By Grayson Hester
Lucien, better known by his church community as Dyak (“deacon” in Haitian Creole) has witnessed enormous change in the three years since his story was featured on the CBFblog.
For one, Lucien’s home of Haiti has endured crisis after crisis in the last year alone—from the assassination of its president, Jovenel Moïse, to a magnitude 7.2 earthquake, to the ongoing pandemic and the ever-present threat, felt most acutely by island nations in the Global South, of climate change.
Personally, Lucien lost his father, who had himself spent much of his life as a dyak and lived to nearly 95 years of age. As if in cosmic balance, he gained a daughter, thus bringing his kid-count to a bountiful six.
Through it all, his community, the Commune of Grand Goâve, continues to persevere.
“Since we have life, we can say life goes on,” Lucien said.
Grand Goâve’s location high atop a mountain has insulated it from the most direct effects of the earthquake, COVID-19 spread and political unrest. But even it has not escaped unscathed.
Lucien shared that the earthquake did impact extended family not particularly close to the community, for instance. And, even in this remote place, regular hand-washing and mask-wearing, rituals of COVID-19 caution, have become normal.
Yet, this dyak of Mount Sinai Baptist Church remains prayerful to a God whom he says has protected them.
“The impact was not so big because, with the earthquake, we didn’t lose people close to us. In our family, God protected us,” he said. “We do not have any victims of the COVID-19, but we know there are other places in Haiti that have people who are victims of it. But God helps us to be safe with precautions during the pandemic.”
And, at the end of the day, it’s not these big, global changes that have exacted the greatest impact on this community. It’s the little ones—like the building of a church, or the construction of a clinic, or something as simple as checking someone’s blood pressure.
Nurse Jenny Jenkins, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel serving in Haiti, continues to do her monthly blood pressure clinics, bringing much-needed care to these folks who would otherwise have to travel—usually by foot for 30-45 minutes—down a mountain for it. That presence hasn’t changed, even as it has engendered great change within the community.
“Well, there has been much change, because people once had to go to another health center to learn how to control their blood pressure,” Lucien said. “But, thanks to God, with Nurse Jenny, it is every month, no matter if it is raining or sunny. Every single month, she comes. It has a huge impact on the community; they have the benefit of it.”
This work has been Jenkins’ call for nearly 12 years. She arrived in Haiti around the same time of the historic catastrophic earthquake which struck in 2010, and she hasn’t budged since. Through all the aforementioned challenges and upheavals, Jenkins has stayed. And it is this kind of relationship which she says isn’t just an accessory to global missions work; it is necessary.
“Relationships, which your presence requires, are the key,” she said. “Our God is a relational God. He expects us to be in relationship with one another. To walk in that community requires being present and available.”
Nowhere is this more important than Global South nations like Haiti, where a history of European colonialism and a present reality of Western exploitation cause relationships to be fraught with wariness and trust understandably hard to cultivate.
For any American to swoop into a community in another country, claim to know its needs better than it does, throw money at a problem, offer a quick fix, and then leave it, doesn’t just fail to remediate harm. It can, in many cases, actually worsen it. This is why Jenkins takes a completely different approach that is ethical.
“In the beginning, there are a lot of people who say on the surface, something that sounds really good: ‘We’re gonna’ be partners!’” she said. “But to develop a trusting relationship takes time. That’s where presence becomes so important. It’s a matter of building trust and friendships, waiting on that to-do list until it’s the right time.”
And what a “to-do list” it is! For years, Jenkins and Lucien have spearheaded an effort to build a clinic in Grand Goâve, making concrete (literally) their efforts to provide its people with the best and most accessible healthcare. It’s taken quite a lot of time.
The political upheaval, while not nearly as hot for this community as it has been in cities like Port-au-Prince, has nonetheless disrupted supply chains and made acquiring necessary materials and labor even more difficult.
But, in Jenkins’ view, it’s not the timing that matters, anyway. “They are the inspiration. This is a dream they’ve had for 60-75 years,” she said. “In talking with different elder members of the community, I can remember these guys would say, ‘When I was little, my dad would talk about its being a dream.’ When I think about how long they’ve been dreaming about this clinic, our time seems small. They still have the belief, the willingness to continue to work towards it.”
It’s this community-centered approach that has made the project progress slowly, yet equitably; inefficiently, yet justly. An American sensibility, fixated on timetables and milestones, might see it as a failure.
A Christ-oriented sensibility, however, sees it as the only way.
“We wanted it to be their clinic, their center, as part of the process of waiting on them to do their parts, to put their efforts into it, and take ownership,” she said. “That’s the important part of building relationships. It’s not a fast thing you can do.”
And so, the community perseveres. And they work, methodically, toward the realization of a nearly centuries-old dream, none of which could have been achieved without intentional, abiding presence. And it is the combined and continued presence of Nurse Jenny and Lucien—who is widely seen as an organizer and leader of this community—which makes it all possible.
“Presence means to us, that when we see someone even if we do not have things to give, we can share ideas. And when you can see that person, we can talk about things,” Lucien said. “It is happiness when you can see that person and talk to that person. I see that presence is important.”
And although the project is proceeding more slowly than either of them would have liked, it is, by God’s grace, nonetheless making progress. It is their hope to have the major buildings of the clinic completed in 2022. This would help anchor the community and springboard other transformational developments. When a community need not worry about its health, it can focus on other endeavors.
The road has been long, and it will continue to be difficult. But this community, as with the whole of Haiti, will continue to live each day with abundance and joy, pain and perseverance, and unbroken presence.
“I’ve learned that it really is a matter of letting God’s timing be in control, that our desire, our relationships, be built through the presence,” Jenkins said. “Take the time to seek where God is leading; when God works things out, they are lasting. It’s the better way. It’s a matter of taking the time and letting God guide the process versus what we think it should be.”
And if Dyak Lucien has anything to say about it, whenever that time comes, it will, indeed come.
“The same God that allowed us to start, we are praying to Him to keep Nurse Jenny well, and as He allows us to continue, He will help us to get to the end of it,” Lucien said. “As there is an ‘amen’ to each prayer, we hope for an end for this project, too. The project that was started one day will be completed another day.”
Read Lucien’s story from 2019 at www.cbf.net/lucien-then.
Share a video of Lucien’s story here.
Watch Offering for Global Missions videos at www.cbf.net/ogm.