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
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