A Pastoral Letter to Our Congregations That Have Worked in Haiti
What we know from Haiti is that our missionaries Patrick and Kim Bentrott and their son are safe. We asked them to be there, so their protection is of utmost concern. We know that Patrick and Francoise Villier, who head up the CONASPEH leadership team, have survived. In the midst of our sorrow surrounding the tragedy in Haiti, we give thanks for this news. The Bentrotts and the Villiers have been a catalyst for Christ’s work in the world in ways that can not be put into words. We also know that the CONASPEH headquarters building has been completely destroyed; and when it fell, the nursing students were inside. The loss of life has been great. The destruction has been vast. The new sense of turmoil is unfathomable. The pain of the Haitian people has become our pain because we have been connected with our sisters and brothers in Haiti in a way that can not be overlooked. When Mary came to Jesus saying, “My brother is dead. Couldn’t you have done more to help him?”, Jesus’ response was to weep. (John 11:32-35) A sorrowed response is both faithful and Christ-like.
But do not confuse sorrow with despair. You may be tempted towards thoughts of futility. It may be unclear at this point how the work the Church has done with our partners in Haiti has had any lasting effect. You may fear all our effort and work have been wiped away. The CONASPEH building, each of the six stories built by so many congregations in solidarity over the years, that housed the primary school, the seminary, the nursing school, the doctor’s clinic, and the central hub of communication and coordination for the 6,000 associated churches is in ruin. The school benches built in October are destroyed. The walls painted during earlier visits no longer stand. The chalkboard and the class of students that so recently sat in front it while graciously receiving instruction from a visiting missionary instructor have fallen. The mattresses recently supplied to an orphanage likely fail to fulfill their purpose anymore. The outlying church buildings erected with the help of visiting groups over the years, many now have crumbled. The basketball goal hung in the CONASPEH courtyard a few short months ago has come down. It may be tempting to wonder if the Church’s efforts over the years have been reduced to rubble. But this is not so.
In contrast to the ever-present despair of Haitian poverty, the hope presented by the Church’s Critical Presence endures. So many Haitian people have lost their life, but so many more have survived. Faced with the utter loss of home and possession and livelihood, so much of what they have to go on is hope. Church, when you helped erect those neighborhood church buildings, on that day all who gathered were emblazoned with an image of care and compassion and solidarity—of hope—for all who had eyes to see it. When you painted those walls and built those benches, the children and others that watched had an experience of connection and progress, and the memory of that connection has not been lost. When you held those orphan children in your collective laps, the joy of that day’s sharing is not diminished even in the face of death which has certainly come to some of those children. After you hung something as trivial as that basketball goal, you witnessed the burgeoning frivolity in the midst of hunger pangs, sharing the hope for a life that knew joy.
The work the Church has done with our partners in Haiti is not lost, because always at the core of that work has been the Critical Presence you have represented to a people who so wanted to know that they were not alone and forgotten. The memories of the global Church’s Critical Presence lives on in those who were touched by it. The hope brought by your past efforts over the years will not be forgotten, especially for those who in the days and months and years ahead will only be able to persevere knowing that they will not journey alone. The friends we have in Haiti, the Bentrotts, the Villiers, the pastors of the CONASPEH churches live now in the midst of uncertainty; they do not yet have clarity what to do now, where to go on from here. But as they discern their future, their deliberation is more hope-full than it would otherwise be, informed by the Church’s Critical Presence in the past. We trust that they will feel God’s presence renewed once more, “for the needy shall not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor perish forever.” (Psalm 9:18)
Rev. Joseph A. Weaks
Raytown Christian Church