By Blake Tommey
In the appalling aftermath of Haiti’s magnitude 7.0 earthquake of 2010, the rubble of ruined lives and infrastructure flooded news cycles around the world, releasing an unprecedented wave of humanitarian aid. All told, donor nations and private charities pledged $13.5 billion to the small island nation, $32 million of which came in the form of $10 text messages to the American Red Cross.
Eight years later, Lucien Gédé, a farmer and deacon in the rural district of Grand Goâve, says his dream for his community is still unrealized, and won’t be coming soon from an iPhone. He and his neighbors watched the relief convoy bypass their section for more pressing areas of crisis. Beyond earthquakes, Lucien and his fellow Haitians now face the culmination of centuries of European colonialism and government upheaval, including a 59-percent poverty rate, a depleted education system, widespread disinvestment in basic infrastructure and a vast, but curable, health crisis. Yet, Lucien says that God is breaking in.
“We hope that, one step at a time, we can breathe a better air, according to how God is intervening in our community,” Lucien said.
“My hope for this community is to have a functioning health clinic. People do not even know what causes so many deaths. They say it is the devil, but that person may simply have high blood pressure. We do not have a good school; we have only a small community school, and it is not working well. I would like to not find all these holes in the road. We are missing these things. I hope we can breathe.”
For nearly a decade, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has been breathing with Lucien and his neighbors as they partner in renewing God’s world in Haiti. With support from the Offering for Global Missions, CBF field personnel Jenny Jenkins is forming together with the people of Grand Goâve, Haiti, to cultivate long-term relationships and generate the health care, education and housing necessary for their community to thrive. When you seek rooted relationships rather than cursory aid, Jenkins said, you quickly encounter a community’s deepest needs and dreams.
In Grand Goâve—Jenkins’ home since her commissioning in 2010—123,000 Haitians live and work primarily in remote mountain villages with no running water and sparse electricity. Thousands endure high blood pressure and diabetes with little access to fruits and vegetables, Jenkins noted. Insufficient health care, concentrated mostly in urban areas, leads many to suffer and die from curable diseases. Couple that with poor educational infrastructure and an acute vulnerability to natural disasters, and you have a very long-term need, Jenkins explained. That’s why she and CBF reached out to the Haiti Baptist Convention in 2010 to discover where and how to extend a relationship.
“CBF works from the idea that you first have to develop the relationships to have the right to speak into people’s lives, to actually be a part of transforming their lives and be a part of the development that’s going to happen,” Jenkins said.
“As we’ve learned to listen and have gotten to know people in this community, we hear what they have to share, what their needs are and the things they see. Then we’re able to start looking at ways to come alongside, to look at what they have and what they can build on. How can we partner together to make those changes? None of that is quick.”
Jenkins, whose expertise as an oncology nurse first led her to Haiti in 2007, soon established accessible health clinics to treat and educate neighbors who suffer from chronic illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes. From the comfort of their own villages, families and individuals now attend periodic blood pressure screenings, receive steady medication and learn how to manage their diets.
Délivrence Gédé resides in the remote mountain community of Magandou in Grand Goâve. Délivrence used to suffer from extreme high blood pressure, which often forced her into dangerous trips down the mountain to seek medical care in local cities. Despite her efforts, however, faulty equipment and unqualified medical personnel kept her in the dark about her life-threatening condition. Since her husband passed away and her children moved to Port-au-Prince, Délivrence works from sunrise to sundown tending to her home, garden and animals, and can hardly afford to be immobilized by hypertension, she said.
When Jenkins began hosting health clinics right in Magandou, Délivrence said, it was as if God had sent an angel to save her life. With regular blood pressure screenings and medication, Délivrence says she feels like a new woman and no longer fears dying when she lies down to sleep, not to mention traveling miles for faulty health care. She now attends every clinic held in Magandou and has become its biggest advocate among neighbors struggling with illness.
“Nurse Jenny and the clinic have transformed this community,” Délivrence said.
“It supports the community. It helps the community. Because of her, we do not run all over the country anymore. Everyone—kids, babies and adults—comes with all kinds of sickness. Nurse Jenny represents a member of the community of Magandou. God sent her to take care of my life. Anytime I am in prayer, I ask God to increase her life and everyone that He sent up to Magandou, to save this community’s life. I can see how God supports me on this earth. God is with me and with my children too.”
In addition to health care, Jenkins said, people’s desire for knowledge and education became overwhelmingly palpable as relationships deepened. CBF had previously formed together with Grand Goâve’s own Siloe Baptist Church to rebuild its school in 2010. This created a natural avenue in which to begin developing the assets of local teachers and leaders through the Grand Goâve Education Initiative, she explained. The initiative soon included tutoring, mentoring and meals with Siloe School students as well as training seminars for its teachers.
With a few years of teaching under her belt, Guerline Zamor was already developing effective strategies and generous relationships with her second-grade students at the Siloe School. When GGEI began hosting continuing education seminars, however, she was the first to sign up and became enthralled with learning how to use hands-on manipulatives and other creative tools with her students. Subsequently, Guerline now helps lead the seminar program for teachers as well as tutoring students and says nothing makes her feel better than working with children.
Her hope, she added, is for the children of Grand Goâve to discover their own dreams and become leaders in whatever paths they choose.
“I have many great visions for the children,” Guerline said. “I would like for them to be doctors, agronomists, nurses, senators and deputies. This is what I would like for them in the future and this is what I teach them, too. After each lesson, we take a break to play and tell jokes, and sometimes I ask them what they want to be. Some of them told me they would like to be nurses, some would like to be doctors, some would like to be deputies. I tell them, ‘You need to study. You have to do your homework, and you need to be obedient to arrive at the goals you have.’”
At the end of the day, Jenkins noted, many of their neighbors in Grand Goâve, especially widows, return home with only a tattered tarp for a roof and a puddle of mud to sleep in at night. Through floods, mudslides and hurricanes—such as Hurricane Matthew, which dumped 32 inches of water on Grand Goâve—some struggle to maintain a home at all. That’s why much of Jenkins’ and her neighbors’ time is spent leveraging building materials, construction expertise and even relying on partner churches from the United States to stabilize their community’s housing. Piece by piece, Jenkins said, her most vulnerable neighbors are receiving new foundations, roofs and siding that can withstand the elements.
Ultimately, Haitians are a beautiful, resilient people, Jenkins said, who have continued to persevere through earthquakes, revolutions, hurricanes and foreign occupations. Yet, a just and sustainable relationship with Cooperative Baptists continues to empower communities like Grand Goâve to develop proper health care, education and housing infrastructure. And together, with support from the CBF Offering for Global Missions, they are partnering with God to renew life in Haiti.
“I look at what God is doing in this world, in my community and, once again, God has allowed me to come alongside what God is already doing,” Jenkins noted.
“God is already active and present, and still God invites us to come and be part of that work. The CBF Offering for Global Missions supports the presence of field personnel, enabling them to join God and stay in the places where they are so needed. That allows them to develop relationships in those communities, to hear the needs and to develop the respectful conversations that open the doors to changing lives.”
Your gift to the CBF Offering for Global Missions can change lives in communities like Grand Goâve around the world. Learn more about the Offering, order materials to use in your church, or give to the Offering today at www.cbf.net/OGM.