PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (BP)–The plight of Haitians who survived the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake is deeply moving and almost beyond comprehension, say Southern Baptist relief leaders who have been to Haiti. The vast majority of their capital, Port-au-Prince still lies in rubble a year after the 7.0-magnitude quake killed an estimated 300,000 people and left more than 1 million homeless.
Those relief leaders also say, however, that despite the enormous challenge of rebuilding Haiti, the love of God compels His people to care about people in need. Through a cooperative joint venture called “Rebuild Haiti,” they are aiming to put at least 3,200 families — and perhaps as many as 6,200 — into decent housing by the end of 2013. A pilot project in Haiti already has erected 250 houses.
“There is no way to describe the awful conditions hundreds of thousands of Haitians are living in,” said Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization. “The despair is so real you can almost touch it. We are calling on Southern Baptists and other people who care to help Haitians in their hour of great need and see the Kingdom of God come in Haitian lives. We want to see Haitian families get back into safe and secure homes in a way that brings them dignity and at the same time glorifies God.”
No one would argue about the enormity of the rebuilding challenge.
Even before the earthquake turned Port-au-Prince into a pile of rubble, Haiti’s people were the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. Eighty percent of the population lived under the poverty line and 54 percent lived in abject poverty, according to the World Factbook (www.cia.gov). A year after the quake, only an estimated 2 percent of the rubble has been cleared and aid officials have told reporters clearing all the rubble would fill 1,000 trucks a day for more than 1,000 days.
The vast majority of the 1 million people left homeless by the quake still do not have adequate living conditions. Besides the 300,000 people killed by the quake, cholera now has killed hundreds more.
Rebuild Haiti will require unprecedented levels of commitment and cooperation between the various partners with Haitian Baptists — Baptist Global Response, International Mission Board, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief coordinated by the North American Mission Board and the Florida Baptist Convention, said Fritz Wilson, the Florida convention’s disaster relief director.
“The goal of building 6,000 homes in three years is a God-sized task,” Wilson said. “We are approaching it much like Nehemiah did rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Each of the different partners is working on their piece of the task. It is a modern-day picture of the body of Christ working as one unit to push back the darkness.”
The Rebuild Haiti goal, Wilson added, is to bring help, healing and hope to Haiti’s suffering people by meeting physical needs that lead to opportunities to share the good news of God’s love.
Rebuild Haiti plans to construct 3,200 “transitional homes,” a 12-by-16-foot cement block structure with a metal roof. At a cost of $2,500 each, the homes will be small but safe and secure from the elements, as well as easily expandable when the family gathers enough resources to do so.
Funding for the homes will come from the primary partners and additional donations from other groups, like the Kentucky Baptist Convention, which has earmarked $200,000 for the rebuild. Baptist Global Response has committed to building 1,200 homes.
The homes will be built primarily on sites where previous homes had been located to keep families together, Wilson said. Haitians will be hired and trained to do the construction, which will provide jobs and skills to families. Construction materials will be purchased in the country to help the local economy, avoid construction delays and the challenge of getting donated materials into the country.
As a demonstration that God loves all people equally, homes will be built in equal numbers for Christians and non-Christians alike, said Mickey Caison, the North American Mission Board’s team leader for adult volunteer mobilization.
“I am very excited about — and appreciate — the level of cooperation and collaboration we are seeing from Southern Baptists in response to Haiti’s needs,” Caison said. “The initial disaster relief response was a demonstration of the compassion of Southern Baptists and was used of God in a mighty way. The long-term effect of Rebuild Haiti will be to demonstrate God’s love in a real and practical way that will communicate the Gospel in Haiti like never before.”
The need for prayer in the Rebuild Haiti initiative is as great as the need for donations, Caison added.
“Southern Baptists need to pray for the Haitian churches and their leaders to continue to have strength, wisdom and discernment as they proclaim the Good News of Christ,” Caison said. “We believe God’s people will once again step up to meet the challenge of helping Haitian families start to rebuild lives left in disarray by the earthquake.”
Mark Kelly is assistant editor and senior writer with Baptist Press. Baptist Global Response is on the Internet at www.gobgr.org.