How would you describe the mission of our partner in Haiti?
CONASPEH (the National Spiritual Council of Churches in Haiti) is focused on education and as such has a Seminary program, a School of Nursing, and a Classical Studies program (Grades K-12).
The Seminary program consists of 4 years of study and has enabled Protestant pastors to achieve a level of credibility in a predominantly non-Protestant nation as well as allowing pastors to legally conduct weddings, funerals and baptisms. The theological program also has a special course of study set up for those pastors who live outside of the capital. Each month these pastors travel for hours on local “tap taps” (community taxis) and on foot and spend 3 days at CONASPEH to study theology.
The School of Nursing is training nurses to a higher standard of health care. Part of this training is supported by Global Ministries’ medical teams from Canada, the U.S. and Puerto Rico that visit the school frequently. The volunteer professionals bring medical equipment and text books and conduct classes with students to help them to be aware of current medical practices.
In a country where the average low-income family spends 80% of their income on schooling for their children, CONASPEH and its partners are able to provide scholarships to the children of those families and thus help to ease some of the burden on family budgets. Supporters also donate monies for a special project called “Food for Study” which helps to feed primary age school children. Worthy of notice is the fact that CONASPEH was one of the first schools to rebuild in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake.
How do you fit into their mission?
My work involves teaching micro-savings and micro-enterprise courses to seminarians, young adults ages 19-26, and the Philo level class (similar to 12th grade in the U.S.) with my husband, Tim. Our goal is to encourage both adults and young people to explore possibilities that will allow them to be a part of developing their own churches and communities.
The seminarians are presently in the process of creating actual micro-savings groups in their churches in an effort to encourage their membership to get into the habit of saving and to also have access to a lump sum of money to potentially start new businesses or expand existing ones. Some pastors are also considering taking the micro-savings concept into nearby areas. Their hope is that such programs would allow communities to come together and help with the rebuilding of their own neighborhoods.
The young adults are also in the process of establishing micro-savings groups which will help them to develop micro-enterprise programs. One such venture is a CONASPEH-sponsored Chicken Cooperative which the young people will maintain and manage and will realize a portion of the profits which will be earmarked for university.
The Philo students have been studying the concept of micro-savings and micro-enterprise with us since October 2012. They are presently setting up “practice savings groups” which will prepare them to establish actual groups once they have graduated from their classical studies program.
What led you to engage in this calling?
My husband, Tim, and I served with Global Ministries in Asia and while our focus was on construction, church relations and development we were well aware of micro-savings programs in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Indonesia. Each of these countries had very strong records of success in working with low-income people and helping them to create savings groups which could generate income for micro-enterprise ventures.
At the same time we spent the last 2 years of our time in Asia focusing on recovery efforts for the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. When we returned to the U.S. for our itineration we were asked if we would consider working with the Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts in New Orleans.
We spent nearly 5 years in that city working under the umbrellas of the Week of Compassion and the United Church of Christ’s Disaster Recovery ministry. As those ministries came to an end we were intrigued by the idea of working with Global Ministries in Haiti since that nation, too, had suffered greatly in a natural disaster. We call it a “God-incident” that CONASPEH Director, Patrick Villier, asked us to teach micro-savings classes shortly after we arrived in Port-au-Prince. Little did we realize that we would one day be teaching a program in Haiti that we had learned about during our time of service in Asia.
Is there a passage of scripture that carries special meaning in your daily work?
Proverbs 3: 5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.”
This passage of Scripture taught me a long time ago to seek God’s will and God’s way in all that I do and by doing so I would know genuine peace and true reward even in the most challenging of circumstances.
What are some of the challenges facing the people of Haiti, CONASPEH, and your family?
One challenge for me is language which I started shortly after arriving in Haiti. The language studies had been going very well but since the New Year we have been so busy with mission teams and our teaching that it is hard to find time for our Creole studies. I ask for prayers that I will retain all that I have learned and that I will be able to move forward with my language courses once the number of visiting mission teams has slowed down.
A prayer for our partners, CONASPEH, is that they will be able to expand the “Food for Study” program which right now only has the capacity to feed the primary age children. Greater financial support will allow them to offer meals to secondary age level students as well.
What lesson have you learned working alongside the staff and students of CONASPEH that you would like to share with churches in the U.S.?
The church in Haiti is the center of the community and is used throughout the entire week for various programs and functions. Sadly, Protestant churches are a minority in this island nation and their clergy have not received much credibility. Recognizing the need for pastors to have formal theological training as well as having a gathering center where church leaders are able to discuss issues facing not only them but the people and communities they serve, CONASPEH has opened a 4-year seminary course of study. In addition to their schooling, pastors are able to come under CONASPEH’s licensing which permits them to legally conduct weddings, baptisms and funerals.
Our partner has reminded me of the power of the church united.
What is a common phrase used in the local churches?
During the passing of the peace we say, “Lape ave ou” (la-pay ah-vay oo) which means “Peace be with you.”
Are there books that have shaped your understanding of your work in Haiti?
- The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, by Jonathan Katz
- Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, by John Perkins
- Haiti After the Earthquake, by Paul Farmer
- Travesty in Haiti: A true account of Christian missions, orphanages, fraud, food aid and drug trafficking, by Timothy T. Schwartz, Ph.D
- Haiti: The Tumultuous History - From Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation, by Philippe Girard
Which movies have shaped your understanding of your work in Haiti?
- "The Other Side Of Immigration"
- "Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country"
Diane has also shared a wonderful recipe for Pickliz, a kind of Haitian cole slaw.