Our team of four representing a joint venture of JARON Ministries, International of Fresno, California and the West Fresno Ministerial Alliance, just returned from the earthquake-devastated nation of Haiti. What follows is a first-hand account of the situation as we saw it in connection with our missions work. The team, consisting of myself, my wife Melinda, Pastor Edward Lee and Amber Balakian, arrived in Haiti on Tuesday, June 15 after a fourteen-hour journey and little or no sleep the night before (we had a five hour layover in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Upon arrival, we found the Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport main building to be severely damaged (Melinda and I had traveled through this building back in 2003 and 2005). In its place was a shuttle-bus system which took us to a hastily-built customs and luggage retrieval center, where we were processed.
Haiti in June is hot and humid. This year it was caught up in the soccer World Cup competition. Brazil and Argentina seemed to be the heavy favorites. As we made the eight or ten-mile trip (35 minutes) from the airport to the suburb of Delmas, the streets were full of people, cars and trucks of every shape and condition as well as the colorful tap-taps (taxi-trucks). Our Haitian hosts Jonathan and Alexandra Joseph, were warm and hospitable. We communicated through a combination of English, French, Kreyol and gestures.
Let me see if I can give you a taste of what life is like in Haiti. For instance, in the mornings you hear the sounds of people walking down the mostly unpaved streets either chanting something for sale or ringing a little bell to shine shoes, or deliver water. Then there is the constant motion of people in the streets and the “creative driving style” (we remarked that they seemed to be “playing chicken” all the time). It is amazing there are so few serious accidents. Electric power was sporadic and bathing and toilet duties were mostly by by scoop and bucket.
How can I describe the food? In my opinion, with one exception, we never ate anything that wasn’t very good, although they have combinations of tastes that are unusual to most North Americans. For dinner we had the typical Haitian rice and black beans along with either spicy chicken or shredded beef. Every meal was served with fruit and fresh juice to drink. Delicious.
On this trip, we worked with an association of churches connected with the Brazilian Baptists. I taught Christian Apologetics (defending the Christian faith amid many questions and criticisms), Pastor Ed Lee taught Outreach in Difficult Times and the ladies led seminars for women and kids. On Tuesday the first session was plagued with translation problems which were worked out by the following day. In the Bible Institute classes there were just short of 50 students, 10 of which were pastors. The sessions went extremely well (after the rocky start) with an enthusiastic response from students and administration alike. In my Apologetics course, the questions ranged from archeology to mathematics in terms of their support of the Bible.
Wednesday morning we toured downtown Port au Prince. The destruction was nearly indescribable. The government palace was still in ruins, as were many buildings and even entire neighborhoods. Many buildings still had unrecovered bodies under the ruins so there was a faint smell of death in many places. The public park across from the government palace had been transformed into a tent city. The public hospital, which we also toured, had patients in tents outside with little children crying in the sweltering conditions. It was heart-wrenching.
We saw UN and various foreign government personnel in several places, but no work of reconstruction except by the Haitians themselves. We were later told that this was partly because so many of the property owners were buried in the collapse of those buildings, so there were legal issues as to clearing the rubble and rebuilding. For now, though, the people need to get out of the tents and tarp shelters before hurricane season, which is just around the corner. The Haitians we spoke with asked some hard questions of us. What could we tell them? I am so glad we came to encourage these folks and at least show that they are not forgotten in the long task of rebuilding ahead of them.
On Thursday, the team visited the Good Samaritan Orphanage in a city called La Croix de Boquets. There are 95 kids there under the care of a matron who felt the need to start this work sixteen years ago. Her kids range in age from tiny babies to twenty years of age. They seemed to be well-fell and loved. Melinda and Amber had the chance to give a fun Bible lesson and we all got to know the kids. We left a small gift as a token that we care about them. Melinda and I wanted to bring some of them back home with us. They were so cute and friendly.
On Friday we were invited to preach at a refugee camp of 50,000 people located where Delmas and Petion-ville meet. Sean Penn’s JP organization and others are working there helping with health, education, etc. We worked with the pastor of the site, Pastor Saint Cyr, in praying for three very sick infants and ministering to the moms. We also preached and sang in the church service that night, which was packed with maybe 350 people. We were invited on the spot to return Saturday and Sunday evening, which we were unable to do because of the heavy rain which came Saturday afternoon.
On Saturday and Sunday the team worked in an eastern suburb of Port au Prince called Cottard. In the mornings, Melinda and Amber worked with kids at a brand new church started in this new community of refugees. The Sunday service was very touching as the children of the church—dressed in their very best, greeted us with songs and readings and then presented us with Haitian flags. We hope to form an on-going relationship to help that church. Then in the afternoons, the ladies worked with women in an established church in the northern suburb of Santo. This church of maybe 400 members was completely demolished in the earthquake or January 12.
The trip continued on Monday and Tuesday with the Bible Institute classes and a two-hour certificate ceremony on Tuesday evening. Tuesday morning Ed and I were invited to be interviewed on Radio Shalom, which is a new Christian radio station broadcasting all over the nation. Our short interview allowed us to tell the Haitian people they are not forgotten and that there are people in many countries praying for them and willing to help.
The night before we returned home, our hosts requested a continuing relationship with JARON and the West Fresno Ministerial Alliance. Our plan is to send teams from various churches in the future to work with this very well-founded and reliable group of churches. Thanks for praying and for sending us on your behalf.
Mike and Melinda Bogart, JARON Ministries
I have just returned from Mexico and thought I would report on my current trip to teach the first summer session at JBI, Tehuacan. On Friday, July 3, I arrived in Tehuacan, along with my friend and traveling partner, Pastor Jonathan Villalobos. Tehuacan is located four hours south of Mexico City in the southern part of the state of Puebla. Our flight left Fresno at 1:00 am, with legs from Fresno to Guadalajara and then Guadalajara to Mexico City. After that, there were two bus trips from Mexico City to Puebla and, finally, Puebla to Tehuacan. We stepped off the bus around 5:30 pm after a long trip and only sporadic sleep.
After greeting friends made on previous trips, we were settled in our living quarters for the week. The house is directly across the street from one of the churches sponsoring the Bible Institute, so the 6:30 am session is a very convenient walk. The property has an enclosed garden with several very nicely landscaped outdoor areas. The house itself is two-stories with tile floors throughout and everything done in a sort of modern Spanish style.
After our respective preaching assignments in two separate churches, Jonathan and I were introduced in a joint session of churches on Sunday where we gave a synopsis of our upcoming course on Biblical Communication. There were approximately 50 people present. Certificates were awarded from our previous session last January with a regular ceremony calling the names, shaking hands with each person and presenting them with certificates. They seemed very pleased to receive them.
Afterward, some youth invited me to play touch football in a little yard between the church and the house next door. I was not surprised that the Mexican youth didn’t really know the rules for American football, so I was able to give them some pointers. Everything went well until I intercepted a pass. When I stretched out to catch it and started running, somehow my body got ahead of my feet and I went down, landing on the side of my head and right shoulder. Although it hurt, there seems to be no damage and actually my back, which had been out before the game, now kind of feels better.
The first session of the Summer 09 JBI-Tehuacan opened Monday morning at 6:30 at Manada Pequena (Little Flock) Church. There were perhaps thirty students in attendance. Some of the church ladies made a nice breakfast snack of tacitos with jello and coffee. The subject for the day was how to build an effective Bible lesson. I repeated the same material that evening from 7:30-9:30 pm to about 65 students at Oasis 1, a related church across town. This course is part of the larger summer, 2009 session of JARON Bible Institute in Tehuacan, which will continue next week with my colleague, Gene Beck teaching Theology 2. A youth outreach will take place the week after that, led by fellow JARON staff member, Kenton Rahn.
On Tuesday, along with the regular morning and evening sessions, we were added to a team, which makes regular visits to the local jail. Six or seven male prisoners were assembled for Bible study. We prayed together at the end and they expressed their amazement that Americans would actually want to visit them in jail. There are apparently some 70 or so believing prisoners and these guys see it as their calling to reach the rest. Wow! Afterward I was joking to the team that this was my third time in a Mexican jail, but that thankfully my sentences have always been short (less than an hour). Having done this before, I can say that a couple of the prisoners have now become my friends.
Later we ate lunch at the home of Cheque Vasquez, one of the leading pastors of the churches who sponsor the Bible institute. We were served a kind of chili relleno, stuffed with almonds, apples and other tasty ingredients and covered with a sweet white sauce, typical of the state of Puebla. Delicious!
It is now 10:30 am on Wednesday and the morning session is over. I’m working at a little table upstairs in the house in a sort of mini-solarium (a sun roof in a corner of the sitting area). Outside there are sounds of birds mixed with and some contemporary Mexican music coming from somewhere nearby. Very pleasant.
My friend Jonathan is teaching this second portion of the week. He is a natural communicator and has already won these people over. The schedule is actually quite demanding with early morning and late evening sessions and often counseling and planning in between.
In addition to teaching the morning and evening sessions of JARON Bible Institute, here is an idea of our schedule for the next few days: Lunch today is with one of the students, named Rosadela. Her husband is well known as the painter of the murals on the ceiling of the entrance to the Tehuacan City Hall. On Thursday we are scheduled to speak at an alcohol rehabilitation center. Friday there are plans to visit the onyx-producing village of San Antonio Texcala and then have lunch with a student. We are invited for coffee with my dear friends, Memo Lagunes and his wife, Betty on Friday evening. Yes, ours is a busy social calendar!
Prayer is essential. I can’t say enough about how we are looked after by the Mexican believers. In other places, mission projects have been much more rugged. But being away from family and the normal routine is a strain. It seems that nearly every time I have traveled on a missions trip lately I gave come down with some kind of virus or infection. I had a truly shocking cold and bronchial infection the first three days I was here. There are also bouts of homesickness (especially in the evenings after the sessions) and just the weariness of living in a different routine and culture. Thank God for the Mexicans’ care for us!
Michel, the son of Betty and Memo has been doing some of the interpreting for me when I teach. This morning he made an offhand remark about how amazed he was at the improvement of my Spanish over the last three days. Others have said much the same thing. These remarks are encouraging, especially since yesterday and today my mind has sort of shut down on all languages. For instance, I got up at 5:45 am this morning and knocked on Jonathan’s door to take a shower in the adjacent bathroom. When he answered, I couldn’t even put the English sentence together: “Is the shower free?”. I just stood there gurgling incoherently, until I finally blurted out with, “I want to take a shower.” I think my mind feels overloaded and wants to go on some kind of tropical vacation for awhile, where no talking of any kind is required.
(This concluding portion was written later, after our return to the United States) We finished out the week strong, completing the course and enjoying part of a day of rest and relaxation. Saturday afternoon was spent in planning with local church leaders for future JARON events in Tehuacan. The return journey on July 12, though long, was uneventful.
Thanks for your prayers and concern, Mike Bogart
Tehuacan, Puebla, Mexico. January 9-18, 2009.
This trip was a continuation of the JARON Bible Institute Extension in southeastern Mexico. It was a special bonus that Melinda was able to go with me this time to mentor, counsel and teach women. Accompanying us were Steve and Carla Belmont, friends from our home church, Campus Bible in Fresno. Carla went to work with women as well and to be the speaker for a women’s event the Tehuacan churches were sponsoring. Steve went as team organizer, photographer and general evangelist.
We arrived after a long trip (3:00 am to 11:00 pm). Drive to Los Angeles; fly to Mexico City; bus trip to Puebla and then a ride in a personal van to Tehuacan. Needless to say we were pretty tired. Our hosts, Memo and Betty Lagunes gave us the next day to unwind and solrt things out. Here is how the rest of the 10 day trip unfolded:
Sunday evening the combined churches met at Oasis 1 Church for a time of questions and answers about ministry and Christian living. The four of us participated in this and the occasion broke the ice a bit for the three who had not met these people before. Monday began five days of teaching at the JBI extension.
As before there were both morning and evening classes (6:30-8:30 am and 7:30-9:30 pm). I taught Old Testament Survey. You can imagine that we moved along pretty briskly in that short amount of time.
Sunday morning we had preached in the nearby community of Coapan before participating in worship at Manada Pequena Church later in the morning. On Tuesday, we visited the large local jail, where Melinda and Carla spoke to a group of maybe 15 women about new life in Christ. The time in the jail was part of the ministry of by Enrique and Carmen Gutierrez, some of the key Christian leaders who host our ministry in that city.
Thursday was the women’s conference on Spiritual Maturity. Carla spoke to the approximately 50 women and girls assembled and Melinda led a craft session afterward in which women made a set of note cards. Other activities included sharing our personal faith stories with various groups, counseling various people and just enjoying the gracious people in that place.
On the second Saturday our hosts took us to see Cholula, which is the largest pyramid in the world (the base of the ruined structure is larger that the pyramids of Egypt). We enjoyed seeing that city and walking around the great Zolcalo in nearby Puebla. I was astounded when we visited the baroque-style cathedral in Puebla and we had a fun last evening in Mexico enjoying the festival atmosphere, which we were told is a common occurrence in central Puebla.
The next day we took the bus to Mexico City and after seemingly unending delays, flew to Los Angeles and then drove on home arriving around 2:00 am. Though we were exhausted, it was a fabulous and very memorable trip.
Thanks for your prayers, Mike and Melinda Bogart
Here are a few of the friends we made during this memorable and strategic trip: