Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Celebrating Changed Lives in Haiti

By Randy Bishop, Samaritan’s Purse staff writer

Before I went to Haiti earlier this month, I knew relatively little about the country and understood even less.

My mental fact sheet on Haiti went something like this:

• Colonized by France
• Suffered under several corrupt governments
• Rocked by a terrible earthquake in January 2010, then by a cholera epidemic
• Shares an island with a richer neighbor—the Dominican Republic
• Remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere
• Known for voodoo
• Draws many relief organizations and mission-trip groups from the U.S.

This information is rather basic. I didn’t even realize there were plenty of beautiful mountains and beaches in Haiti, which prompted one of my translators to ask something like this, “You never looked on the Internet, did you?”

Yes, I’d heard some good stories from friends about God’s work in Haiti, but I knew no Haitians. I had no clue what they face or what life is really like for them. I’d never stepped on Haitian sand or soil.

This Christmas I’m glad that has changed. I’ve been given a tiny glimpse into the joys and trials of the people of Haiti through observations and interviews with the men, women, and children I met there on my trip with Samaritan’s Purse. My attitude toward the country has changed from despairing but hopeful to just plain hopeful. Best of all, I now know some passionate and articulate Haitian believers: Marc Edwine, Cliford, Ruth, Myrto, Adam, and Jean Louis, to name a few.

Haiti’s problems are deep and systemic. There are no easy fixes. For example, there is no universal education. School fees, whether public or private, and transportation expenses are prohibitive in many cases. According to the United Nations, 22 percent of children ages 6 to 11 (an estimated 400,000) were not in school as of 2007.

The unemployment rate is unimaginably high. Forty-seven percent of those over 15 cannot read and write.

“The heart of the problem is the heart of the people,” said Pierre Julien, Samaritan’s Purse ministry program manager for Haiti. “Until people’s hearts are changed, the physical realities will not change.”

That’s what makes Samaritan’s Purse different, he said. We meet physical needs as a base to reach the heart. As believers in Jesus Christ, we know the only one capable of changing hearts. By traveling to Haiti, my spirit was again refreshed to see that Jesus changes people.

“God is visiting Haiti now,” said Ruth Jean Simon, one of our national staff, as she testified to how the Lord is encouraging her. She also shared how God is calling the churches of Haiti to prayer and fasting.

A part of my trip was also visiting a few of the projects our teams are working on. I witnessed how tens of thousands of lives are being touched. Samaritan’s Purse is establishing recycling centers to both improve sanitation and generate income for locals, drilling wells and building latrines, providing hygiene training, combating gender-based violence, offering medical care, and more. We just opened the Greta Home and Academy, where 73 boys and girls will be nurtured and educated in a safe, loving setting.

As Samaritan’s Purse carries out all of these projects, we seek to train, empower, and equip local men and women. We try not to do the work for Haitians; we work with Haitians as partners. And we make sure they can continue the work once we’re gone.

Above all, we base our projects on the foundation of the Gospel. I talked with one of our recycling center owners, Manique Laguerre.

“You preach the Gospel by words and actions,” he said. “We don’t want people just to go to church; we want them to adore Christ.”

That kind of attitude will change Haiti.

I talked to two young women in a community where we did a water, sanitation, and hygiene project. Through the accompanying discipleship program, these two 20-somethings gave their lives to Jesus. “I feel I’m another person,” one said.

It’s hard not to be inspired by the Greta Home and Academy—so many happy, smiling children in one place. I talked with at least two young boys who aspire to be pastors when they grow up. Another wants to be a doctor. All of them will have opportunities to do positive things for their country.

Most important, God is changing their hearts from a tender age. Many of the children accepted Christ this past year through The Greatest Journey discipleship program. Baptisms in the sea are planned for January.

Christmas is about hope. Hope realized in a tiny baby. The promised one finally here with us. The one that would change things, bringing peace on earth, removing our sins, and becoming the way of salvation. His life, death, and resurrection did change everything.

And He is still our hope. For sorrow, pain, and suffering to end. For eternity in His presence—starting now. The only hope of humanity lies in Jesus Christ transforming lives. That is true for Haiti and every country. This Christmas, for the first time, I get to celebrate with hope the good things I’ve seen Jesus doing in Haiti.