Haiti relief changing lives, Floridian says
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (BP)--As he left the airport in Port-au-Prince, Joseph Gaston saw a desperate young woman, begging for help. When Gaston talked with her, he learned she had lost her father, mother and brother in the Jan. 12 earthquake.
Filled with compassion, Gaston shared the Gospel and urged her to "have courage" that God would comfort her in days to come.
"She accepted the Lord with a firm conviction," said Gaston, director of the Florida Baptist Convention's Haitian church development department. He connected her with a local pastor to help guide her in her newfound faith.
Gaston, a native Port-au-Prince, found he had many such opportunities to talk with people about Jesus as he traveled with a four-member Florida Baptist Convention assessment team in Haiti Jan. 17-22.
Working at a clinic with an Arkansas Baptist medical team, Gaston prayed over the sick and injured, reassuring them that "God is in control in their deepest and darkest hour." He led four people to Christ at the clinic, which treated as many as 79 victims a day.
Gaston also led worship services in a church near Bon Repose that drew as many as 300 Haitians nightly.
The assessment team traveled to the quake-ravaged nation to begin Florida Baptists' response in the crisis. The Florida convention has a 15-year partnership with Haitian Baptists and employs six indigenous directors of mission and a mission coordinator for the Confraternite Missionaire Baptiste d' Haiti (CMBH). Fifteen Florida Baptist employees work and live in the convention's guest/mission house, located about 17 miles from the earthquake's epicenter.
During the 15 years of the partnership, Florida Baptists have started 890 churches, including 95 new churches in 2009.
"Florida Baptists will do everything within our power and response to meet the physical and spiritual needs of the people in Haiti and especially in our 890 churches," said John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention.
In the past, the Florida Baptist Convention provided beans and rice to the Haitians after hurricanes, floods and civil unrest.
"But we have never had anything of this magnitude to deal with before," Sullivan said.
Sullivan indicated a three-prong response effort is in the works: feeding and humanitarian needs such as medical supplies, followed by damage and needs assessment at church facilities and then a rebuilding effort.
While the assessment team was in Haiti, relief efforts were directed to five communities surrounding Port-au-Prince. Rice -- the basic staple of the Haitian diet -- was distributed by pastors in churches. A second feeding will be done by local CMBH pastors coordinating the food distribution.
The Florida convention also sent funds to purchase rice for distribution in Cap Haitien, the nation's second largest city. The Haitian government is sending thousands of Port-au-Prince refugees to the northern port city to escape the devastation in the capital.
Haitians leaving Port-au-Prince also are headed in great numbers to outlying farmlands as they search for food and the means of earning a living.
Craig Culbreth, director of the Florida convention's partnership mission department, predicted the influx of refugees in these nearby towns will give CMBH churches an opportunity to minister to needy Haitians through food distributions and spiritual help.
Placing these churches in the "forefront" of food distribution will give them credibility and a witness, Culbreth added. "They will be seen as leaders in their communities."
"For many years, Florida Baptists through the CMBH have invested in Haiti and now our churches will have a place of ministry as a result of that investment," Culbreth said.
While in Haiti, the Florida team worked tirelessly to support the CMBH missionaries and pastors affected by the devastating earthquake, Culbreth said.
Wilbanks and Culbreth went to the homes of several CMBH staff members to inspect damage and counsel with families. "This is going to be very important to our recovery and future plans. Our staff must recover, as they are our front liners as we try to help this crippled nation," Culbreth said.
Because banks in the Port-au-Prince area were closed, the Florida convention took funding to disburse the payroll of the 22 Haitian employees who either serve as regional missionaries or work at the convention's mission house. In addition, the convention provided cash assistance to 100 Haitian Baptist pastors, most of whom are bivocational and now without work.
Meanwhile efforts are underway to repair damage to the convention's mission house in Port-au-Prince. The goal is to have it operational by Jan. 30 to accommodate the first wave of Baptist disaster relief volunteers.
During their stay, the Florida and Arkansas teams, as well as personnel from the International Mission Board, were housed in the El Shaddai orphanage in Bon Repos, located north of the Port au Prince airport. The private orphanage is managed by Marie Prinvil, a former Florida Baptist Convention employee who received funding from Florida Baptists as she began the home for these children in crisis.
"Again our investment in Haiti paid off as we had a strong partner in our response efforts," Culbreth noted. "We could not have accomplished what we did without Marie's help and hospitality." Prinvil also secured the rice that was distributed to the communities.
Culbreth said Florida Baptists have been in Haiti and will remain there for the long term. "We are giving hope to the hopeless. We are changing lives forever, mine included," he said.
Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention (www.flbaptist.org).
Southern Baptists can contribute to "Haiti Earthquake Disaster Relief" through their local church or directly to their state convention, the North American Mission Board (www.namb.net) or the International Mission Board (www.imb.org):
-- The Florida Baptist Convention has established a Haiti earthquake relief fund, available online at www.flbaptist.org. Donations also may be sent to Florida Baptist Convention, 1230 Hendricks Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32257. Designate on check "Haitian Earthquake relief." For more information, call 800-226-8584, ext. 3135; or 904-596-3135.
-- The North American Mission Board has set up a Haiti disaster relief fund that will direct money to state conventions and other Southern Baptists who are doing relief work in Haiti. Donations may be made online, www.NAMB.net, by phone, 1-866-407-6262, or by mail, North American Mission Board, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Make checks payable to "Haiti Disaster Relief Fund/NAMB."
-- Initial funding for the relief effort will come from the International Mission Board's disaster relief fund. Contributions can be made online, www.imb.org, or by mail, International Mission Board, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230.
Regardless of the SBC channel, all funds received for this purpose will go to relief efforts; none will be used for administrative costs.