Haiti first grabbed my heart in 1972 when I spent three weeks there. In 1974, I returned and lived in the mountains - in Fermathe - for a year. I visited briefly in 1981 with my family, and then life intervened and 30 years went by before I was able to return to Haiti. I have been back here in Boston for a few days, and am still processing all that I experienced in traveling around Haiti this past week. The best way that I can think of to describe my experience of returning to Haiti as part of a small team of American businessmen and pastors is to offer a brief parable - the parable of the oases.
There was once a group of experienced world travelers who were asked to visit a once flourishing land that had devolved into a desert wasteland - bestrewn with rubble and garbage and over which hung a pall of hopelessness and despair. These travelers had seen other deserts, as well as lands that prospered, and hoped to bring to the inhabitants of this desert land a sense of hope and anticipation of how best to reclaim their land and make it flourish once again. So they traveled to several corners of the desert, trying to gain an understanding of the depth and breadth of the problem. As they traversed the land, they came upon a number of oases, appearing as islands of greenery and hope in the parched landscape. At each oasis, they asked those living there what secret they had unlocked for bringing life to the once dead and arid land. And the visitors learned that each oasis had discovered a slightly different approach to irrigating and vivifying the land. The visitors also were surprised to learn that the inhabitants of the oases were largely unaware of the existence of the other oases, so they were unable to capitalize on the lessons that were being learned in other parts of the desert. So, the visitors vowed to invite the sheiks from each oasis to travel and meet together to share their secrets. Perhaps with that kind of cooperation and sharing, what were once isolated pockets of greenery in the midst of a dusty desert could begin to overlap and eventually the land could be transformed into a verdant country once again.
Such was the experience that I shared this past week with Tom Nolan, Dru Dodson, Roger Stanage and Corey Unger as we made our way throughout the areas surrounding Port-au-Prince - from Delmas to Petionville to Fort Jacques to Carrefour to Thomazeau to Leogane, the epicenter of the earthquake that devastated the land in January 2010. We saw much destruction and despair - but we also saw oases of hope and innovation. Let me sketch out briefly some of those islands of hope.
We worshiped last Sunday morning at a vibrant church in the Delmas area of Port-au-Prince. The church meets on the unfinished roof of a building under a tarp, surrounded by buildings that are canted at odd angles from the damage done in the earthquake and the aftershocks. Despite the daunting surroundings, the hundreds of faces of the men, women and young people gathered for worship were filled with joy. My heart and spirit were lifted by the experience and by the evidence of The Spirit at work, as well as a vibrant spirit of hope within the souls of the people. Assemblée Partenaires Chrétiennes is growing and thriving under the leadership of Pastor Ernso Jean-Louis. The church also operates a thriving business incubator and incorporates principals of sustainable business development as part of the solution for Haiti's future. An oasis of hope.
We met with leaders from Partners Worldwide, a visionary organization that works to form partnerships between groups of Haitian business men and women and American counterparts who share ideas and resources to encourage the growth of the Haitian businesses, leading to an increase in their ability to provide jobs for Haitians. Daniel Jean-Louis heads up part of the operation in Haiti, and we learned that he graduated from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, where my brother Dave lives. Small world, indeed. Partners Worldwide - An oasis of hope.
We traveled to Chambrun, near Thomazeau, to meet with Esperandieu Pierre, who leads Nehemiah Vision Ministries. Part of the vision at this "oasis" is to create jobs for families in this rural communty by growing exportable agricultural crops, including "essential oils" for the perfume industry and beverage industry, as well as raising laying hens and roaster chickens for sustenance and income for the community. An oasis of hope.
Part of the vision of Bishop Joel Jeune at Grace Village in the slum of Carrerfour, located just west of Port-au-Prince, is to turn the earthquake refugee camp, which once housed 20,000 refugees, into well organized communities in which entire families learn the responsibilities of citizenship and are offered opportunities to train for jobs. The camp is run with such impressive efficiency, order and cleanliness, that the UN and other NGO's have repeatedly visited to learn the secret of how Bishop Jeune and his sons, Danny, Jonny and Michael, have managed to gain the trust of the camp's residents. When asked by UN employees about his "secret" for success in gaining the trust of the people, Danny replied with a question of his own, "In running your camps, have you told that people that you love them?" The reply: "Of course not, we are just doing our jobs." In confronting community residents who are reluctant to accept the camp's rules and covenant, Danny replies: "I will outlast you; I love you more than you hate yourself." An oasis of hope.
Pastor Mullery Jean Pierre of Baraca Baptist Church in Brooklyn, NY has created the Baraca Community Development Corporation to provide jobs for Haitians in the town of Leogane. Using a sustainable economic development model, BCDC has invested in 30 motorcycles that will form a "taxi" business employing community members who will be able to purchase the motorcycles as they drive and learn to maintain and repair the machines. An oasis of hope.
There are other oases that I do not have time to describe in this article - and still others I am not yet aware of. The vision that I share with the members of the group that I traveled with this past week is to make these oases and their leaders aware of each other. The dream is that these Haitian leaders will encourage and challenge one another to continue growing these islands of hope so that they eventually will overlap and offer hope and sustenance to a growing percentage of Haiti's inhabitants.
We are seeking partners in the U. S. who are willing to stand with us and our Haitian brothers and sisters - not in creating a new organization and not involved in "relief work," but in encouraging investment in sustainable economic development that touches the temporal and spiritual needs of Haiti's people. Contact me for details.
Watch for further details in the coming weeks and months in The White Rhino Report.
Pray for Haiti and its people, and join us in standing with them.
"The desert will bloom like a paradise.
To redeem the desert - to make it all one garden - isn't
that a fine thing to do?"
(From the film "The Winning of Barbara Worth" - 1926)