VOODOO IS A POWERFUL FORCE in the impoverished nation of Haiti, where Christian doctors and orphanage directors work to erase myths — and end the country’s crippling cycle of need. LIMONADE, HAITI
— The witchdoctor is in.
That’s what the red sash means, says Julien Pierre Antoine, pointing to a tattered cloth tied to a tree branch next to a mud-brick house.
“This place is a voodoo place,” the Church of Christ minister says of Limonade, a community of 69,000 souls in northern Haiti. It’s rumored to be the site where Christopher Columbus spent Christmas in 1492.
Nearly 520 years later, many here practice the religion of their African forefathers, brought as slaves by the French.
Voodoo priests make weekly visits, charging the poor for the promise of healing, prosperity — change for the better — as they attempt to appease the angry spirits responsible for their woes.
Footsteps from the mud-brick house, a medical mission team from the Memorial Road Church of Christ
in Oklahoma City also offers healing to the people. Seated on folding chairs placed around the dirt floor of the Limonade Church of Christ, doctors examine children with skin rashes and adults with joint pain. Haitian Christians translate the patients’ symptoms from Creole into English.
Some of the ailments are minor. Others once were minor but, without proper medicine, have become severe. One woman has a large, bulbous growth protruding from her cheek — likely an infection caused by an abscessed tooth.
A young boy has developed pneumonia. In the U.S., he would be taken to a hospital. Here, he receives antibiotics, Tylenol and prayer. ‘I KNOW GOD CAN CONVINCE THEM’
Haiti’s ills go far beyond what the mission team can treat. The nation of nearly 10 million is regarded as the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. Its people have endured poverty and political unrest. In 2010, an earthquake rocked the capital city, Port-au-Prince, killing 230,000 people. Two years later, the presidential palace remains in ruins.
The Limonade church building mirrors the needs in Haiti. There are no security fences, windows or flooring. Across its high ceiling, wood beams buckle under the strain of a heavy, sheet metal roof.
Antoine, a graduate of the Center for Biblical Training in nearby Cap-Haitien, does his best to serve his congregation of 100 members. He preaches the Gospel to his community — even the witchdoctors.
Some say “I know God. God is a good god” but refuse to give up voodoo, he says, because it’s their only source of income.
He says he’s thankful for the missionaries, who help show the community that the church can be a place of healing — physically and spiritually. Last year, after a medical team visited, five people were baptized.
“I know God can convince them to come to Jesus,” Antoine says. ZOMBIES, FEAR AND JESUS
On scraps of paper, the doctors write prescriptions for the people of Limonade. The patients take them across the room to a makeshift pharmacy — set atop a thin sheet of wood supported by sawhorses.
Jillian Kittrell gathers plastic bags of medicine with Creole instructions and carefully explains the dosage to the patients.
Kittrell, a native of Nashville, Tenn., was 16 when she first visited Haiti on a medical mission trip about 10 years ago. While her team conducted a clinic similar to the one in Limonade, a woman with a 4-year-old boy approached the missionaries.
The boy had special needs, she explained, and his family was unable to care for him. The missionaries agreed to take him to a nearby children’s home.
The boy, named Ridlin, still lives at Cap Haitien Children’s Home
, an orphanage for about 60 Haitian children supported by Churches of Christ.
Last year, Kittrell and her husband, Hunter, became directors of the facility. The couple makes sure the children attend school and church. They help them with homework and play games.
Many of the youngsters live in fear of voodoo, Hunter Kittrell said. Some believe their parents were killed by “zombies” — mindless slaves controlled by witchdoctors and drugs.
Retelling a scary story whispered by those who live at the home, Hunter Kittrell tells visitors the children believe that “if you go to the garden at midnight and put your head between your legs, you can see them coming for you.” He has attempted to debunk the myth, but most of the children are too scared to believe him, Kittrell said.
To help educate the children about voodoo, the medical missionaries invited Ken Beckloff to travel with the team. The international minister for the Memorial Road church has served as a missionary to the African nations of Sierra Leone and Kenya.
In animistic beliefs, “the predominant emotion is fear … constantly worrying about offending spirits,” Beckloff explained. When he spoke to the older children at the orphanage, a young woman asked him how a bad spirit gets inside a person.
“When the spirit of God is not living in a person, other spirits can come in,” Beckloff replied. “They won’t control you if the Son of God controls you.”
Beckloff related the story from the book of Acts about Paul’s preaching in Athens. The apostle encountered altars to many gods, including an “unknown god,” and told the people that he had knowledge of this unknown deity — the one true God who’s above all others.
Beckloff said he applies this approach to educating young and old about animistic teachings, engaging people’s beliefs instead of dismissing or ridiculing them.
“I know it’s getting through,” Hunter Kittrell said of Beckloff’s lesson. “One girl asked two questions about magic. The times when we see them getting involved are the big moments.” CAN HAITI CHANGE?
Living in Haiti, surrounded by need, the Kittrells say they have experienced multiple emotions — joy, sadness, even anger.
“What in the world can we even do?” is a question they’ve asked more than once.
But the couple sees small signs of hope here. Three children from the orphanage have completed school and are attending college across the border in the Dominican Republic. That’s an opportunity few Haitians can even fathom, Hunter Kittrell said.
“These 60 kids, if we can change their lives, they’re the ones that are going to change this country,” he added. A CYCLE OF POVERTY AND SALVATION
Back at the Limonade church, as the medical missionaries treat the aches and pains of the Haitian people, a woman approaches the group with her 8-month old granddaughter.
The baby’s mother left shortly after her birth, looking for money in the Dominican Republic. She died there, and her family knows that soon they will not be able to care for the child.
In a scene reminiscent of 10 years ago, Jillian Kittrell agrees to take the girl to the children’s home.
The infant doesn’t yet have a name, her grandmother says. Tabitha Dunkerly, a worker at the children’s home, chooses Naomi — a woman in the Old Testament who lost nearly her entire family, only to be saved by her daughter-in-law, Ruth, who refused to leave her side.
“She picked the best one.” Jillian Kittrell says of the name. “That seems to fit.”