–> Part 1.
You know about those emails from pastors or church leaders in another country asking for help? I get them all the time. Call me skeptical, but I’m pretty sure that most of them are not legit. So when I got an email from a pastor in Haiti in town looking for a church, I couldn’t help but feel the skepticism in my heart. He came in town after the earthquake and was looking for a church to attend with requests for a ride. We responded to his request, and in a matter of 48 hours, I would meet this Haitian man who quietly and faithfully attended our services for the following three months.
Joseph didn’t say much. His English was rather broken, his heart even more for his people. Like most Haitians, he was well-dressed, and every time I approached him, he responded with a quiet hello and bowed head. I just thought he was here to visit some family (which he was), but soon I came to realize it was so much more. In the earthquake this past January, Joseph lost nearly everything. His father, hero, and mentor was killed while in the church building where he invested his life pastoring God’s people. Joseph’s house was completely destroyed, his wife trapped inside and now medically impaired. The three-story building in Port-au-Prince where the church and orphanage was located collapsed, killing nine orphan children. In this building was stored all the Bibles, musical instruments, sound equipment, and teaching materials for all nine churches he had started over the past 15 years. On top of this, one of the members in the church in Port-au-Prince, a high-ranking government official who funded a large amount of the food supplies for the orphans, was killed in the earthquake, leaving Joseph will a state of desperate need one can only imagine bearing alone.
So a homeless 33 year-old man who just buried his father and sent his wife to a hospital in the Dominican Republic ended up in my city because, as he later told me, the children in his churches “no longer had food to eat”. He didn’t come to get a handout from our church. He came looking for a job so that he can bring some money back to feed these children who looked to him as their grandfather. What he did not know was there are no jobs here in our city (that’s another story), and so he was left to attending church at Grace while trusting God for a miracle.
Did I mention that Joseph is 33 years old? He was eighteen when he planted his first church, and since then he has planted eight other churches, one of them a four-hour journey through roads that have devoured many a vehicle. In each of these churches, he has discipled and raised up pastors who now lead God’s people. In addition to this, Joseph has started orphan schools for all nine churches, appointing directors and training teachers. In all, there are over 2,000 orphans being cared for in these churches through a network of 50+ leaders–all who have been discipled and trained under Joseph’s leadership. Joseph indicated that the number of orphaned children requesting to be a part of their churches’ ministry is nearly double of what they can handle.
Unlike orphan schools, orphanages not only provide schooling and food, but they are places where orphans live full-time. Currently, there are three orphanages (Port-au-Prince, Saint-Marc, and Desarmes), and tragically the buildings in all three places were destroyed by the earthquake. The children, directors, and pastors look to Joseph as the main provider for training (pastors and teachers) and resources (food for the children, Bibles, etc.). At moments of severe need, Joseph has sold his motorcycle, bicycle, and cell phone to insure that no children will perish in any of these orphan-related care centers, and to this date, none have died from hunger.
About six years ago, the unification church (moonies) approached Joseph with a lot of money, asking him to be their primary leader in Haiti. They dubbed him their point man, but soon after he discovered their cult beliefs, he tried to disassociate from them. The result of this has been numerous threats on his life. On separate occasions, he has been run off the road while driving, kidnapped, and held at gun point–his life preserved by a jammed trigger (and sovereign God). Consequently, while in the capital city, he travels with his own national police guard and personal bodyguard as necessary precaution from future threats.
As you can imagine, while in the United States, it would have been tempting to stay here and attempt to get a permanent visa. After all, he would be safe from threats on his life. He could start all over here in the land of comfort and convenience. But the attractions of life here in the United States had no hold on Joseph’s heart. It was already owned by the people whom he has given himself to.
So what do I think about that bearded Haitian man who walked into our church that Sunday morning back in February? I think I have found a homeless man whose shoelaces I’m not worthy to tie. He has two years more of life than me (I’m 31), but I have had perhaps $200,000 more wealth and opportunity than he has. While I was sent to Haiti to judge and evaluate his life, ministry, and mission, before the end of the week I was left only to judge and evaluate myself and unbelief.
So can anything good come out of Haiti? I say yes, and much of that has been repentance born in my heart as a result of God’s servants in the shadowlands of obscurity–servants with nothing but radical confidence in the abundance of God’s provision in the midst of unimaginable need. I have come back with Haiti in my heart and tears in my eyes–not for what they don’t have, but what they do have that I know little of.