Haiti Summit seeks better approaches to aid, ministry

By Laura-Jean Watson

Three years after Haiti’s devastating earthquake, a grim situation festers there as Haitian and American church leaders work to rethink how and why help is exchanged.

Dr. Jean Dorlus

Dr. Jean Dorlus

Dr. Jean Dorlus, speaking at a recent Haiti Summit organized by ReachGlobal Crisis Response, described a foreign-aid process that he said prevents Haiti from achieving much progress. Part of foreign aid is when a government simply cancels debt owed by Haiti, and it counts as aid. Another part, often as high as 60 percent, goes toward paying salaries for foreign administrators. Donors often dictate the projects and objectives they will support, never asking the Haitians what is most needed.  There is also often a lack of coordination between non-profit groups.

“How has the church done similar things?” says Dorlus, president of Séminaire de Théologie Evangélique de Port-au-Prince (STEP). “How can we correct it and be very helpful?  How can we do differently?”

Ministry leaders from Haiti and the United States spoke at the May 13-15 summit at the Hershey (Pa.) Evangelical Free Church. About 50 people attended the event, organized by ReachGlobal Crisis Response (formerly TouchGlobal) and the Hershey church.

The Jan. 12, 2010, quake killed 316,000 people; it was the eighth-worst natural disaster in recorded history. The desperately poor nation hoped that the world spotlight might begin a new chapter, one that would at last find solutions to material and spiritual poverty.

For a time, the people of Haiti thought the world’s outpouring of help following the 2010 earthquake was a sign that things finally might change here. But optimism has dimmed, to a point where a familiar sentiment is on people’s lips: “The world has forgotten about Haiti once again.” That was the assessment of Bruce McMartin, a teacher at the Séminaire de Théologie Evangélique de Port-au-Prince (STEP), which trains national church leaders.

Mark Lewis, ReachGlobal Crisis Response Director, elaborated.

“More of the ministry I observed was focused on fixing perceived problems – doing that versus coming alongside indigenously developed ministry plans or even focusing on long-term development for Gospel transformation,” he said. “Further, I gained the perception that so much of the ministry effort that was occurring was disjointed or uncoordinated in Haiti – in some cases, occurring in an unhealthy, disempowering, or even dependency approach.”

As he met Haitian leaders in recent months, he found that some had similar observations. Lewis began thinking about organizing the summit, “convening a conversation that would allow the leaders of the church in Haiti to share clearly and openly and honestly with the leaders of the North American church about the ministry North Americans do in Haiti,” he said. “It is hard for us to really listen and then be self-reflective and transparent enough to consider maybe changing our approach to ministry, not only in Haiti, but maybe even in our own community.  It would be a conversation that allowed us to hear from our Haitian brothers about the blind spots we have in our own version of North American Christianity.”

As a result of the Summit, a Haiti Consortium was formed to connect American churches and Haitian partners to work together and make a lasting difference in both countries and beyond.

“The vision for Haiti is to see an indigenous, disciple making, and multiplying church within walking distance of every Haitian, which demonstrates and engages in proclaiming the transforming power of the Gospel,” Lewis told the group.

Sessions addressed how to help others without hurting them, micro solutions to macro problems, and short-term missions opportunities in Haiti. One session looked at Global Fingerprints, ReachGlobal’s child sponsorship program. Global Fingerprints works through the local churches while helping families remain intact and helping children.

During the summit, Dorlus outlined the history of the Protestant church in Haiti to help understand the strengths, weaknesses and challenges faced today. Some strengths in the Haitian church today, he said, are prayer, evangelism and Bible knowledge. Weaknesses included discipleship, legalism, untrained leadership and missions. Challenges, he said, include a lack of vision and unity, limited human and financial resources, stewardship, theological understanding, pastoral ministry and church planting.

Jean Baptiste Wadestrant, aka "Wawa"

Jean Baptiste Wadestrant, aka “Wawa”

Another speaker from STEP, Jean Baptiste Wadestrant (known as Wawa), talked about voodoo’s influence on the Haitian church’s culture. The son of a voodoo priest, Wawa said many Haitians try to combine Christianity with voodoo instead of changing their worldview. That hinders hearing and understanding the Word of God.

That, he said, lies at the core of Haiti’s problems.

“NGOs cannot change Haiti,” he said. “The core is spiritual, and the solution must be spiritual.”

Lewis, on the other hand, talked about ways Americans’ worldview can be spiritually limiting as well. Most Haitians believe discipleship should focus on relationships, he said. They do life together with another person to teach and show them how to live. Americans, he added, are more likely to focus on programs, projects and acquiring knowledge. They like to have a list they can check off.

More conversations centered on a desire not to just fix old problems, but how to develop new patterns of transformation. Questions included:

  • What would a transformational ministry look like?
  •  Are we working empowered by the Holy Spirit?
  • How much are we investing in prayer?
  • And, simply, are the two cultures understanding each other?

“We need to study the culture before we try to engage there,” Wawa said.

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