Stakes have never been higher for Florida Baptists' support of Haiti
Jul 8, 2014
By CRISTIN WILSON
CANAAN, HAITI (FBW)—She was perfectly still, laying on a yellow blanket. Some of the fourth graders looked on; others continued with their studies. The little girl at the blackboard paused with her lesson.
The school’s director kept trying, but he could not move her.
She was perfectly still.
After noticing the situation, Pastor Delouis B. Labranche, director of missions for the Confederation of Missionary Baptists of Haiti, walked over.
He and the 1,732 other affiliated churches in Haiti all get strong support from Florida Southern Baptists, ranging from evangelism efforts, theological training and disaster relief assistance. Without it, the local pastors fighting the spiritual battles described in this story would lose a key ally.
Labranche took one of the girl’s arms, and the school’s director took the other. Both men begin swinging them. On her own she did not move. It was as if she was lifeless.
They weren’t shouting, but they wanted her, or “it,” to hear them.
Labranche kept saying, “Our Savior take the reins of the universe. His love endures forever.”
Eventually, she got up.
At the same time, just a few feet away, the director was trying to help another girl.
The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He refreshes my soul …
School kids were in the middle of reciting the 23rd Psalm when she hit the ground without warning. They believed she also could have been demon possessed. However, unlike the other girl, this one, who is 13, wasn’t quiet. She was crying—as if she was struggling. She said, “He wants my blood.”
Eventually, she also got up.
On the way back from IMBP Institution Mixte Baptiste Philadelphie, in a more rural part of Port-au-Prince called Canaan, Labranche said what happened at the school on that day is common.
Canaan is a suburb of Croix-des-Bouquets, on the edge of Port-au-Prince, where a lot of people have resettled after the devastating earthquake of 2010. But the government has refused to give permanent status to such settlements, and has prohibited the building of any infrastructure projects in these areas. As a result, Canaan lacks running water, sanitation services and electricity.
Haiti is more widely known for its vast poverty and dark spiritual roots than it is for its equally beautiful beaches. For many Haitians, what is referred to as voodoo is a common and accepted practice.
|Pastor Delouis B. Labranche greets a classroom of children at a school supported by the Florida Baptist Convention outside of Port-au-Prince.
Photo by Cristin Wilson|
That was also the case for Labranche. Many who incorporate tenants of voodoo into their spiritual lives actually consider themselves to be Catholic.
“I was Catholic when I heard about Jesus Christ. It break me free from the slavery of sins,” said Labranche, in his broken English. His native tongue is Creole.
He was in his early teens when he heard about Jesus. A friend invited him to a Baptist church; he said once he learned the truth he couldn’t go back to the Catholic Church.
He paid a price for it.
“It was very hard for me. My parents didn’t believe. I was believer.”
Labranche, who is now 58, continued to go to school, but he refused to go to Catholic worship services. At school, the principal beat him for not attending service. It was a punishment he accepted.
“Because I became a strong believer in the blood of Jesus Christ, I realized only the blood of Jesus Christ could save me from the darkness of hell. I begin to read my Bible,” Labranche said.
As soon as he finished school he walked to the Baptist church.
John Holloway, strategist for the Partnership Missions Team of the Florida Baptist Convention who mobilizes ministry partners to help the Haitian people, is familiar with the struggles facing the Caribbean island nation.
“Our commitment is to sound biblical theology,” Holloway said.
Southern Baptists have had a partnership with the Confederation of Missionary Baptists since 1995. That partnership includes planting churches that open the door to schools. Among other things, the Florida Baptist Convention has committed to training pastors, building churches and conducting Vacation Bible Schools.
For Haiti, churches are critical. They are often the center of the community. Through their schools they’re able to feed kids who may otherwise go hungry.
And, in a country entangled with voodoo, Southern Baptists most importantly have led Haitians to understand their need for a salvation that only Jesus Christ can provide.
Labranche said many Haitians will ask evil spirits to protect them, which is why he thinks the work taking place at the Confederation of Missionary Baptists of Haiti is so important. Voodoo ceremonies are known for having a blood sacrifice. It’s not uncommon to have a chicken or pig sacrificed during those ceremonies.
Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, and illiteracy rates are high. According to the World Bank, about half of the country’s 10 million people live off a dollar a day, and many of the rest have no more than $2 a day.
For many, they say their faith is all they have.
Still trying to recover from the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people, Haiti is now grappling with yet another issue.
Right now, there’s a mosquito borne-virus starting to make people sick. It’s called Chikungunya. Once contracted, those infected have reported fevers and joint pain. While official cases of the virus are low, many believe the actual number is much higher.
Chikungunya is just the latest medical threat to rock the tiny island. For years, it has dealt with malaria, and after the 2010 earthquake cholera proved deadly.
Holloway said regardless of what issues come up, Southern Baptists are committed to Haiti.
“Southern Baptists’ financial commitment to Haiti over these last 20 years would be in the millions, including cost of teams going in,” he said. “God had us there pre-quake and we will remain faithful to His call on us.”
And, the impact has been seen and felt.
Back in Canaan, when both girls woke up they raised their hands. They said the name Jesus. They stayed in class, and eventually went back to their lessons.
“In Haiti, sometimes you need to live by faith,” Labranche said.
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