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
Let me give you a quick report on our recent missions project in Haiti, March 18-28, 2005. Our team of seven (Mike, Melinda and Dan Bogart, our daughter Andrea Cole, Patrick Mitchell, Glenda Farrer, Carl Camp) arrived in Port au Prince on Saturday. The weather throughout our time there was hot and humid.
It was startling, and yet reassuring, to see U.N. troops in full battle gear in various places throughout the country during our time there. Upon arrival, the team met our missionary hosts, Robert and Jean Vilmenay of Mission to the Americas, and prepared for the week.
Monday through Wednesday the team worked at the Center for Integrated Development (in Delmas) featuring various training sessions, designed to equip Haitians to do ministry more effectively. All of this had to be translated into French and Kreyol. The rest of the time we spent visiting local pastors and assisting the full time missionaries. So, what did we accomplish?
We brought much-needed items for Haitian leaders to use in ministry (two full computer / printer sets, medical supplies, used eye-glasses, which the people appreciated very much).
We brought greetings and encouragement to three Haitian congregations (Victoire, Amitie, Cabaret).
We encouraged pastors to continue the ministry under difficult circumstances.
We trained 30-40 Haitian church leaders in various practical issues.
The use of the Wordless Book materials for children.
A missions seminar aimed at mobilizing Haitians to go where others cannot.
We addressed various issues related to women in ministry.
We taught the use of computers in music ministry.
We instructed leaders in the use of various types of games as a ministry tool.
We trained and exposed Americans to cross-cultural ministry.
We encouraged and supplied the missionaries.
We brought the Body of Christ together a bit more.
It was touching that many of the Haitian leaders we had known from our trip in 2003 were so appreciative that we had returned. It means a lot to them because their impression is that few people want to come to Haiti at all, let alone return—and you helped make that happen. Thanks for your prayers and support. Be encouraged!
Mike and Melinda Bogart
July 1, 2003.
It is with fullness of heart that we write to report on our first short-term missions project under JARON Ministries. We believe that our trip as a couple to Haiti accomplished more than we dared hope for. We honestly don’t know how to be brief in summarizing what was accomplished, so please be patient as we try to boil it all down:
Haiti: May 14-24, 2003.
May 15-17: We were the featured speakers at a pastors and pastors’ wives retreat, in the Port au Prince suburb of Delmas. Mike’s subject was Purity in Ministry. These men had not looked at biblical teaching on the subject of sexual purity in this type of package before and responded very well. Melinda taught a women in ministry workshop, in which she led a Bible study centered around the challenges, joys and issues related to pastoral families and ministry within the local church. Approximately ten pastoral couples were involved.
May 18-20. Mike was priviledged to be the guest preacher on Sunday at Amitie Christian Church of Delmas. The text was Acts 1:8 “The Local Church and World Missions.” The following Monday through Wednesday: he taught a Bible Survey mini-course for pastors and Christian leaders at the Center for Integrated Development in Delmas. The class averaged about 25 students over three nights.
May 21-23. Mike presented the same Bible Survey mini-course for the leaders of a recently established church in Petit Goave, 40 miles southwest of Port au Prince. Class size averaged around 20 and provided training for the leadership of this church which has the potential of being a very effective witness in this rural area.
As always, the seminars and workshops served as springboards into other related issues and a chance to connect with dear fellow servants of the Lord for encouragement, fellowship and mentoring.
Our goal is to work with local groups who will be able to follow up and expand on ministry after we are gone. Our hosts were Robert and Jean Vilmenay of Mission to the Americas, and Gillomettre Herode of the Center for Integrated Development. We have a standing invitation to return to continue ministry through these organizations in years to come.
1) Enjoying the very tasty Haitian cuisine, such as delicious fruit, spicy chicken and papitas (fried plantain chips).
2) Trapping a huge tarantula in the “wee” hours of the morning on a trip to the restroom.
3) People and tap-taps (like taxis) everywhere on the streets from early morning until late night. Haitian driving is not for the faint of heart!
4) The poverty and yet general cheerfulness of most of the people we met, along with the serious commitment of the Christian leadership we worked with.
5) The experience of being 50 yards ahead of President Aristide’s motorcade with helicopters zooming overhead, while he was stuck in traffic on Delmas Route 1. The Haitians were not particularly concerned about getting out of his way.
6) Melinda’s dugout canoe ride to a beach near Petit Goave, skimming over coral reefs, but unable to lean out to really see them for fear of the canoe tipping over.
7) The chance to get better acquainted with our friends, the Vilmenays, and hopefully encourage them as they continue ministry in that needy country.
Thanks for praying, Mike and Melinda Bogart