap Tap

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Trip to Haiti August 24-28 2018

Trip to Haiti
August 24-28, 2018
By: Chuck Smith
(Photos at bottom)

As I was boarding my Jet Blue flight in Ft. Lauderdale, I had both anticipation and and anxiety for my first visit to the island of Haiti.  I had been warned by several people of the danger and violence in Haiti.  Only 700 miles by air, but a world away in cultures.  Haiti is the poorest nation in the Caribbean, and in fact, one of the poorest in the world.  It has a history of violence, oppression and cruel dictatorship.  Voodoo is widely practiced, and proliferates public schools.  But I found it also to be a nation of kind and loving people desperately looking for hope.

This inaugural visit to the first United Church of God congregation in Haiti, a nation of almost 11 million people, did not disappoint.  Deacon and local leader Joseph Jean established this humble congregation in his own home less than three months ago.  Monsieur Jean is a native of Haiti, but has dual citizenship in Haiti and the U.S.  

Mr. Jean was once a Sabbatarian minister, and served congregations in both Haiti and the U.S.  He lost that position when he discovered UCG literature about God’s Holy Day plan.  He became convicted that he should be observing the Holy Days, and sought out our congregation in Ft. Lauderdale.  After spending over a year working with me here, he and his family moved back to Haiti to spread the gospel there.  There are already several groups of people in Haiti who teach from our literature, and observe the Sabbath and Holy Days.  Through generous donations from UCG members throughout the U.S., we were able to load him up with supplies and equipment necessary to conduct Sabbath services.

The congregation is now in full swing.  They meet in the living room of the Jean home.  Each Sabbath, the numbers grow, to the point it is now standing room only.

Upon my arrival in Haiti, I was met by Joseph Jean and two of the the local members.  It was a Friday afternoon, and the traffic in Port-au-Prince was a chaotic mess.  It took us about two hours to get to Mirebalais, the town where Mr. Jean resides.  We held a Friday night Bible Study with about 55 in attendance (we only have 59 chairs).  The brethren are on fire!  They are excited and hungry for the Gospel message.  For them, it is a message of hope and prosperity--hope for this life AND for eternity.  This is in direct contrast to most of the local preachers in Haiti, who teach that the only hope is to die and go to heaven.  

After the Friday night Bible Study, I went back to my room at the one and only hotel in the area, the Wozo Hotel.  The hotel compound is guarded by men with sawed-off shotguns.  I slept well, but awoke to the sounds of pigs being slaughtered next door.  I arose early, as we had a baptism scheduled before Sabbath services.  It was Milot, a 26-year old young man who assists Mr. Jean with services each week--he was also one of those who met me at the airport.  Milot was baptized in the Wozo Hotel’s swimming pool.  

Most of the Haitians walk to services.  A few take “taxis”--motorcycles with dare devil drivers and no helmets.  These “taxis” are everywhere in Haiti.  Services are held at 10:00 AM, which helps the brethren avoid walking to services in the heat of the day  On this Sabbath, we had a record attendance--84!  I never dreamed you could get so many people in that small space.  Over 20 people had no chairs--they either stood or sat on the floor.  Some had to sit in the courtyard near the home’s entrance.  Most of these people are so poor, they live hand to mouth, and don’t necessarily even have one meal per day.  But everyone dresses in their very best for Sabbath services.  It might be the same outfit every week, but it is their best.  

About ninety percent of the brethren are unemployed. They are very industrious, but there is  no work to be had.  Even those fortunate enough to have jobs are not much better off.  In 2016, the minimun wage in Haiti was raised to $4.95 -- per day!  

The brethren heartily enjoy song services.  They are learning hymns from the UCG Hymnal, and have learned nine songs thus far.  They sing in French, and sing at both Sabbath services and Bible Studies.

Thanks to generous donations from here in the U.S., we have been able to provide a few French Bibles for the brethren to share at services, 50 folding chairs, a sound system and a piano.  We also have some French hymnals and literature.

I gave a message on “Spiritual Blindness,” and Mr. Jean translated.  UCG provides a subsidy which enables the Jeans to prepare rice and peas for everyone each Sabbath, so after services, everyone enjoyed a meal together.

There are many children and young people.  I didn’t get an exact count, but I estimate there are around 12 under the age of 5;  18 between the ages of 5 and 12, and  10 teenagers.  They add so much vitality and energy to the congregation.

As we have already outgrown the meeting space in Mr. Jean’s home, we are hoping to build a room on top of his flat roof.  This room will hold up to 200 brethren, and is the quickest and most economic way to provide meeting space.  We also plan to purchase another 50 folding chairs.

After spending time with this enthusiastic group of brethren, I am touched by their zeal for the truth, and for their hunger and thirst for more understanding. They are also desperately looking for hope in a bleak world. With God’s help, we can help them on both fronts.  We can help them capture the vision of the coming Kingdom of God, and we can give them hope in their physical lives now.  This year, United Church of God will have the first-ever Feast of Tabernacles in Haiti.  It will be a local-only site. Funds have been provided for them to have goat meat and chicken, plus plenty of rice and peas, during the Feast.  Meat is a rare treat for most of our brethren there--and they will be able to enjoy it for eight days in a row.

After the Feast of Tabernacles, we will continue to develop and implement a plan to improve the lives of the Haitian brethren.  Our vision is to purchase some property where a community garden and crops to sale could be planted.  This would be for the benefit of the whole community.  We would also like to implement a program to teach the young people English and computer skills.  Education is the key to finding jobs--without these basic skills, it is very difficult to find steady employment.

With God’s strength (not ours!) and with His blessings, we will continue to care for His flock as He has instructed us to do (1 Peter 5:2).  Do we have a huge task ahead of us?  Yes we do, but nothing is too big for God.  And what a joy and privilege it is to bring hope to a hopeless people!

As Christ said in Matt. 12:28, “Come to me…and I will refresh you.”  It is His people and His work--we are blessed to labor in the ripe fields.  Please pray for these precious brethren, and for God’s work on the island of Haiti.


        Chuck with local members

                                                           Chuck with the piano player


            Church meeting hall in the Jean family living room




Local members




Church supplies and equipment






           The Jean daughters                    Joseph and Molene Jean




Lovely ladies from the congregation                                       


Myrian Jean Age 5                                    Shama Jean Age 7                       
                      
Miloura Jean Age 9


                                           
A big smile to brighten your day



 Typical home in the Mirebalais area

Church services