In Haiti, faith & churches continue to sprout
Peering under the hood at a busted radiator hose, Culbreth and his traveling companions, De Louis Labranche and Michele Elius, who serve with the Confraternite Missionaire Baptiste d'Haiti convention (CMBH), were soon surrounded by 14 Haitians who appeared seemingly from nowhere to offer assistance.
As Culbreth, Florida Baptists' partnership missions director who was scheduled to preach during the crusade, prepared for the hour walk to Bouce Carre, one of the locals reached into the engine and pulled out a brand-new rubber hose from the bottom of the motor -- the exact size needed to repair the radiator.
With the car fixed, Culbreth and his fellow travelers arrived at the crusade within 30 minutes -- just as he was scheduled to begin speaking. At the conclusion, 143 people made professions of faith.
"I'd love to be able to explain what happened with the car," Culbreth said. "But I know if we had purchased the new hose we would have stored it inside the car. Nor can I explain why it was the exact size we needed."
He does believe, however, that the incident is just one of many ways "God has proved how much He cares about the work being done in Haiti" through Southern Baptists and the CMBH churches.
Ten weeks after the Jan. 12 earthquake hit Haiti, Baptist leaders in the hurting nation see an openness to the Gospel unseen before, spawning a renewed urgency to their task.
In the days after the quake, Haitian pastors reported 40,127 professions of faith among their churches as Haitians sought hope amid the rubble. This fresh spiritual renewal compelled the pastors, with funding from the Florida Baptist Convention, to conduct a series of crusades across the nation.
During the first wave of these crusades -- four large association-wide events and 51 smaller local meetings -- the Baptist pastors in Haiti have reported another 18,038 conversions, totaling 58,167 new Christian believers in their earthquake-scarred land.
In the crusades he attended, Culbreth noted, the Haitian pastors met with the new believers for as long as three hours explaining their newfound faith.
Among those attending the crusades were two voodoo priests who came to know Christ before the earthquake. Their transformation led to the conversion of many other voodoo priests, Culbreth said. A second wave of crusades began March 22.
Seven new churches also have been started among the Haitians, one with 140 people in attendance, Culbreth reported. Another church was planted in a Port-au-Prince garbage dump where one of the Haitian pastors lives. A pastor in another city sent pews for church members to sit on amid the refuse.
"I visited that new church on the first Sunday," Culbreth said, "and walked over broken glass and trash to get to the worship service."
Starting churches in Haiti is "unlike church planting in the U.S.," said Culbreth, a former church planter. "We start a church, say 'here it is' and then try to reach people. In Haiti, they reach people and when they are saved, start the church like the early New Testament Christians in the Book of Acts."
In the two months since the earthquake, CMBH pastors have distributed 87.5 tons of rice purchased in Haiti by Florida Baptist disaster relief funds, providing 680,933 meals to people mostly in the Port-au-Prince region. Florida Baptists have a 15-year partnership with the CMBH and employ seven ministry directors to start new churches -- which have totaled 890 to date.
During the week of March 22, a second food distribution began of 60 tons of rice shipped by Florida Baptists to the port in St. Marc.
The food distributions in Port-au-Prince, as well as outlying cities where people have migrated, have been done in large part through local pastors who take the rice back to their churches to distribute to their communities.
Yet as volunteer chaplains, including some from Florida's Seminole Baptist Association, counseled with Port-au-Prince-area pastors and their wives, they learned many of the pastors' families were going without food.
The Haitian pastors have sacrificed their own well-being to meet needs of their people, said Gene Gregory, pastor of River of Life Church in Enterprise, who traveled to Haiti March 8-17.
"Even the little bit of food they have received they are giving it to their church members," Gregory said. While there is food from other sources in Haiti, long, unmanageable lines quickly form vying for food, he reported. "Our pastors do not want to stand in line for food because the lines become unruly and they do not believe it is a good witness."
With the second wave of rice distribution, Fritz Wilson, Florida Baptists' disaster relief director, believes that most of the pastors will not take rice for their families. To remedy the situation, the Florida convention purchased 50-pound bags to give specifically to the 260 pastors of Port-au-Prince churches for their families to use. Because the rice is a gift to their families, Wilsons believes the pastors will feel compelled to use it for themselves.
Wilson said the time of counseling, which involved Southern Baptist chaplains from other state conventions as well, "was one of the best things we have done for these pastors -- they too are victims. They have been so busy ministering they have not looked at their own needs."
Gregory agreed, "The pastors have had to be strong for their congregation and have no one to talk to, or to tell their story."
During the months of February and March, more than 90 Southern Baptist volunteers rotated in and out each week of the Florida Baptist Mission House in Port-au-Prince, serving as medical workers, building inspectors and chaplains, said Wilson, who also serves as the Haiti-based incident commander for the Southern Baptist Convention's disaster relief response.
During the week of March 15, the first medical teams began traveling beyond Port-au-Prince. Two of the first teams returned March 19 from Mirebalais, having treated 2,000 patients. Teams also were serving in Saint Marc, said Dennis Wilbanks, associate in the Florida Baptist partnership. During the week of March 22, medical teams were dispatched to Mirebalais, Cap Haitien and Jacmel as well as the capital city. Additionally, North Carolina Baptists, who have been in Haiti since the earthquake, held medical projects in several of the CMBH churches.
"The CMBH guesthouse will continue to be filled to capacity as well as another location where we are housing volunteers who work in and around the Port-au-Prince area," Wilbanks said.
After Easter, Wilbanks said work will continue in the present locations and will extend to Port-de-Paix, Jeremie, Nippes and Cayes.
Opportunities for ministries are opening up across Haiti, Wilson said. Southern Baptist volunteers have developed a relationship with the University of Miami which still operates a hospital in the Port-au-Prince airport. Volunteers from Tennessee have organized warehouses and supplies and Southern Baptist chaplains have been given permanent access to minister to patients and doctors. Southern Baptist well diggers from Oklahoma, who have had little success drilling wells in the rocky earth, are putting new pumps on old wells to make them more efficient.
Other volunteers will be tapped as demolition crews, working alongside other Haitians as they "sling sledgehammers and crow bars to clear out the debris," Wilson reported. "We cannot get heavy equipment in here, but we can work side by side doing manual labor with our Haitian brothers." Estimates indicated that nearly half of CMBH churches received damage from the earthquake -- some extensive, other minor, Wilson said.
In the next months, "Buckets of Hope" prepared by Southern Baptists are expected to begin arriving and be distributed.
With the rainy season near, Florida Baptists are working with Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, to provide 100 geo houses -- a dome-shaped home -- for homeless Haitians. The church plans to fabricate the homes and then send volunteers to Haiti to erect the homes on location. Also in the works is the purchase and distribution of 200 tent-like tarps to provide cover for churches as they worship.
Also, in the next weeks, volunteer teams will train CMBH pastors in chaplaincy and church members in evangelistic methods.
Gregory said he left Haiti with a sense of frustration and hope. "It's overwhelming to see so many needs and be unable to meet all the needs, yet that is how it is in our church in Florida," he said.
"But I was impressed with the pastors in Haiti, their servants' hearts and spirit and ongoing faith that God is working through this. They don't know where else to turn so they are turning to the Lord."
Gregory recalled that as his team returned to the CMBH mission house each night, a group of voodoo-practicing Haitians located near the house would begin chanting songs at night. That would lead the Baptists to begin singing their own Christian hymns, in something akin to a "battle of the hymns."
"That reminded me of the spiritual warfare is being waged in Haiti and the importance of prayer. The needs are great," the Florida pastor said.
Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention.
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."
-- Contributions through the International Mission Board can be made online at 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.