The following post comes from CBF field personnel, Steve and Nancy James.
Having just returned from a long trip, Steve and I had only two days to unpack, rest, and gear up for a rough trip from northern Haiti to Grand Goave on the southwest peninsula, 2 hours from Port Au Prince. We had been invited to attend the dedication of a new Baptist church that was replacing one destroyed in the 2010 earthquake.
Although we were honored to have received an invitation to this remarkable event, I wasn’t keen on another trip nor did I look forward to the long drive. I prayed about it and turned it over to the Lord, saying “not my will but your will!” To my amazement I started to have a change of attitude and made plans to go.
Since our truck has been out of commission for weeks, we were delighted when our friend Paul Romeus said he was going to the event and offered us a ride. In Haiti, travel is almost never done alone, and the truck quickly filled with people and belongings. The journey was uneventful although crowded and somewhat hot since the air-conditioning was not working.
We had heard that the mountain roads had been fixed, and much to everyone’s amazement, it was true! With new pavement the switchback mountain roads were not as precarious as before and the travel time almost two hours shorter. Haiti has had terrible roads for decades. That major roadwork has been completed is nothing short of a miracle!
Nearing Port Au Prince, we began seeing the tent-pocked landscape where people are still living in dry, barren, inhospitable hills that are becoming established villages. Once in the capital it was encouraging to see that many of the damaged buildings, so evident a few years ago, have been repaired or completely rebuilt.
Port Au Prince was teaming with people buying and selling. Motorcycles crowded the streets already jammed with buses, trucks and cars, and pedestrians walked faster than the vehicles. It’s always a relief to get through the stand still traffic of Port and get on the road going southwest. Six hours later we arrived at our destination in Grand Goave.
Our little group stayed at the Guest House of an organization called Conscience International, a group partnering with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the American Baptist Church, and the Haitian Baptist Convention. They designed the “rubble houses” whose sturdy, particle design using gabion wire baskets filled with the earthquake rubble, is intended to be “earthquake proof.” According to the area housing coordinator, Jeremy Hollomon, the Haitian community and teams from the US have completed over 130 of these homes. Displaced families are so grateful to have a safe dwelling in which to live and raise their families, a home they themselves helped build.
The Guest House was filled with visitors from the US who came to work and share in the celebration. Although not “The Ritz,” the courtyard was landscaped with banana trees, mango and papaya trees, picnic tables and the sounds of pigeons, parrots and roosters, which made the scene charming and lively. The Haitian women did all the cooking on charcoal fires, as the propane stove was not working. The next morning we were treated to pumpkin soup, a typical breakfast dish in Haiti, and strong, locally grown, black coffee.
We spent the morning and afternoon in meetings with the CBF missionaries and staff as we talked, prayed about how to move from “disaster relief” to the “development” phase of the involvement in Grand Goave and Port Au Prince.
The next morning we walked to the new church where the members gathered for the dedication service starting with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the front door. Excitement was in the air! After the ribbon cutting, the choir led us into the sanctuary with their songs to begin the service.
The old church had been small and dark. When planning the new design, the congregation’s one desire was to have it be “light-filled” and that it is! The large windows allow for light and air to stream in, bringing a sense of peace and joy. It was an inspiring service of singing by the choir and special singing groups. The church was filled with Haitian pastors, lay people, congregants and visitors from abroad and people from all over Haiti.
After the service the women of the church had prepared rice and beans, fried chicken and fried plantain for over 400 people. A huge feat even in the best of kitchens but remarkable when done mostly outdoors on charcoal fires in huge cooking pots. Much preparation had gone into this memorable day for the people and the new building has given them a real hope for their future.
After lunch we decided to travel to the “nearby” village of Magandu to visit a new Community Health Evangelism (CHE) group. Since it “wasn’t far” we asked Paul if we could borrow his driver and truck. We didn’t even have time to change out of our church clothes because we needed to go and get back to start the journey to Port Au Prince where we would spend the night.
Off we went picking up more and more people on the way to Magandu. Soon Kilie, the driver, drove the truck up a steep gravel road that snaked its way higher and higher. Steve and I had not realized that Magandu was on top of a mountain range close. It took my breath away when the truck sped up the widening rural road. It was unpaved with lose gravel and steep drop-offs that made me feel insecure. I wondered what we had gotten ourselves into.
“How much farther is this village?” I asked one of the CHE workers. She laughed at my obviously nervous question. “Oh don’t worry Ma Steve,” she said in Creole as she pointed to the top of a far-away mountain. I felt like a wimp as I put my head in Steve’s lap and wouldn’t look at the road anymore. I held on to the handle bar of the truck and prayed that we would all arrive safely and not fall off the mountain. After what seemed like ages, the truck couldn’t make it up the steep, gravel road and started sliding backwards. We all got out and Kilie slowly backed down the hill and parked while we continued on foot to the village. Again, I was reassured by the same young woman, “Its not much further.” It took us almost 40 minutes, walking on a narrow path with breath-taking views of Grand Goave and the Caribbean Sea, to get to our destination.
Finally a group of neatly built little houses came into view. Erik had gone on ahead of us and had started talking with the village leaders. We sat down and listened to their questions and Erik’s responses. The group was eager to continue with Community Health Evangelism’s training and lesson plans for health for Magandu. Although the meeting was short, he later said it had been a meeting of encouragement and affirmation for the group.
Before long, the clouds started rolling in on the mountaintop community, indicating that rain was soon to come. Our little group needed to get down the mountain before the rains started and get on the road to Port before dark. We said our hasty farewells and started back on the paths to our truck. The rains held back and we got down the mountain without incident. I was grateful that even though I had doubts and more than a little fear, we went to this distant place so that we might be an encouragement to this little forming CHE group, so remote and isolated from any established health care. The next time I will be better prepared for what to expect and hope to spend some extended time in Magandu.
It wasn’t surprising that on our trip home to Haut Limbe the next day, we had a flat tire. On examining the back tires we were aghast to see how pocked and shredded the new tires had become on our trip up to Magandu! Needless to say, we paid Paul for two replacement tires when we got home. He may think twice when we ask to borrow his truck for a “short side trip.”
It was good to get home I’ll be the first to admit, but I was so thankful that I had not given in to my own desires of staying home but that I had listened to the “inner nudging” to go on this trip that filled me with hope to see what God is doing in Grand Goave and Magandu.
Thank you to those of you who have supported the relief and development efforts in Haiti, whether participating in medial relief, reconstruction or funding of the ongoing effort. And thank you most of all for your prayers!