5 years later, Haitian pastors say quake opened doors

by Barbara Denman/Florida Baptist Convention , posted Thursday, January 15, 2015 (3 years ago)

EDITOR'S NOTE: This week marks the five-year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake that killed more than 230,000 people on Jan. 12, 2010.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (BP) -- As the earth began to buckle Jan. 12, 2010, Youdel Azor recalled, "The ground was moving like someone bouncing on a trampoline."

In 35 seconds on that scary, sad and dreadful day in Haiti five years ago, more than 230,000 people were dead from the earthquake measuring 7.0 magnitude on the Richter scale. People trapped by massive slabs of concrete cried for relief, said Azor and a group of Haitian Baptist pastors meeting in Port-au-Prince this past December.

Some of the injured even begged for a machete to cut off their own limbs holding them captive under the weight of the fallen debris. Total strangers helped each other. People from every social strata spent that night under the stars in fear of falling debris.

"Everyone was calling the name of Jesus," said Azor, volunteer teams coordinator for the Confraternite Missionaire Baptiste de Haiti (CMBH).

In the ensuing days, a spiritual revival broke out as they cried out to God for deliverance.

Now five years later, many Baptist leaders believe the earthquake became a catalyst for spiritual development.

CMBH pastors and other Christians seized that time to loudly proclaim the Gospel of Christ, holding crusades and outdoor worship for the next two weeks.

As a result of this flourishing evangelistic fervor in the country, Haiti's evangelical pastors estimate 225,000 persons came to know Christ as their Savior in the days following the earthquake. Still to this day, five years later, week-long crusades are held in remembrance of this event.

The CMBH churches reported about 9,500 professions of faith in the year after the earthquake and as a result, planted 426 new churches in the 18 months following.

God called Pastor Frankie Jean Louis from his urban church, where he served as an associate pastor, to plant a church in a remote area outside of Jeremy after the quake. "The first Sunday we had 73 attending," the pastor said. "We are still alive today, growing, baptizing, discipling. The earthquake birthed many opportunities for Jesus sharing. Many have become new creatures in Jesus."

In almost every measurable way, the Florida Baptist Convention-affiliated CMBH churches alone doubled during the past five years. From 2009 to 2014, the number of churches increased from 890 to 1,704; baptisms from 9,244 to 29,754; members from 59,588 to 153,212; and church attendance from 56,964 to 292,723.

A three-year seminary program provided by a partnership between the Florida Baptist Convention and New Orleans Theological Seminary graduated 145 students in 2012; in September another 150 students will receive certificates.

In 2010, as the world watched the harrowing images from the devastated country in the aftermath of the earthquake, nations responded, as did Florida and Southern Baptists.

The world poured money into charities and government projects. Yet five years later, media reports indicate little of the money trickled down to the Haitian people, many of whom still live in tents and neighborhoods of rubble.

But according to Craig Culbreth, lead strategist for Florida Baptists' missional support group, a new optimism exists in the country.

Culbreth, who in an earlier assignment served as the Convention's partnership mission liaison, has been traveling to Haiti since 1995.

Part of the confidence, he said, has been an improved infrastructure in Haiti as ambulances, garbage trucks, road work and new construction are visible to the people along the streets.

"I can remember the looks on the faces of the CMBH staff as we arrived in the country just after the earthquake. I had never seen such sadness. I had never seen such loss of hope."

In subsequent months, "I saw the sparkle in their eyes return. I saw them work harder than I have ever seen them work before as hundreds of teams would come in and they would work tirelessly to assist them."

The earthquake, he contends, continues to be a catalyst for spiritual development. "Now I see a passion to share the Gospel of Jesus like people on a mission."

Florida Baptists have been in partnership with the CMBH for two decades and employ seven indigenous missionaries and a staff of 15 at the Convention-owned mission house in Port-au-Prince.

Staff members were on the ground within hours after the earthquake hit, contacting Haitian staff to ensure their safety and mobilizing them to develop their disaster response plans and mounted a two-year response.

Fritz Wilson, executive director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) and former disaster relief director for Florida Baptists, said, "First and foremost, we brought help, healing and hope to the people of Haiti."

This was accomplished, he said, by providing medical teams, rice and bean distributions, home inspection teams, food buckets of hope and demolition teams; and constructing homes "built by Haitian men we hired and trained to do the work."

Wilson noted, "We also brought the prayers and support for the CMBH pastors in Haiti who were ministering to their congregations while they also were suffering the effects of the earthquake."

Pastor Louis recalled, "Florida Baptists and Southern Baptists were everywhere helping. People in our communities saw Jesus in Florida Baptists and the many volunteers who came to help us. The outpouring of assistance was very big and such a witness to God Almighty.

"They brought light, hope, respect and dignity to Haiti."

Wilson spent six months in Haiti during the response phase and oversaw the rebuild phase that continued for another 18 months.

"Rebuild Haiti" was a cooperative venture that involved Haitian Baptists, the International Mission Board, the Florida Convention and SBDR. In the 18 months after the earthquake "Rebuild Haiti" constructed 3,000 homes for displaced Haitians, including 1,025 by Florida Baptists and SBDR.

The effort also trained and employed Haitians as supervisors, construction workers, support staff, warehouse workers, drivers, translators and security personnel. At the conclusion of Rebuild Haiti, businesses created to support the construction were given to the workers as ongoing income for their own families.

With every house completed, CMBH pastors visited each home to present a Bible and the Gospel message and to link residents with a local Baptist church in that community.

With the CMBH network of churches previously established in Haiti, Florida Baptists provided an outlet for Southern Baptists to respond to the earthquake in a systematic manner.

Alabama Baptists partnered with SBDR and Florida Baptists to develop a long-term ongoing relationship in Jacmel, located in the southern portion of Haiti.

Reggie Quimby, Alabama Baptists' director of global missions, said he believes the results of their partnership "are only truly recorded in heaven. The lives of hundreds of Haitians have been changed forever, and Alabama Baptist volunteers have been challenged to respond to physical and medical needs in an attempt to stamp out the spiritual darkness that continues to envelop the country."

First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., helped establish the Children's Hope Ministry, when church members Andy and Tanya Birchfield discovered a group of 16 children living in a tent with a young Haitian caregiver eight months after the earthquake destroyed their home.

Children's Hope Ministry founded by the Birchfields now includes an orphanage that has grown to 43 children ranging from babies to age 12 living in six cottages, a director's home and volunteer home. Soon an aquaponics farm and medical clinic will be open in the community.

Southern Baptist volunteers continue to work in Haiti. In 2009, Florida Baptists hosted 16-25 mission volunteer teams; in 2010, that number increased to 75 teams; and for the past four years, between 39-44 teams traveled annually to Haiti to minister.

"It continues to this day," said CMBH Pastor Amos Jean-Baptiste during the December meeting. Now Pastor Jean-Baptiste looks toward the future with a resolute commitment. "Doors are still open for sharing Jesus. With the anniversary, we must do more. We must remain faithful to talk to others about their relationship with Jesus, God's Son."

Barbara Denman is the Florida Baptist Convention's director of communications. John Holloway, lead strategist of the Florida Baptist partnership missions team contributed to this article.
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