Our team of four representing a joint venture of JARON Ministries, International of Fresno, California and the West Fresno Ministerial Alliance, just returned from the earthquake-devastated nation of Haiti. What follows is a first-hand account of the situation as we saw it in connection with our missions work. The team, consisting of myself, my wife Melinda, Pastor Edward Lee and Amber Balakian, arrived in Haiti on Tuesday, June 15 after a fourteen-hour journey and little or no sleep the night before (we had a five hour layover in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Upon arrival, we found the Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport main building to be severely damaged (Melinda and I had traveled through this building back in 2003 and 2005). In its place was a shuttle-bus system which took us to a hastily-built customs and luggage retrieval center, where we were processed.
Haiti in June is hot and humid. This year it was caught up in the soccer World Cup competition. Brazil and Argentina seemed to be the heavy favorites. As we made the eight or ten-mile trip (35 minutes) from the airport to the suburb of Delmas, the streets were full of people, cars and trucks of every shape and condition as well as the colorful tap-taps (taxi-trucks). Our Haitian hosts Jonathan and Alexandra Joseph, were warm and hospitable. We communicated through a combination of English, French, Kreyol and gestures.
Let me see if I can give you a taste of what life is like in Haiti. For instance, in the mornings you hear the sounds of people walking down the mostly unpaved streets either chanting something for sale or ringing a little bell to shine shoes, or deliver water. Then there is the constant motion of people in the streets and the “creative driving style” (we remarked that they seemed to be “playing chicken” all the time). It is amazing there are so few serious accidents. Electric power was sporadic and bathing and toilet duties were mostly by by scoop and bucket.
How can I describe the food? In my opinion, with one exception, we never ate anything that wasn’t very good, although they have combinations of tastes that are unusual to most North Americans. For dinner we had the typical Haitian rice and black beans along with either spicy chicken or shredded beef. Every meal was served with fruit and fresh juice to drink. Delicious.
On this trip, we worked with an association of churches connected with the Brazilian Baptists. I taught Christian Apologetics (defending the Christian faith amid many questions and criticisms), Pastor Ed Lee taught Outreach in Difficult Times and the ladies led seminars for women and kids. On Tuesday the first session was plagued with translation problems which were worked out by the following day. In the Bible Institute classes there were just short of 50 students, 10 of which were pastors. The sessions went extremely well (after the rocky start) with an enthusiastic response from students and administration alike. In my Apologetics course, the questions ranged from archeology to mathematics in terms of their support of the Bible.
Wednesday morning we toured downtown Port au Prince. The destruction was nearly indescribable. The government palace was still in ruins, as were many buildings and even entire neighborhoods. Many buildings still had unrecovered bodies under the ruins so there was a faint smell of death in many places. The public park across from the government palace had been transformed into a tent city. The public hospital, which we also toured, had patients in tents outside with little children crying in the sweltering conditions. It was heart-wrenching.
We saw UN and various foreign government personnel in several places, but no work of reconstruction except by the Haitians themselves. We were later told that this was partly because so many of the property owners were buried in the collapse of those buildings, so there were legal issues as to clearing the rubble and rebuilding. For now, though, the people need to get out of the tents and tarp shelters before hurricane season, which is just around the corner. The Haitians we spoke with asked some hard questions of us. What could we tell them? I am so glad we came to encourage these folks and at least show that they are not forgotten in the long task of rebuilding ahead of them.
On Thursday, the team visited the Good Samaritan Orphanage in a city called La Croix de Boquets. There are 95 kids there under the care of a matron who felt the need to start this work sixteen years ago. Her kids range in age from tiny babies to twenty years of age. They seemed to be well-fell and loved. Melinda and Amber had the chance to give a fun Bible lesson and we all got to know the kids. We left a small gift as a token that we care about them. Melinda and I wanted to bring some of them back home with us. They were so cute and friendly.
On Friday we were invited to preach at a refugee camp of 50,000 people located where Delmas and Petion-ville meet. Sean Penn’s JP organization and others are working there helping with health, education, etc. We worked with the pastor of the site, Pastor Saint Cyr, in praying for three very sick infants and ministering to the moms. We also preached and sang in the church service that night, which was packed with maybe 350 people. We were invited on the spot to return Saturday and Sunday evening, which we were unable to do because of the heavy rain which came Saturday afternoon.
On Saturday and Sunday the team worked in an eastern suburb of Port au Prince called Cottard. In the mornings, Melinda and Amber worked with kids at a brand new church started in this new community of refugees. The Sunday service was very touching as the children of the church—dressed in their very best, greeted us with songs and readings and then presented us with Haitian flags. We hope to form an on-going relationship to help that church. Then in the afternoons, the ladies worked with women in an established church in the northern suburb of Santo. This church of maybe 400 members was completely demolished in the earthquake or January 12.
The trip continued on Monday and Tuesday with the Bible Institute classes and a two-hour certificate ceremony on Tuesday evening. Tuesday morning Ed and I were invited to be interviewed on Radio Shalom, which is a new Christian radio station broadcasting all over the nation. Our short interview allowed us to tell the Haitian people they are not forgotten and that there are people in many countries praying for them and willing to help.
The night before we returned home, our hosts requested a continuing relationship with JARON and the West Fresno Ministerial Alliance. Our plan is to send teams from various churches in the future to work with this very well-founded and reliable group of churches. Thanks for praying and for sending us on your behalf.
Mike and Melinda Bogart, JARON Ministries