By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
HAITI – Lane Howe and his interpreter had just entered the 8 x 10 foot home when they were offered the only food the 28-year-old Haitian woman named Garline had in her entire house – eight bananas.
Though she owned very little and had lost 17 family members during a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated the country on Jan. 12, 2010, Garline demonstrated she had all she needed – a relationship with Jesus Christ.
The encounter forever etched in Howe’s mind a picture of Christ-likeness, and is a constant reminder of why he and 42 other Louisiana Baptists went to Haiti for a mid-October mission trip.
“She had it all figured out and showed me it’s not about the material things that matter,” said Howe, a member of Calvary Baptist Church in Alexandria. “Here was someone who had lost 17 family members and still had some injuries visible from the earthquake, yet she showed me how we are supposed to live our lives – devoted to Christ and excited to have Him in us.
“Just like she wanted to share all the food she had, we should be willing and excited to share what we have as Christ-followers,” he continued. “It’s our obligation because Haiti is in need.
“How can they hear the Word if we don’t go?” he asked.
Howe was part of a team comprising 18 Louisiana Baptist churches which ministered in the city of Croix-des-Bouquets and the rural area of Canaan, Haiti.
During the seven-day trip, the team cared for more than 800 men, women and children at a medical clinic, hosted a pastor’s conference, installed safe drinking water systems for 16 families, led a Vacation Bible School for at least 300 children each day, led a Bible club for 25 youth daily, participated in neighborhood evangelism and preached at area Haitian churches.
By the date of their departure Oct. 23, 181 people had received Christ as Lord and Savior and had been connected with Haitian Baptist churches in their prospective neighborhoods.
The trip was sponsored by the Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home & Family Ministries and the Louisiana Baptist Convention in conjunction with the Louisiana/Haiti Partnership, partnership between the Louisiana Baptist Convention and the Haitian Baptist Convention.
Since 2012, teams have provided orphan support with a focus on establishing a children’s village in Haiti. More than 50 churches have been involved.
Haiti was devastated by the earthquake in 2010 that killed more than 250,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless. Louisiana Baptists were among those who provided disaster relief soon after the earthquake and that effort has continued through the partnership.
The vision is to build a mission center with a church plant as well as a children’s village, a housing community, micro businesses and trade schools.
There are even hopes to build a hotel that will be operated by Haitians, and a school for educating the children.
The mission center will be Louisiana Baptists’ base for planting churches across Haiti.
Beth Green, director of church and community ministries at the Children’s Home, said Haitian Christians are praying for a new nation and she believes the work done by the teams over the years is helping to make that dream a reality.
“We are walking alongside them to change their country for Christ,” Green said. “We are not just going over there one time to provide physical needs but actually are working hand-in-hand with our Haitian brothers and sisters to transform Haiti.
“Children are children wherever they are,” she continued. “What is so amazing to see is the beautiful hearts of the children and the joy of their worshiping. By the world’s standards, the children have so very little, but by God’s standards, they have everything if Christ is their Lord and Savior. To know we will have a part in prayerfully helping children to grow in their walk with Christ and ultimately change their country for Christ is the greatest blessing of all.”
Wayne Sheppard, Louisiana Baptist executive assistant to the executive director, echoed the thought.
“I believe our partnership is going to be a long-term effort to transform Haiti,” he said. “Our vision that we are raising up a new generation to transform Haiti. That’s our goal and we go.
“God has placed a real burden on our hearts for the love of Haiti,” he said. “To know that some of these people who come to know Christ are people we may never see again here but in Heaven is reassuring because we’ll walk the streets in Heaven together one day. We leave each time knowing we made an investment in the Kingdom of God and the work will continue in the hearts of those we have touched.”
Construction on the children’s village will begin once property is purchased. Sheppard is optimistic the deal for 3.2 acres of land will be finalized by December 31, 2015.
A highlight of the trip for Jeff Hulett, student minister at Jefferson Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, was seeing his translator work up the courage to share the Gospel with his fellow Haitians and commit to discipling them after the team returned to Louisiana.
When Hulett first began sharing Christ, he noticed his translator retaining some of what he shared. Near the end of the week, the translator indicated his desire to share on his own. After receiving some initial coaching from Hulett, the translator was able to present the Gospel without any assistance.
“I told him that I knew God was doing some great things in the country and the greatest thing I saw was how he could witness to others,” Hulett said. “He was very excited and I could tell God was doing a work in his life. We ended up discipling a brother in Christ who is now better prepared to share his faith in his own country.
“Even if I don’t go back to Haiti in the future, I know there is a person I have trained and equipped who is continuing to do the work we had been doing,” he said.
Hulett’s wife, Stephanie, minister of missions at Jefferson Baptist, was touched by how God provided throughout their time in Haiti, such as when medical supplies seemed to be so low that the clinic would need to be shut down early. However, with the exception of a few bottles of cough syrup, all the prescriptions were able to be filled just before the clinic closed for the day.
“One doctor said we would have to shut down early and 200 still need to be treated,” she said. “We prayed that medicine would be multiplied and miraculously everyone was treated. That reminded us that no matter what situation we are placed in, God will provide the people and resources to accomplish it and every resource for the gospel to be spread.”
For Scott McKenzie, seeing church members participate in a mission trip for the first time was a highlight.
“As difficult as it was in many ways for them, they wanted to go back again,” said McKenzie, minister to senior adults and single adults at First Baptist Church in Lafayette. “I was also impressed that despite us having different cultures, speaking a different language and living in different countries, our basic needs are the same. We want to love and be loved, we want the best for our children and we want to be healthy. We were able to minister to some of those needs, spiritual along the way with the physical.”
While working at the medical clinic, McKenzie witnessed at least two incidents where God intervened:
— A woman was on the brink of death but team members were able to take her to the hospital in time, and she recovered after a treatment which cost the equivalent of 60 dollars.
— A young girl had a terrible infection on her leg, but the medical team took her promptly to the hospital as well. She began to recover almost right away and she returned to the clinic the next day to thank the team.
“God put us in place at the right time to help them,” he said. “
Construction teams will travel in the spring to begin work on the new Children’s Village, and another mission trip is planned for Oct. 15-21, 2016. For more information on these and other future trips, contact email Wayne.Sheppard@louisianabaptists.org or call 318.448.3402.