Poverty. Voodoo. Political turmoil. AIDS. As I walked down the hall and asked coworkers what popped into their minds when they thought of Haiti, the responses were sadly predictable.
According to Operation World, Haiti’s problems are indeed vast. Functional literacy may be as low as 20 percent. It is the poorest state in the Western hemisphere, aggravated by over-population, soil erosion, pollution, drought and famine. Unemployment is 50-70 percent. The average income per person is $310. According to a BBC report, one in 20 Haitians has AIDS.
But thanks to the combined efforts of a burgeoning population of Haitian Christians and dynamic international ministries, words like “hope” and “renewal” are joining the list of descriptors.
“Yes, there are problems in this country, but I see hope,” said Tom Fortson, president and CEO of Promise Keepers, during a recent visit to the Caribbean nation. Fortson joined Dr. J.L. Williams, founder and CEO of missions and relief organization New Directions International, for Haiti at the Cross, a groundbreaking series of events held throughout Port-au-Prince Dec. 8 -12. Key Haitian pastors linked arms with the U.S. ministries to close out their Bicentennial Year and seek national revival.
“Our prayer is that God will literally change the destiny of Haiti, the first Black Republic in the world and yet the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere,” said Williams. He stressed the importance of this juncture in Haiti's history, as it was 200 years ago, in 1804, that Voodoo witchdoctors “sold” the country to Satan in exchange for freedom from slavery.
"We must act decisively to seize this moment for the Kingdom and initiate a new era in Haiti—one in which the people will not be bound by the evils of Voodoo, but rather satisfied by the joys of being in Christ," Williams said.
Haiti at the Cross was the first joint venture between New Directions International (NDI) and Promise Keepers (PK), which is expanding from a national movement to an international mission.
Focusing on the men of Haiti makes perfect sense, noted Williams. “We have invited their partnership because of our great commitment to the purpose and philosophy of PK. I have always believed that you cannot bring lasting change to a home, a church, a business, a country – until you touch and transform the men.”
According to Fortson, the AIDS epidemic in Haiti is largely “an issue of men.” When men are not rightly connected with the Lord, he said, “they are going to become predators. In a country like Haiti, you have men who are strong, you have men who are passive, and you have men who are predators. You have men who take the resources that are given to a nation to change the nation, but it never reaches the people.”
Haiti in the 21st Century will need strong, visionary leadership, Fortson added. “It needs men who have high ethical standards, who can muster the resources of the nations of this world to assist Haiti.”
On his first trip to the impoverished nation, Fortson said he was assessing the situation and formulating ideas for involvement. “I think men in the United States – doctors, men who understand government and law, carpenters, electricians – could come along side the men of Haiti to assist, not oversee them. The men of Haiti would benefit from having a vital relationship with the men in the United States. I also believe that the men in the United States would be greatly assisted by having a vital relationship with the men of Haiti.”
Fortson kicked off five nights of music and messages for Haiti at the Cross. Former Major League baseball pitcher Dave Dravecky and PK speaker Bishop Larry Jackson addressed the Haitians Dec. 10 in the National Stadium. Williams spoke Saturday night in La Plaza, an open-air park in the heart of downtown Port-au-Prince. PK speaker Joe White rounded out the events on Sunday evening with his trademark cross chopping demonstration. The people of Haiti then carried the cross to the lawn of the National Palace for a time of prayer and dedication.
Among the special events were a pastors’ luncheon and National Prayer Convocation held in the Haitian Presidential Palace Dec. 9, where Williams pointed to the ultimate relationship as the hope of the nation.
“In the Bible,” said Williams, “the shoulders represent the place of strength. But the problem is that no human shoulders are adequate to carry the burden of any nation. The shoulders of the United Nations are not strong enough. The shoulders of the United States, or Canada, or France are not strong enough. The shoulders of the Haitian people are not strong enough. There is only one set of shoulders that are strong enough to carry the burdens of Haiti and they belong to our Messiah, the Lord Jesus.”
That’s the question that Haiti must answer, Williams continued. Whose shoulders will carry the burden of Haiti? Many nations have tried and they have been broken under the burden, he said. The American government has tried to solve the problems and failed. “But God is putting together a coalition of His people. Now there are enough Christians in this nation, along with Christians in America, to solve the problems.”
Fortson agreed there was cause for hope in the midst of overwhelming despair. “I am encouraged,” he said. “I don’t go back to the United States with a lack of hope. I have even more hope after spending time here with the believers. I have not seen a problem that God cannot solve. Now he needs us and wants to use us to first understand the problem, to pray about it, to focus on Him – then He’ll get the glory.
“Nobody is going to get the glory for solving the problems in Haiti but God,” Fortson added, “and I think He wants to do that so we can see his power. I believe in my heart of hearts that God wants to show himself strong. What greater place in all the world for Him to demonstrate who He is than by changing the situation here in Haiti?”
Tomorrow on Religion Today: A Closer Look at Voodoo and Christianity in Haiti - including a discussion with Haitian pastors.
Coming Monday on the Crosswalk.com Faith page: New Directions International Changes Lives in Haiti.
And in the premiere issue of Crosswalk magazine ... Ordinary Christians Make a Huge Impact in Haiti. Coming in January/February 2005!