At 8:30 AM on Wed., March 30th, 9 men and 2 ladies from 8 Ontario Free Methodist congregations took to the air from Pearson International Airport, on their way to 10 days of inspiration and perspiration. We were destined for the mysteries of Port au Prince and eventually 100 miles through the mountains to the tiny village of Mapou, in the flood plains to the north. Our assignment: finish construction of a Free Methodist school canteen. Our mission: be a blessing to the lives and ministries of Haitians and beyond, through our work, attitudes, gifts and especially relationships.
Darcy Bee had come down from Housey’s Rapids; out of the east, Susanne Warren of Athens, Pine Grove’s Mark Pedlar, and Malcolm McFarlane, Odessa; Campbellford sent Alexandra Wilson & Geoff Barham; Ethan Foley was from Madoc Baptist, and Pastor Bruce Kellar from Flinton’s “Through The Roof” FMC. The organizers, Pastor Rodney Peterson & Les Young, were from the host church, Centennial Free Methodist in Belleville, as was Daryl Sim.
We were lugging baggage far overloaded with food, gifts and money for 15 foster children sponsored through our churches, shoes and clothes to donate, and a guitar Daryl would play for Pastor Rodney’s devotions and later leave for Pastor Louiseil to give to the faithful at Duvalier, one of his little church-plants near Mapou. As well, 3 boxes of welding rod were squeezed between 60 solar-powered portable radios for Mondale Perkins, head of the Haiti office of International Child Care Ministries (I.C.C.M.), to distribute among area schools, and national FM Pastors. The GALCOM organization digitally pre-set the radios to FM97.7, Radio Lumiere, a Creole-speaking Christian station.
Other than one meeting in Belleville, we knew each other only through e-mails, and sharing encouragements from Canadian “Help Haiti Heal” Co-ordinator, Grant Sigsworth; from Canada’s I.C.C.M. director, Paula Moriarity; and from Dave Casement of GALCOM. We already had a taste of Pastor Rodney’s outstanding leadership, but didn’t fully anticipate the value of his experience as a missionary in Haiti years ago, or the benefit of Malcolm’s and Mark’s participation on a work team in Haiti last October. We didn’t dream that with Pastor Bruce as site foreman, and Darcy welding, we’d finish a day-and-a-half early, having time to help some local Christians, and repair damage to a tiny school far beyond the roads, well into the dusty back country.
Via Skype, volunteer missionary/co-ordinator of visiting work teams, Larry Judy did his best to prepare us ahead of time, then help us flee the aggressive ‘Red Hats’ at the airport. Arriving at our apartment, behind sliding steel gates, across a pot-holed back alley from the missionaries’ home, we were happy to escape the confusion of streets filled with humanity and the unfamiliar smells of sidewalk vendors, and roaring, dilapidated ‘tap taps,’ colourful trucks & motorcycles packed with sweaty passengers.
How we enjoyed the hospitality of Larry and wife Alice, providing our first supper in Haiti, and later travel companionship. Thanks to Alice’s advice and Charlotte Dyer’s pre-trip coaching, our cooks, Alex and Susanne, made sure the hot, tired workers had safe and tasty, nutritious meals throughout our visit. We learned bits of Creole and lots about the culture while eating with Ceilo, the grounds/building keeper, and our constant guardian while in and around our Mapou compound. ‘Tinene,’ the young man who accompanied us from and back to Port au Prince, was a constant work and play companion, as well as language tutor for 17 year old Ethan. Both Ceilo & Tinene could only watch sympathetically while Pastors Rodney & Bruce preached several times, following Haitian custom of full suit and tie, in temperatures exceeding 90 degrees, at all 3 churches we attended.
Thanks to generous support from our home churches, we had funds for all steel roofing and rafters, windows and doors, blocks and mortar materials, and 2 weeks of Haitian salaries for 6 local men to finish their canteen (necessary for students’ mid-day meal), and the classroom building to the peak, for the next group to complete. Praise the Lord!
Through ICCM’s gracious arrangements, we experienced the absolute joy of personally greeting 14 of the 15 children sponsored by team members, and friends in their home churches. What a blessing to meet these beautiful smiling kids and realize first-hand that we are making a dramatic difference in their lives and homes.
Our team was saddened by their living conditions, but heartened by the faith of Haitians with whom we worked and worshipped in Mapou, Duvalier, and Port au Prince. Pastor Louiseil was a special source of inspiration. He made no salary from the churches where he served, drove a clunker, yet used most of his income as a lawyer to buy land for church-plants where they had none, build schools, and pay a little to devoted teachers he found in the congregations.
Our “Belleville & Beyond” Team gave a little but got back way more. We especially were amazed by the Haitian believers’ strength and commitment, in spite of adversity we might find insurmountable. In presentations after returning to Canada, each of us pray that our people can learn the faith lessons of the Haitian Christians. As said an old man walking the beach and tossing stranded starfish back into the sea, “No, I can’t save them all, but…” as he stooped over to pick up another and dispatch it to the water, “… I made a difference to that one!”
May God bless all supporters of this worthwhile program of continuing assistance to Haiti’s reconstruction and recovery.
By Les Young & Pastor Rodney Peterson, on behalf of our devoted “temporary missionary” team (capably steered by Grant).