Haiti through the eyes of Ermanie
In Haiti, people stare futility in the face every day. They vote, and their choice is ignored. They scrape out a living and are gouged by black market prices. They escape only to be repatriated. When they finally cry out in desperate civil unrest, they are massacred.
One could wonder who is listening to their prayers. Ermanie Orestes would say that God is listening.
Ermanie’s wide grin and shining eyes set her apart from many Haitian children. She has nutritious food to eat and clean clothes to wear. Even more important for Haiti’s future, Ermanie is learning.
God has answered Ermanie’s prayers through efforts of Churches of Christ, which have lifted her out of Haiti’s economic, educational and spiritual quagmire.
A 16-year old student at Gonalves Christian School, Gonaives, Haiti, Ermanie and her classmates try to build a foundation on which their country can grow. The 260-student school is supported by the Haiti Christian Development Project (HCDP), an organization founded by Christians in Little Rock, Ark.
At school, Ermanie studies subjects such as math, French and Bible and attends chapel. Ermanie says few Christians live in her village, so she is very glad for her Christian School friends, “someone I can talk to about God.”
Today is a special day at the school because the American doctors are coming. The medical mission team is one of a few sent out from Churches of Christ each year. Ermanie and her uniformed friends wait patiently. They are used to a lot of waiting. In turn, they will each receive a brief examination and vaccinations.
The school children, because of money and care from their American sponsors, are in better health than the general Haitian population. Conditions grow persistently worse as the medical team moves to clinics set up at local congregations and then finally to the “poor house,” a catch-all place for orphans, the mentally ill and the elderly.
One of the doctors who has befriended Ermanie is a Little Rock cardiologist, David Smith. “When we are there, we have a driving focus on medial necessities,” said Smith. “We are so overwhelmed by their needs, that it is hard to think of much else. But they are immediately our friends. They know why we have come.”
This spring Smith traveled to Haiti for his 10 th mission trip. The six-member team treated about 900 Haitians in three one-day clinics. Overwhelming may be an understatement.
Smith has seen Haiti’s dismal present, and he has a vision for its future. When you walk in Gonaives, it is dusty, dry, dead – and hopeless. You see eight people living in one room, sleeping in shifts because they only have one bed. Raw sewage fills ditches on both sides of the street, and you have to walk around decapitated animals – remains of Voo-doo sacrifices.
“You see kids running around naked. They don’t think anything about it because they don’t have any clothes. One or two of them will have red hair and pot bellies, which are telltale signs of malnourishment.
“People are just living for today; they don’t plan for tomorrow. The plan is to survive.”
This description is far removed from Smith’s vision of Haiti’s future. He sees self-sufficient family units – men and women—taught by groups like Manna International, farming their own plots, finally able to feed their families. People who have met the Lord because of missionaries like Emmanuel Alexandre, a native Haitian schooled in Canada who returned to help his people.
Almost daily, Haiti’s political and economic struggles make the world news. These struggles strike serious blows to any dream of a better future, but the struggle for the spiritual lives of Haitians is the ultimate battle and the only way for Haiti’s salvation – now and eternally.
“The only answer for Haiti,” said Smith, NCDP board member, “is for people to learn about Jesus, about a different way to live. We have to do more than promote a social agenda. Haiti’s greatest need is for transformed lives.
“Jesus makes such a difference, first of all because he brings together the family unit. Haitians love their children, but things like fidelity and trust are foreign to their thinking because nothing has been very faithful to them. When people become Christians, then there is a home; there is a father; there is a mother – like God intended …”
“Look at Ermanie’s family,” said Smith. “Her father is a responsible individual. He might not have work that day, but you sense that those are his children, and he loves them. He is trying to make a difference in their lives.
The difference is evident in Ermanie’s outlook. She has plans. She wants to be a nurse, maybe make enough money to send her seven younger brothers and sisters to school, buy her father some good strong shoes and her mother a nice dress.
Ermanie’s favorite Bible event is the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. “It taught me that when people have faith in God, he takes care of them …” even in Haiti.
THE CHURCH TODAY IN STRIFE-TORN HAITI
How do churches in Haiti manage, in the face of national crisis? Jeantyard Elmera, a church leader observed:
“The people of Haiti have seen that their old ‘gods’ are not the answer to their problems. They do not believe in Catholicism anymore. They do not believe in Protestantism anymore. They do not believe in Voodooism anymore. They want the truth.”
According to Joseph Albert, Haitian evangelist, “It is quite impossible to live in Haiti. Starvation, suffering, crime, violence are spread all around …However, all of these things don’t prevent people from obeying the Gospel. …Three weeks ago, 75 people were baptized.” He added that in the last three years churches with which he works have registered 1, 174 baptisms.
Congregations dot the countryside, from Cap-Haitien on the north to the Port-au-Prince region on the south. One of the largest is Delmas Street, Port-au-Prince, with more than 300 members.
Joseph Worndle, who has served Haiti from a base in Puerto Rico and now lives in Florida, reports more than 6,000 baptisms and 40 congregations in six years of work in Haiti.
The Haitian Orphans Home, established in 1987 by Evelyn Boyd, has 56 children. Bill and Pam Keefer direct this work. Manna International, Redwood City, Calif., church, drills water wells, provides pumps and demonstrates agricultural methods. Workers for Manna in Haiti are Bill and Darla Moxon, and Brian and Tammy Wallace. A Christian development project, in cooperation with the Pleasant Valley church, Little Rock, Ark., has created a school in the city of Gonaives. Radio ministries are directed by Albert and Elmera.
Linda Parker is a graduate of Oklahoma Christian and has experience in journalism and graphic design. Her husband is a family counselor in Little Rock, Ark. They have two daughters and are members of the Pleasant Valley church, Little Rock.