In 1995, five of us from the Connecticut Valley Church of Christ set out for a visit to the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere — Haiti. We went because Ken and Rhonda Bever had a “chance” encounter with Jeantyrard Elmera after a trip they had made the previous year to help at an orphanage in northern Haiti. Though now a U.S. citizen, Jeantyrard was born and educated through his high school years in Haiti. After leaving a government job, he received training in the Bible and became a full-time gospel preacher, church planter, and speaker on the World Radio program in Port-au-Prince. Jeantyrard had met with our congregation and inspired us to “Come and see!” Below is my journal entry as we landed in Port-au-Prince:
“My first experience with Haitian need occurred when we walked out of the airport. A large barbed wire fence separated those with baggage from those with problems. As we stood inside the fenced area, a woman with an obviously sick child called to us asking for money. Cari, Rhonda and I stared at each other and glanced at our fourteen 100 lb. boxes. We wanted to help—it was the whole point of our trip. Should we give her money? Paralysis set in—we didn’t give her anything. She was hardly deterred and confronted us more directly as we left the safe haven of the fence. Our hearts were crushing under the observance of her obvious need, and the sight of the multitudes who were making their way toward us with similar plights. People were shouting Ken Bever’s name—clearly printed on every one of our boxes. The multitudes were pressing us—paralysis evolved into active avoidance. The people grabbed our arms, called to us, shoved their problems into our faces and begged us. We ran away, tried to rationally explain in broken English why we could not help them in that moment, and invited them to church. We finally left the airport with a young boy hanging on to the car through an open window as our truck was moving. He finally let go.”
We soon learned God was up to something in Haiti. We spent the week travelling to fledgling church schools with our Haitian counterparts. We saw Godly men who could help us navigate this wild place and in whom we could put our full trust. Jeantyrard, who lived in Haiti, but whose U.S. citizenship could take him away from this difficult life. Jambon Severe — whose faith and gift as a worship leader was incredible. Gueston Pacius — a former Catholic priest who was teaching the children of Cite Soleil, the poorest slum in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. At the end of our week we had paperwork for 50 children to be sponsored in an organization now called Hope for Haiti’s Children.