By Jordan West
CLEVELAND, Ga., TMNews – Our lighthearted laughs faded and were replaced with silence as the group quietly realized the brevity of the message we would share the next day. Though the crown of thorns we had crafted was made of pipe cleaners, its symbolism was powerful. We planned to retell the greatest story ever told, the redemption of Christ, on our last day of VBS in Leogane, Haiti. That night, our team prayed together, begging God for receptive hearts.
Finding light in the darkness
Our team of 29 Resident Assistants and TM Staff spent the first week of January 2016 in Leogane, Haiti, serving the people and sharing the Gospel. The January 2010 earthquake left behind incredible destruction, and the nation has been trying to rebuild its way out of the darkness for the past six years.
Though our team went to serve, we collectively felt that we walked away differently than we had arrived. Fletcher Humphrey explained the feeling well, saying, “I never imagined I would ever find such joy in such a desolate place, but that is because I found joy in what God is doing there.”
We worked with Baptists 4 Haiti throughout the week, an organization supported by the Georgia Baptist Convention. Our four teams spent the mornings at different local churches, using Bible stories, skits, crafts, and games to present the message of the Gospel. Evan Herndon expressed, “Our God was using us to help those in need and also to share His word in the local churches.”
Walking with the people
Dr. Van Sanders, Associate Professor of Missions and Evangelism, lead our morning devotions and team debrief each day. On the first night, he encouraged us with the idea of incarnational structure – living among the people like Jesus lived. He challenged, “How can you know the people if you’re not walking with them?”
His words fueled us to do just that – to live among the Haitians and walk with them, sharing the message of Christ as we went. After a time of Vacation Bible School at our local churches each day, we would reconvene at lunchtime and then set out to either spend time at the orphanage at Hope for Life Children’s Home, an orphanage in Gressier, Haiti, or evangelize in a nearby fishing village.
While each of the four churches provided a different setting, we were all incredibly impacted by the way the children listened to the Bible stories. Leah Garrison explained, “The kids love stories. We do a VBS time where we have skits. Kids back home have so many distractions from technology, but these kids in Haiti don’t have that luxury. So when you tell them a story from the Bible, they are totally focused on it. They soak it all in, and it’s easy to reach out to them with the Gospel.”
Their focus was a testament to just how valuable the word of God is in the lives of people, and the church where Ben Garrison served taught him something new. He said, “They gave a Bible verse to each person in the church. They told us they had a gift for us, and that is what the word of God is to them. It’s a gift, and that’s exactly how we should see it, too.”
Jacob Keesee added, “They didn’t need to be in an air conditioned church with cushioned seats and a flat screen television telling them a Bible story, because they were so content with us just being there spending time with them and sharing the Gospel.”
The value of storytelling
Leah Garrison said, “In Haiti, you go from house to house, and the people there have a hunger. They want to know the Lord so badly. It makes you think, ‘Man, if they value the gospel that much, then we should be valuing the gospel that much.’”
The power God’s word has on its listeners became very evident to us in Haiti. Bryce Dillard said it like this, “During the VBS, some of the adults and teenagers would also show up and hang around outside the church and talk and joke around.”
He continued, “However, when the story started, everyone would stop what they were doing and watch. They were all focused on hearing the story and learning about the Lord through the story. It is such an encouragement to see people who yearn for the Word of the Lord.”
The Haitians shared an open willingness to listen and a deep hunger for hope in Christ. These desires reminded us just how valuable the message of God is, and how that should manifest as we travel overseas or live out each day in the United States.
Finding adequacy in Christ
Kristen Loy explained, “God showed me that complacency in our Christian lives is not an option. We were made for so much more than that. People all around the world are in need, both physically and spiritually…and we can show them Christ’s love in all types of capacities if we choose to live a life of obedience and non-complacency.”
With a desire to step outside of complacency, Champ Johnson described to our group one night at debrief how he was first afraid that his words would not be adequate for sharing the gospel. He then shared 1 Corinthians 2:4-5 with us, where Paul reminds believers that his words were not of his own human strength, but persuasive because of the Holy Spirit.
Johnson admitted, “I worry that my words won’t be good enough, but my words don’t have to be persuasive. They just have to be the Gospel.”
God often calls believers outside of their comfort zones, and we each experienced this differently in Haiti. Ethan Stafford shared a story of how God called him out of complacency. He said, “All week we had the opportunity to go to either an orphanage and play with kids or go to a fishing village and tell people about Christ. The last day we had that choice, I really wanted to go to the orphanage.”
He added, “It was so much fun being there with the kids and getting beaten by them in soccer. I was planning to do that, but the Lord kept telling me to go back to the fishing village. Finally, at the very last minute I listened to Him.”
The Lord had something special in store for his team. Stafford said, “We met two men that lived there. Our team started talking about life with them and it eventually went into sharing the Gospel. I have shared the Gospel with people in a preaching or teaching setting, but I can’t remember a time before this where I have presented the whole Gospel to a person that didn’t know it before.”
He continued, “The Lord blessed my obedience, because after sharing the Gospel with those men, one of them decided to come to know Christ as his Savior. God taught me to be bold in proclaiming His gospel and the power of having Christ-centered conversations with other believers.”
Understanding true joy
Chanda Bell arrived in Haiti afraid she would be hardened to the culture, and she said, “While I was incredibly excited to be back and serving the Haitian people, I feared complacency and numbness toward the culture and had a hard time believing that I could learn anything new since I had already been on several mission trips.”
Quite the opposite was true. She described, “While our team served the people, orphanages, and churches of Leogane without the distractions of materialism, I experienced more genuine joy in that short week than I had experienced in a very long time.”
Bell elaborated, “I was reminded that when we follow the Lord he takes care of the desires in our heart. Those desires may not be what we thought we needed or wanted, but when following what the Lord has planned for you, He provides with more contentment than we can ever have on our own.”
Fears of various kinds plagued our team. For Tanner Clark, the trip to Haiti was not only his first time leaving the country, but his first time flying on a plane as well. He said, “When we were about to lift off from Atlanta, I was terrified about flying and being in Haiti. So I stopped and asked God to clear my heart and go before and give me peace.
God was quick to answer his prayers. He continued, “From flying to being in Haiti, I never once feared anything. God gave me such a clear heart.”
He too, was astounded at the Haitian peoples’ desire for the Bible. Clark said, “I have never seen people so hungry for God’s word.”
The power of prayer
Jenni Gossett explained how prayer became even more important to her in Haiti. She said, “God taught me more about how having an intentional and personal prayer life can be a powerful tool, especially on the mission field.”
Gossett added, “Also, no matter how hard you plan, 200+ kids can very quickly turn anything into utter chaos!”
Working with the Haitian children brought immense joy to us, and God continued to reveal His glory through our time with the kids. Bailey Jarnigan shared a story of God’s provision in her group, citing, “The VBS group I was in told the story of the prophets of Baal one day. The accompanying craft was a paper flame for the kids to color.”
She continued, “The night before, we had cut out 80 paper flames, since there were only 69 kids at the church. That day we walked into the church and there were 101 kids. We were discouraged that not everyone would get a craft, but we began to pass out the flames.”
Jarnigan finished, “It did not take long to realize that not only would every kid would get their own flame, but we would have some left over. We serve an amazing God who blesses us in the small aspects of our everyday lives, but we need to be willing to pay attention to His working.”
Destiny Allen was weary of the language barrier, but was inspired to see how one of her passions translated universally. She said, “One of my favorite parts of the Haiti mission trip was getting to play soccer at the orphanage with the kids.”
Allen remarked, “I could not communicate with the children without a translator, but as soon as we brought out a soccer ball they knew exactly what to do. The game of soccer does not change.”
She recalled, “I am so thankful that God has given me a passion for soccer because the game opens the door for the Gospel to be shared. When the game was over we had the opportunity to share with the children about God. We told them that it is God who has given us the ability to play the game of soccer and we play to bring him honor and glory.”
Salvation by grace
The most common misunderstanding of Christianity in Haiti that we came across as we met the people is that they have earned salvation through their good works. We came in contact with many people who explained that they were saved because they attended church, but they could not describe the moment they surrendered their life to Christ. While this gave our team ample opportunity to share the Gospel, it also taught us a lesson about God’s grace.
In relation to this often-seen confusion, Atarah Campbell explained, “God used Haiti to humble me and teach me that works do not save you, but it is only by His grace and through faith that we are saved.”
Campbell went on, “I’m glad I chose to go and I’m even gladder that God is faithful in everything He does, including not using me to change the people in Haiti, but using the people in Haiti to change me. Because of that, I am grateful for God’s grace.”
The needs were imminent. Jacob Keesee described, “We were able to meet so many people who simply needed discipleship, and so it opened our eyes to the physical and spiritual needs of those living there.”
God worked throughout our time in Haiti, reminding us of the need of the Gospel overseas and on our own soil. Bryce Dillard said, “Through this trip, the Lord has just been convicting me of my laid-back attitude toward spreading the Gospel while I’m here at home. Haiti is a country that needs to hear the message of Jesus Christ, but we are also living in a country that needs the same message.”
We left the beautiful city of Leogane humbled by God’s grace, and by the way this grace changes everything. The receptive people we met in Haiti were a reminder of the urgency of the Gospel, and the value of having a hunger for God’s word.
Rachel Johnson concluded, “Though leaving Haiti can be hard, I am reminded that the Holy Spirit who lives inside and is changing me, lives inside the hearts of the believers there. He loves them more than I can imagine, and is evidently pursuing the hearts of Hatians.”
Jordan is a senior English major and an intern for the Communications Department.Return to News Archive