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Haiti relief turns from rescue to rebuild

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (BP)–Walking up to a one-room cement block house on the outskirts of Croix des Bouquet, Tommy Green “oohed” and “aahed” over a snuggly wrapped newborn of a young Haitian.

It was a scorching hot day in October and Green had gone to visit one of the first families to move into a home recently constructed by Haitian laborers under the direction of a rebuilding effort led by the Florida Baptist Convention.

“She delivered the baby during the construction and now they have a safe home in which to live,” said Green, pastor of First Baptist Church in Brandon.

The meeting personified the Florida pastor’s trip to Haiti to teach seminary classes to Haitian pastors and see firsthand the work of Florida Baptists in the nine months since the earthquake.

“One life being changed in the Lord is the focus of the work that we must do in Haiti,” said Green, a former president of the Florida Baptist State Convention.

“This baby boy might be the one that God will raise up to be the voice that will be used to change the entire nation of Haiti,” Green said.

Upon his return to Florida, Green said he “left Haiti with a heavy heart for the hurt and struggles of the people and with a thankful heart that I serve in partnership with the Florida Baptist Convention which takes seriously the demands of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to touch the world with the love of Jesus Christ.”

For nine months, Florida Baptists have joined hands with Haitian Baptists to mount an all-out recovery plan to heal shattered lives from the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that shook the core of Port-au-Prince and the surrounding region Jan. 12.

Working in conjunction with Southern Baptist Convention disaster relief and the church leaders of the Confraternite Missionaire Baptiste d’Haiti (CMBH), Florida Baptist disaster relief leaders are looking toward the future while assessing the past nine months.

The next phase of work in Haiti — CMBH Rebuild, focusing on constructing homes and rebuilding churches — launched Oct. 1, closing the door on the relief phase, said Fritz Wilson, incident commander of the Haiti earthquake response and Florida Baptist disaster relief director.

Foremost in the plan is a goal of building 3,200 “transitional homes,” a 12-by-16-foot cement block structure with a metal roof. Additionally, relief workers have set a “Hallelujah goal” to build another 3,000 homes to bring the total of new homes planned for the Haitian people to more than 6,000.

Funding for these homes will be shared through resources from the Florida convention, North American Mission Board and Baptist Global Response relief organization and additional donations.

Other state conventions have expressed interest in helping to build homes, including the Kentucky Baptist Convention which has earmarked $200,000 for the rebuild.

Florida Baptists developed the model for the transitional home using the experiences they gathered as they tore down homes damaged by the earthquake and built 350 temporary shelters for more than 350 families. The concept is similar to one used by BGR after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

The homes will be built primarily on sites where previous homes had been located, Wilson said, to keep families together.

Volunteers will not be needed to build the houses. Instead, Haitians will be hired and trained to do the construction, which will “provide jobs and job skills to families in addition to building homes,” Wilson said.

Currently the CMBH Rebuild is employing 117 Haitians as contract workers to build homes, including 35 who are managing the construction. Wilson believes as many as 200 Haitians will be employed in the future.

Construction materials will be purchased in the country to help the local economy and to avoid construction delays and “the challenge of getting donated materials through the Haitian customs system,” Wilson said.

Ultimately, Wilson believes the construction of new homes will serve as a platform for local churches to evangelize their communities. “Our goal is to build a home for a lost family for every home we build for a church member,” he said.

Along with the building of homes, another $300,000 is allocated to help rebuild 186 churches damaged in the earthquake. Funding will not cover all repair and reconstruction costs for the churches, Wilson said, which will allow Haitian churches to contribute to their own buildings.

During the relief phase of the past nine months, Florida Baptists as well as Southern Baptist from around the country alongside CMBH churches accomplished more than most people could have imagined, Wilson said.

Primary among the accomplishments, Wilson said, is the work of the CMBH churches to seize the time of spiritual unrest caused by the earthquake to lead 165,213 Haitians to Christ and start 272 churches.

Added to that, another 2,000 professions of faith were reported by Florida and Southern Baptist disaster relief and ministry teams, which included 1,800 volunteers from 39 state conventions and the Canadian National Baptist Convention. More than 200 volunteers were from Florida Baptist churches.

Another 200 Florida Baptist volunteers worked stateside in the relief effort, which included collecting, palletizing and shipping Buckets of Hope food supplies for Haitian families.

The Haiti earthquake spurred the largest international medical response in Southern Baptist disaster relief history, Wilson said. From mid-January through March, an average of three medical teams per week was deployed. After that, three medical teams a month were sent to Haiti.

Yet perhaps the greatest phenomena of the relief effort, Wilson said, was the concept and implementation of Buckets of Hope as a hands-on ministry that every Southern Baptist church could adopt. Wilson conceived the idea and developed the process, including determining packaging and food stuffs to purchasing the buckets.

To date, 150,000 Buckets have been filled by Southern Baptists and shipped to Haitian families.

As of Oct. 1, Wilson reported, 80,000 buckets had distributed throughout Haiti, both in the quake zone and in outlying areas to families who lost their homes and migrated to other areas. Another 60,000 buckets remained in port at Port-au-Prince awaiting clearance through customs, while 10,000 buckets were in transit from the United States.

Currently, buckets are being dispersed at a rate of 10,000 a week, and all are expected to be distributed by Thanksgiving.

To accomplish a relief effort of this magnitude has been amazing, Wilson said, yet it could not have been done without vision and dozens of people working behind the scene.

“The establishment of the CMBH 15 years ago along with the work of the Florida Baptist Convention’s Partnership Missions Department laid the groundwork for what was accomplished. Without that organization, we would have been struggling to accomplish half of what we did,” he said.

Likewise, Wilson added, “The Lord’s sparing of the CMBH guest house and the many churches located near the tent cities allowed us to minister more effectively to the people of Haiti, giving a home base for operations and housing for volunteers.”

It is “remarkable,” said Craig Culbreth, director of the Florida convention’s Partnership Missions Department, “that in spite of the death and destruction in Haiti, we have made advancements in the work. A total of 272 new churches, 165,000 new Christian believers and increasing the size of the CMBH mission house to accommodate more volunteers — that is growth.

“Rather than take a step backwards, in the past nine months, the CMBH has taken three or four steps forwards. That is a miracle of God,” Culbreth said.

Pastor Green who has traveled back and forth to Haiti concurred. “The confidence of Florida Baptists can remain high that the gifts to Haiti donated through the Florida Baptist Convention are reaching and impacting the lives of people in Haiti,” he said.

“I rejoice for the vision of [convention executive director] Dr. John Sullivan for the work in Haiti and that we were on the ground before, during and after the earthquake sharing the love of Jesus Christ with the hurting in this country,” Green said.

“The salvation decisions that are being made in Haiti are a reflection of the presence of the Lord through the ministry of Florida Baptists in Haiti.”
Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention.

    About the Author

  • Barbara Denman

    Barbara Denman is communications editor for the Florida Baptist Convention. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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