An example of Critical Presence
First Christian Church
Visit to Haiti April 1-8, 2005
I would like to thank everyone for their support, encouragement and prayers while I was in Haiti. Everyone should be proud knowing they were participants in making a difference in someone’s life. I was truly humbled to be your representative and ambassador.
The political situation is still very unstable, at best. United Nations troops and Haitian police attempt to make their presence felt, yet it appears to be an exercise in futility. The neighborhood where our missionaries reside is one such example. The lawlessness that has permeated Port-au-Prince near the capitol building and surrounding slums has been expanding outward and has reached a number of what had been considered relatively safe havens. The day after I left, a figure who lives one block from the Gourdets and had been associated with the Aristide camp had been killed in a shootout with police and U.N troops. While on the surface this appeared to be a case of a bad guy getting killed, it was more than that. This individual had taken it upon himself to ensure the safety of the neighborhood by placing his own militia at checkpoints in the neighborhood. Safety prevailed and the residents do not care who patrols the streets, as long as they feel safe. He was able to do what the troops and police were unable to do. The troops took his wife “hostage” and he was attempting to get his wife released when a gun battle erupted. He died with his gun in his hand. Needless to say, lawlessness is again prevalent in the streets and he is destined to become a folk hero.
Yet, with every horror story there is forever a ray of hope. The communities I visited to see firsthand the work of our goat/pig project was especially rewarding. Naturally, with any new project, there are bound to be setbacks along with progress. We were able to assess the setbacks and pursue ways of improving the project. Throughout my visits, there was hope and inspiration on all the faces associated with our work. With less than 10% of the population controlling over 90% of the money, and 80% unemployment with a per capita income of only $450, the livestock we provide is the only net worth the majority of the communities we mission to have.
I visited two communities that have been working very well. In the area of Bellfontaine in a community called Shasha is a church and community center atop the mountain. After a grueling 2 1/2 hour drive up the steep sides of a mountain we arrived. The center consists of nothing more than a 20 x 20 dirt floor wooden shelter that housed the office, classroom and sewing/cooking area. The church was another dirt floor building of the same proportions. Yet, there are over 100 parishioners and 22 ladies who venture to the center for sewing and cooking. There were 12 goats and 10 pigs here, with one sow pregnant and another with 6 piglets. Also, one goat recently had 2 kids. The other community was Savenette. Although it is only 20 miles from the CONASPEH building, it took over 3 1/2 hours to get there via 4 wheel drive vehicle. At one point we had to get out and walk as the pitch was too steep for the vehicle to make it with us inside. After crossing the river 5 times and bouncing along the road we came to a small village. There was a donkey awaiting for us to ride as we still had to walk 20 minutes through the woods to get to the project. We turned down the donkey and proceeded down the side of the trail. We traversed into the forest and came upon a spring halfway to the project. The view was awe-inspiring as the temperature was much cooler here and hummingbirds were like gnats, flitting all around. It was easy to see why Haiti was once referred to as the “Crown Jewel of the Caribbean”. The leader/pastor of the community has done a great job with the project. They had built a hut for vaccinating the livestock and had a quarantine pen for livestock that were ill. The hut was better built than the homes where the people resided.
As peaceful as this setting is, trouble found its way here also. In early January of this year, while the parishioners were singing, a group of men appeared and started to shoot their guns in the air and then proceeded to set the church afire while the parishioners were inside. The church burnt to the ground and they now have services in a shell of a building with palm fronds woven to create the walls. Yet, throughout all this adversity there remains hope in the hearts of the people. They possess a spirituality that is evident in the way they sing, live and survive. I would love to have such a clear aim toward God. Perhaps it is because they have nothing else…or is it because they have so much more?
A positive note came while I was in Haiti in regards to the goat/pig project. One of the problems encountered was the distribution of the livestock and their care. To help with this we were given a 5 year lease free of charge on a strip of land that is approx. 200′ x 1200′.A well is to be dug in the near future and pens, birthing pens and vaccination hut soon after. This will assist in better handling of the livestock. I have encountered resistance in the introduction of goat’s milk for the diets of the people. Traditionally, the goats in Haiti are low producers of milk and the time to get the low yield was considered too troublesome. However, the American Friends Society has begun to crossbreed higher yielding milk producing goats with the native goats with good results.
We purchased two sewing machines and a stove for a women’s’ center that is being established in the CONASPEH headquarters. The women are extremely excited and appreciative, shown by their gift of the communion plate and chalice given to our CWF women. I posed the question whether it was a symbolic gesture or was it intended to be used. It is expected to be used by the women groups whenever they serve communion. In addition to the communion plate and chalice, the women also sent a ceramic figure of a woman seated at a sewing machine to be donated to our church. Unfortunately, her head was knocked off while transporting it home.
While visiting CONASPEH, I was asked to assist in teaching the children. I participated in teaching English to three separate classes. I was well received and the children seemed to enjoy my homework assignment. I had 110% participation. (after realizing I was handing out candy for the assignments, a few did their homework twice) I experienced a hunger for knowledge that has been forgotten in our country.
It gives me great pleasure to announce we (FCC,DoC) have a room dedicated to us in CONASPEH. It is one of two on the same floor, the other dedicated to the Kansas City DoC church. Our room is the library and is currently being outfitted with bookshelves with glass-front doors. This is to keep out as much dust as possible. Everyone is truly grateful for all we do.
As always, the cost of education is a major problem as there are no public schools in Haiti. I inquired about a scholarship program. There is already in place a program with a DoC church in the northeast. The cost is $200 a year per student. This does not include supplies or uniforms.
I hope you will take into consideration one or all the opportunities we have before us to further this great mission. While I lack terribly God’s word, I feel I am His, and your servant to this most rewarding work. Thank you ever so much for all we have done and continue to do in God’s name.
Sandra and Daniel Gourdet
Daniel and Sandra Gourdet are missionaries with the National Spiritual Council of Churches in Haiti (CONASPEH). Daniel serves as a consultant for development programs. Sandra serves as a consultant for educational programs.