They said you couldn't plant churches in the aftermath of Haiti's disasters
They said it couldn’t be done. They said that Haiti was in too much disarray for the church to spend time telling people about God and planting churches.
They were wrong.
First hit by the 7.0-magnitude earthquake in 2010, over 216,000 Haitians died and an estimated three million were affected by the chaos caused by the quake. This disaster crippled the infrastructure of Haiti. People were left without homes, jobs, power, food, clean water, or access to medical care. Within such dire circumstances, an outbreak of cholera claimed the lives of another 9,200 people. In October 2016, Haiti was hit by Hurricane Matthew, contributing even further to the devastation. One would think surely hope has died in Haiti.
Yet, there was never a better time to invite people to put their hope in Jesus Christ. The country has experienced a miraculous movement of the Holy Spirit, as thousands are coming to Jesus across this small Caribbean country, and more than 2,000 groups of believers have been planted in the past seven years.
But that’s not all. The wide variety of ministry activity happening through the Church of the Nazarene in Haiti reflects how God can turn any amount of disaster into new life. Following these disasters, the church collaborated across ministries, distributing food and care kits, building houses and wells, chapel factories, and most importantly, providing hope.
Holistically meeting needs
In his book “Missional Zones,” JESUS Film Mesoamerica Regional Coordinator Bernie Slingerland wrote that many counseled him that Haiti could not be involved in evangelism ministries because they were still recovering from their recent disasters. He added, “However, the church leaders in Haiti said that they were ready to do something for the Kingdom and did not want the crisis in their country to prevent their involvement.”
In the days following the earthquake, JESUS Film Harvest Partners sent funding for 26 generators, allowing teams to provide relief outside their typical scope of service.
“With the generators, the JESUS Film teams set their film equipment aside, allowing us to put compassion in front of evangelism. Sometimes in the middle of a crisis, the best thing you can do is come alongside others with the truth that we love you and God loves you,” JFHP Operations Director Rusty Robbins said.
The generators provided valuable power and warmth, but also did so much more. The generators and other compassion efforts met Haitians’ physical needs, allowing local leaders to focus on the eternal needs of the people.
“I have no doubt those generators allowed [the teams] to take care of humanitarian needs: restoring pastoral connectivity, maintaining churches as places of refuge, providing medical relief, lodging, and ultimately a house of worship,” Robbins said. “The generators served multiple needs as they were used to care for people.”
Compassion tools, like the generators, are akin to water to soil, allowing the church to grow roots as local leaders gather to serve and celebrate Christ.
“JESUS Film teams through compassionate actions] catch the attention of the people because they are in need and teams are able to meet their need. This is effective because they are showing them the joy of Christ first,” national JESUS Film Coordinator Franckel Formetus said.
Slingerland explained how lay leaders jumped at the opportunity to band together and begin evangelism and outreach ministries in Haiti.
“As soon as churches there found out that training and tools were available, they climbed on board right away. In fact, they exploded with the formation of 11 new Missional Zone projects using the JESUS film and other evangelism resources,” Slingerland chronicled in his book “Missional Zone Planter 5.”
From 1998-2010, prior to the disasters, JESUS Film teams planted just 25 preaching points (groups of believers not yet organized as churches). Since 2010, JESUS Film teams have planted 4,412 Preaching Points.
The many preaching points planted in Haiti arose from the over 55,000 people who made decisions for Christ after being served by JESUS Film teams and seeing the JESUS film. People with transformed lives such as Cénat, Pastor Dieumarc and Alexis Cean.
Cénat Gubert was in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake hit. He gives thanks to God for the miracle of being saved, both that day and eternally.
“I was the only one rescued from the building where I was. Through the JESUS film, I realized that it is not safe to live without Jesus.”
Pastor Dieumarc was saved through the JESUS film and now serves on a JESUS Film team. He witnessed the timeliness of the growing evangelism in Haiti after seven people made decisions for Christ in a local village.
“One passed away a few days after he made his decision for Christ. We are comforted because that person died with Christ in his life. We will see him again someday!”
In the cholera outbreak, Alexis Cean lost everything—his home, his family, and the encouragement of his friends. In his darkest moments, the growing church in Haiti reached him and he discovered hope.
“Last year, everyone thought I would die. They did not have any hope because my wife and my two children died from cholera. God has saved me and brought me life again! I gave my life to Him and want to follow Him forever.”
New life, eternal hope
These stories of transformation were a testament to Haiti’s spiritual revival.
“The district assemblies held in 2013 revealed that nearly every district had new growth with new converts, new members, new missions, and new organized churches. The districts have come alive in Haiti,” Slingerland wrote in “The Power of the Glorious Church.” “There has been a renewal in preaching and teaching the Word of God!
Haiti’s relatively small size has not stopped the church’s rapid growth. In one area of Haiti, the preaching points developed into 70 organized churches, creating a need for a new district to provide a structure of support and accountability. The Grand Anse District was approved in January 2016.
God continues to bless the work in Haiti as the Kingdom and Church grow.
“We have a new hope in the district...many new members are being added to the Church. We have a dynamic team that is generating helpful thoughts about the future of the church,” District Superintendent in Haiti Northeast, Anathol Garnier, said. “The focus is on a more dynamic and efficient church.”
Because we place our hope in an eternal inheritance, believers can join together as the global Church, lived out through compassion and evangelism, helping make all of this possible.
An earlier version of this story appeared in Engage magazine.