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FIRST-PERSON: Haiti’s modern-day ‘Jobs’

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (BP)–Little did I expect an emotional storm to erupt after several days of seeing the destruction and hearing the painful stories of lost and broken lives in Haiti.

It happened the day I met two pastors with similar, yet unique stories.

That morning, I met pastor Maurice Gilet. On Tuesday, Jan. 12, Gilet was winding up a typical day at Croisade Evangelique d’Haiti Church/School when his life was changed forever, beginning with a dull rumble that sounded like a few seconds of distant thunder.

A deafening roar and violent shaking followed. The ceiling caved in on top of Gilet and students and church members at the school.

Shrieks of panic were muffled by the crash of tons of walls and ceilings. When the noise subsided, cries of the injured and helpless could be heard throughout Port-au-Prince, the capital city of 3 million people. Nearly 250,000 had died and thousands more were injured. Most urgent were the people — including Pastor Gilet — pinned under masses of concrete and twisted steel.

Surviving students and parents began pulling back debris in a frantic search and rescue effort. After four hours, Pastor Gilet was pulled from the rubble. Later, the pastor would learn that two students had been killed instantly and that 10 members of his church had died in their homes or places of work. With members having died, many others injured, families grieving, the church and school in ruins and Port-au-Prince in chaos and turmoil, how does one even start to recover and rebuild?

On a small scale and with no visible means of support, Gilet, his church and school have moved forward since January. Among busted chunks of concrete — under a tarp behind the ruins of the church — the school reopened in mid-April. The school that once boasted a student body of 200 now has only 30 in its makeshift classrooms. But that in itself is a miracle.

Later that day, on the streets of Port-au-Prince, I was introduced to pastor Romelius Samedi of Eglise Baptiste de Fort Nationale (National Fort Baptist Church). We could not reach his church due to an impassable road. For years, Pastor Romelius and his family faithfully had served the Lord in a hostile community where evangelical Christians encounter stiff resistance to sharing the Gospel amid voodoo practitioners.

He told how both his home and church were destroyed by the earthquake and how 30 members of his church were killed in their homes and places of work. The survivors of his congregation now meet under a tarp on Sundays.

But the pastor’s personal grief runs deep. “On March 26th, my 15-year-old daughter died from a fever,” he said. How does one man — even a man of God — cope with so much death, destruction and tragedy over a four-month period?

As I asked Pastor Romelius how I could pray for him, I expected the response heard so many times throughout my visit to Haiti — financial help and equipment to rebuild the church and its members’ homes. To my surprise, his primary prayer request was that his brothers and sisters in the United States would pray that he and his congregation would receive God-given strength.

“We are very weary and need hope,” Pastor Romelius said. While he certainly needed material resources, he recognized their greater need was much deeper.

All I could offer was a bear hug, prayer and shared tears.

These two modern-day Jobs brought home to me the truth that only in God’s grace can one press on during a tragedy of this magnitude. But in their suffering, they also brought to life the truth that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.
Steven S. Nelson is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn. He recently spent a month on sabbatical serving in Haiti for a North American Mission Board virtual prayerwalk project. To learn more about how to volunteer to minister in Haiti through Southern Baptist Disaster Relief or to make a donation, visit www.namb.net/haiti. To visit the virtual prayerwalk for Haiti, go to www.namb.net/pray4haiti.

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  • Steven S. Nelson