Haiti Report

March, 2016

Dear Family and Friends,

Words cannot express how much we appreciate your participation with us in our trip to Cap-Haitien, Haiti earlier this month. Though the traveling team was three, the blessings and encouragement you provided were critical to the success of the trip. Thank you deeply for your partnership.

The theme of the trip was "Come and See". Being wholly unfamiliar with the country and culture, our hope was to get a better understanding of Salt & Light Evangelistic Ministries so that we can more intelligently discuss how our church might partner with them in the future. We continue to process many of the things we experienced during the six days we were in Haiti. Here are some notes and observations:

  • Accommodations - We stayed in a home rented for us for the week with enough space that we each had our own bedroom. The staff included two on-site maintenance workers and Rose, our cook, who prepared three meals for us each day on whatever schedule we needed. After the first couple of days we got used to the intermittent electricity and rooftop water storage. It  turned out to be one of the coolest Marches in recent memory, with a high of only 85 during the day - perfect for us since it was snowing in Chicago!
  • Language - Haitian Creole is the most common language in the Cap-Haitien area. School is typically taught in French, and those in high school and above often speak English as well, as our hosts did. With a few exceptions, communication with the people we met was limited by the availability of our translator to assist us. Language issues will be a major factor when considering any future partnerships with Salt & Light Church.
  • Poverty - Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. All the latest technology is available - most people just cannot afford to own it. Litter is everywhere. With notable exceptions, buildings are small, dark, and incomplete. There seem to be many people who simply have nowhere to go, nothing to do (see the note below about congregating on street corners). The density of the need was overwhelming and difficult to reconcile with our standard of living. Remarkably, most of the people and clothes are clean and neat. There seem to be more rips in the jeans worn by people on Michigan Avenue in Chicago than in Cap-Haitien.
  • Community - People walk or ride together rather than singly. Large groups congregate on street corners. Commerce, like adding credits to your mobile phone or finding an expert to duplicate a tricky key, is done face to face, not via the web. Life is lived outdoors with and in view of the neighbors. People ask for help and swap favors all the time. Interdependence is everywhere.
  • Salt & Light Evangelical Church - The church we worked with has a compound just off the main road on the way to Plain-du-Nord, a town close to the city of Cap-Haitien. In addition to a 200 seat church building there are two structures used as classrooms, two administrative buildings, a soccer field, and a large mango tree.
  • Salt & Light Primary School -  The school currently has classes for Kindergarten through 3rd grade. The classrooms are open-air and classes consist of a teacher and between 9 and 15 students using a call and response learning model. Plans to expand the school by one grade per year include the construction of 14 classrooms in two new buildings within the church compound. Building in Haiti is often done on an "as-resources-are-available" basis. So, Phase I consists of five rooms on one floor, designed in such a way that a second floor can be added later. While we were there we saw the materials purchased with money donated by many of you being used to build up the walls of the first story. Having no experience with concrete masonry it was best for us to leave the actual construction to the experts on-site, many of whom were members of the church or live in the neighborhood (or both). This project provides jobs to several men who otherwise might not be able to find work.
  • Sports Ministries - Lots of people come on Monday and Thursday evenings to play 5-on-5 soccer, some bringing family and friends to watch and cheer. Joe joined in one evening, and despite the language and skill-level issues, he eventually figured out that the wall and the tree are in-bounds, but the hedges are not. Over 20 current active members of the church owe their introduction to the church to this ministry.
  • Radio - Pastor Codo from Salt & Light has two weekly shows on the Christian radio station, one recorded and one a live call-in show. Both are aired by many French-language stations throughout the Caribbean. We were able to be in the studio during one of the live broadcasts. Salt & Light has a vision to one day be able to supplement these shows with a hyper-local station broadcasting in Creole to the neighborhoods immediately around the church. Using this technology they hope to be able reach their neighbors with issues particularly significant to them.
  • Worship - Sunday was by far our longest, busiest day. We arrived at the church for  worship at 7:00am (in Creole, but strangely familiar anyway). Finished by 9:00, we had pumpkin soup, a dish traditionally served to celebrate Haiti's Independence Day, for breakfast. We met with the church leaders briefly before heading to the beach for a baptism service. Then lunch, a hike up the mountain, a short rest at our hosts' home, and back to the church for two hours of praise and worship, including communion for the 17 newly baptized members. Finally, we returned to our guest house for dinner and decompressing while we waited for the electricity to be turned back on.
  • Vodou - Though we spent much of our time at the church compound, we did take several trips into the communities and saw some of the influence Voodoo has on the culture. This religion is based on the idea that the Supreme Creator is inaccessible to people and spirits must act as intermediaries. Our exposure was essentially limited to roadside stands selling icons and the occasional temple that we passed. Pastor Codo spent one evening telling us stories of people with whom he has developed relationships, and of the importance of trust and friendship when interacting with those active in Vodou.
  • We acted like tourist sometimes, too. We spent one afternoon at the beach, and one morning bargaining for souvenirs at the market in downtown Cap-Haitien and touring the Sans-Souci Palace ruins. The Haitian government is working to make both of these spots more accessible to tourists, particularly those arriving on cruise ships. These projects, as many in Haiti, are proceeding slowly.
  • Supporters - As mentioned above, those of us who traveled to Cap-Haitien were only a small part of this mission team. We had 45 people on our prayer support email list. 14 people provided tangible support such as rides to the airport or encouragement cards or leadership during a training session. 49 people donated over $14,000 for building materials for the school. Every one you contributed to this trip, and we trust that you have been blessed, just like us, by being an integral part of God's kingdom building plan.
  • Future Partnership - Salt & Light Ministries has a vision to continue to expand their presence and influence in their immediate neighborhood and beyond. Opportunities for future trips include staffing a temporary medical clinic, providing training for child and adult Sunday school teachers, and raising financial support for food and educational resources. As mentioned above, language issues will be a factor in choosing appropriate projects. With the expertise that our church has to offer, small traveling teams with specific skill sets will likely prove to be the most beneficial for everyone involved.

Thank you again and again for lifting us up in so many ways before, during, and after the time we spent in Haiti. We were challenged and stretched in new directions by what we saw and heard. Please feel free to ask for more detail or clarification. May God receive the glory for any good thing that results from our trip.

In Christ's love,

Joe, Larry, and Budlin