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Haitian church gives 2 years’ wages for relief

PORT-DE-PAIX, Haiti (BP)–A Baptist church in northern Haiti has made an unprecedented gift of 20,000 gourdes ($506) to aid in the recovery from the Jan. 12 earthquake.

The gift, though small by some standards, is the equivalent of about two years’ wages in the Haitian economy.

“Too often we look at the size of the gift, not the size of the sacrifice,” said Dennis Wilbanks, Florida Baptists’ associate director of partnership missions. “I was so moved that I could not believe this was actually happening.”

The gift from members of Nazarite Baptist Church in Port-de-Paix on northern Haiti’s Atlantic coast is the first time a Haitian congregation has given funds “to distribute as we see fit,” said Wilbanks, who is accustomed to receiving numerous requests for financial aid from the impoverished Haitians and was surprised by the unexpected no-strings-attached gift.

On a recent trip to Haiti, Wilbanks, along with Tennessee pastor Steve Nelson and Jean Louis Otandieu, director of missions in Haiti’s Northwest Baptist Association, visited the church to thank leaders personally for the sacrificial gift.

“After crossing five rivers and the roughest road I have ever traversed, we finally arrived at the church site,” Wilbanks said. “When I saw the building, I was completely at a loss. I could not believe that the congregation that meets in this building could ever raise those kinds of funds, much less even consider giving them.”

With a dirt floor, walls of white mud packed onto rough-hewn wooden slats and a metal roof, the church building belies its members’ spirit of selflessness and generosity.

On a typical Sunday, pastor Pierre Cenervil, a father of 10, preaches to about 130 Haitians, many of whom walk long distances for worship. Cenervil explained to Wilbanks that the church has been praying for a “stronger facility, with chalkboards and benches, so that they could have a school,” a desperate need in the area.

Still, having seen what the Confraternite Missionaire Baptiste d’Haiti convention (CMBH) and Florida Baptists have done for Haiti during the past 15 years and saying that Florida Baptists “have been there when no one else seemed to care,” the pastor led his church to look beyond its own need, Wilbanks said.

Cenervil said he wanted the financial gift to “help the poor people of Port-au-Prince who lost everything in the earthquake.” Although his own church has dire need, he said his congregants needed “to be obedient to God and that this was the right thing to do to give the money to CMBH for the disaster relief effort.”

The gift, Wilbanks believes, signifies the maturing of the church in Haiti “from a people who are only recipients to a people who are givers.” He believes the church has set an example and standard for other churches in Haiti “to mature to the place of giving without expectations of receiving something in return.”

“This church is an example of a small, impoverished church partnering with others to increase its impact through a collective gift,” said Wilbanks, who emphasized that “faithfulness and obedience are more important than a token gift given out of abundance.”

After receiving the gift, Wilbanks, Nelson and Otandieu shared soft drinks and prayer with a few Haitians who had gathered. “As we prayed at the end of our time together, we are trusting the Lord that He will make a provision for this church to build a structure that is safe and can be used not only for worship but for a school in this community where there is no school,” Wilbanks said.

“As this church has been a blessing, I expect God to bless this pastor and this church by making provision for the influence to expand its outreach to its community, Haiti and the world,” he added.

Even as the trio headed back toward home, marveling at the growing spiritual maturity of Haitian believers, the surprises were not over. Originally, Wilbanks had been told the financial gift was 10,000 gourdes, and that was the amount written on the outside of the envelope presented to him on behalf of the church. Opening the envelope, Wilbanks counted and then recounted. The gift equaled twice the expected amount: 20,000 gourdes.

“How did the other 10,000 gourdes get in the envelope? I do not know!” Wilbanks exclaimed. “Some might try to explain it away rationally, but I am convinced it was another of God’s miracles.”

The responsiveness of Haitians to the Gospel message in the aftermath of the earthquake continues to be a miracle, both in the number of new converts won to Christ and the start of new churches across the nation, said John Sullivan, Florida Baptist executive director and treasurer.

In a broadcast e-mail sent to Florida Baptist pastors May 20, Sullivan returned to a phrase he coined in April: “Hallelujah time in Haiti.”

After a third series of evangelistic campaigns held in Jacmel, Cayes and Jeremie, Haitian pastors affiliated with the CMBH have reported another 49,912 persons have made professions of faith, bringing the total to 135,330 since that Jan. 12 earthquake; and another 71 new churches were started, increasing the number of new churches in the past four months to 135. This brings the total number of churches affiliated with the Florida Baptist State Convention to 1,026.

“This is one of the most amazing displays of the grace of God in redemption that we know,” Sullivan said. “This is the most amazing display of redemption with which the Florida Baptist Convention has been involved.”

Sullivan credited Southern Baptist state conventions for their role in the evangelistic harvest, saying it was “the most amazing display of cooperation among state conventions that I have been a part of in my years in Florida. Their churches share in the victories because of their financial support, mission teams, prayers and encouragement.”
Margaret Dempsey-Colson is a freelance writer for the Florida Baptist Convention.

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