Amid violence/political turmoil, Haitian believers share gospel

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – As escalating gang violence and political instability threaten civil war in Haiti, Florida Baptist leaders are convinced that Christians there are being faithful and the gospel is being shared.

“When there’s a time of fear and crisis like this, there always seems to be a great opportunity to share the love of Jesus and how He gets us through moments like the Haitians are going through right now,” said Myles Dowdy, Florida Baptists’ lead catalyst for missions and ministry.

John Voltaire, Haitian Church Leadership
Reflecting on the current crisis in Haiti, John Voltaire, Florida Baptists’ Haitian ministries catalyst, says,“In the midst of chaos is an opportunity to witness, to go share the love of Christ.

John Voltaire, Florida Baptists’ Haitian ministries catalyst, agreed, “In the midst of chaos is an opportunity to witness, to go share the love of Christ. This is probably why we see, even in all of this, churches being planted, people being born again, and people looking for hope that they can’t find in their local politicians and see that God is the only way out for them.”

In 2023, the Confraternité Missionnaire Baptiste d’Haïti reported more than 20,000 professions of faith. An estimated 15-20% of Haitians are born-again Christians, said John Voltaire.

Haitian believers are “doing great things amid the chaos across the nation,” said Tommy Green, Florida Baptists’ executive director-treasurer.

A country in chaos

There’s no mistaking that Haiti is a country in crisis. Unrest in the tiny, impoverished nation has intensified since July 2021 when Prime Minister Ariel Henry assumed office following the assassination of then-Prime Minister President Jovenel Moïse. Although Henry’s tenure as prime minister was intended to be temporary, the interim prime minister reportedly, until recent days, had shown no signs of stepping down from power or scheduling elections.

Violence escalated recently when gangs attacked Port-au-Prince, storming police stations and killing at least four officers, Associated Press reported. Police have declared a state of emergency and enacted curfews in unsuccessful attempts to curb the violence. Gangs, many believe, seem to wield more power currently than government officials.

Gang leader Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier has threatened civil war and genocide unless Henry, now in Puerto Rico, resigns, Associated Press reported.

On March 11, even as Haiti’s infrastructure was close to collapse and lawlessness ruled the Caribbean nation, Henry agreed to resign, but not until a transitional council is created and an interim leader is named.

Reflecting on the chaos being experienced currently in his home country, John Voltaire likened the situation to the time of the judges in Old Testament days, as “People do what is right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25)

“Things will get worse by the day,” predicted Florida Baptist Haitian Fellowship President Jackson Voltaire, pastor of Grace Connection Baptist Church in Miami.

Traumatized Haitians near Port-au-Prince fear for their lives, with many lacking basic food and water. Chaos is centered around Port-au-Prince, with most schools, banks and even churches forced to close their doors. Airports also have been closed, but some flights have resumed.

About a quarter of Haiti’s estimated 11.5 million people live in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area, according to 2023 CIA World Fact Book numbers. Some have fled to other parts of the country that are largely untouched by the violence and chaos.

On the northern side of the nation, Haitians are able to “go about business as usual,” reported Wadler Jules, pastor of Emmanuel Haitian Baptist Church in Miami. Jules recently traveled with a parishioner to northwest Haiti for a family funeral. While he acknowledged, “No one feels safe in Port-au-Prince,” he did not fear for his safety in the part of the country he was visiting, which is separated from Port-au-Prince by a mountain range.

Still, as he prepared to travel back to Miami, Jules discovered that the Cape Haitien airport was closed. After several days delay in his travel plans and many prayers from his church members, Jules made his way to the Dominican Republic and was able to fly home.

‘Holding onto their faith’

“Haiti right now is not a safe place,” said Dowdy, who explained that Florida Baptists launched a partnership with Haitian believers in April 1995.

“It breaks our heart what Haitians are having to go through right now,” he said.

First Baptist Church Port-au-Prince
Violence swirls throughout Haiti today, and congregations are unable to gather to worship. Still, members of Haitian Baptist churches, like First Baptist Church, Port-au-Prince, seek to share the gospel and the peace found only in Jesus Christ. “Pray for pastors as they try to help their people find the unshakeable peace of Jesus in the midst of this crisis,” said Myles Dowdy, Florida Baptists’ lead catalyst for missions and ministry.

The 355 Haitian Southern Baptist churches in Florida work hand in hand with about 1,000 churches that comprise the Confraternité Missionnaire Baptiste d’Haïti. Nearly 75 percent of all Southern Baptist Haitian churches in America are in Florida.

“This is where together we can continue to work together as a diverse convention to really reach the world for Christ,” said Keny Felix, senior pastor of Bethel Evangelical Baptist Church in Miami and president of the Southern Baptist Convention National Haitian Fellowship.

The ministry partnership between Haiti and Florida Baptists has helped build a foundation for Haitian believers. It’s a partnership that is now “paying dividends” because Haitian believers are emboldened in their faith, Dowdy said.

Today, as chaos floods Haiti, Florida Baptists provide vital prayer support.

“Pray for pastors as they try to help their people find the unshakeable peace of Jesus in the midst of this crisis,” Dowdy said.

He also encouraged prayer “that (Haitian) believers will be bold within their faith to share the gospel.”

John Voltaire added, “In circumstances like this, people tend to question their faith; they tend to lose hope.” He pointed out that pastors are ministering not only to members of their congregations but also to their own families.

“Pray that these pastors will continue to do what they are called to do,” he said. Many pastors are doing ministry in Haiti “by choice,” having had opportunities to leave Haiti but choosing to stay, he said.

Pray that these pastors (in Haiti) will continue to do what they are called to do. Pray that they find strength and purpose in what they are doing in Haiti, that they can continue to push back darkness and encourage people.

John Voltaire Haitian ministries catalyst, Florida Baptist Convention

“Pray that they find strength and purpose in what they are doing in Haiti,” he said, “that they can continue to push back darkness and encourage people.”

Although Haiti is now closed to Florida Baptists actively pursuing the mission partnership, the day will return when the partnership can flourish again, John Voltaire believes.

“In due time we will be able to come and to support their ministries in ways that Florida Baptists have done for decades,” he said.

Jules acknowledged that many Haitian pastors and church leaders, living daily in a “bleak” situation, “don’t see hope” right now, but because of their solid faith in God and His promises, they are able to preach about hope.

“They are holding onto their faith,” he said. “That is what they have.”

‘Faithful to carry out gospel witness’

Life in Haiti has never been easy. Throughout its history, Haiti has weathered one crisis after another—from Hurricane Matthew in 2016 to the pandemic in 2020 to massive earthquakes in 2010 and 2021 to extreme poverty to civil unrest and on and on.

“We’ve been there through other crises that Haiti has gone through. We will be there with them as they go through this crisis. We know that as brothers and sisters in Christ are faithful as they go through this crisis, we’re going to see individuals come to know Christ as their Savior,” Dowdy said.

“We see brothers and sisters in Christ who are living in Haiti and working in a very hard mission field, but yet they are very faithful to carry out the gospel witness. That strongly encourages me.

We see brothers and sisters in Christ who are living in Haiti and working in a very hard mission field, but yet they are very faithful to carry out the gospel witness.

Myles Dowdy missions and ministry lead catalyst, Florida Baptist Convention

“We are continuing to see a harvest take place in Haiti, professions of faith in Haiti, people come to know Christ. That’s always encouraging when you see … a hard harvest field, but God is blessing it through the faithfulness of brothers and sisters in Christ.”

“When the door opens back up and we can go back in, I think what we will be blessed by is the faithfulness of our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

John Voltaire, although heartbroken about the turmoil in his home country, remains hopeful.

“The people remain resilient. Naturally Haitians are very spiritual. They are people who are seeking for something spiritual, and this is a great opportunity for us to continue to bring the gospel to Haiti,” John Voltaire said.

Jackson Voltaire finds hope in God’s promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

“There is hope because there are God’s people in Haiti as well,” he said. “There will be hope because there is a good group of people in Haiti calling upon God to deliver this country.”

 

With reporting by Baptist Press.

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