Is Haiti Our Neighbor?
Rev. Dr. Glen Stewart has been Regional Minister and President of the Tennessee Region since February 1994. He was Associate Regional Minister of the Christian Church of Greater Kansas City before coming to Tennessee.
He is a graduate of the University of Toledo (B.A., 1967) and Vanderbilt University Divinity School (M.Div., 1974; and Doctor of Ministry, 1975). He was ordained into the Christian Ministry on June 2, 1974. He has served pastorates in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee. He and his wife, Joyce, have one son, John-Paul.
Dr. Stewart has a deep passion for the people of Haiti and the church’s presence and witness in that nation. For many years he has organized and led mission trips to Haiti in coordination with Global Ministries and the National Spiritual Council of Churches of Haiti (CONASPEH). When the January 12, 2010 earthquake devastated the capital city of Port-au-Prince, he was there with other leaders of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Tennessee.
The following College of Missions Paper is a testimony of Dr. Stewart’s experience in Port-au-Prince that evening, as he shared it in his April 18, 2010 sermon at the Disciples General Board meeting in Indianapolis.
David A. Vargas
Is Haiti our neighbor?
I have a new hobby. I am writing a book. The book will only have three chapters: “Words I Wish Jesus Had Never Said;” “Words I Wish Jesus Had Said;” and “The Best Things Jesus Said.” Maybe you can help me with some ideas. In the first chapter, “Words I Wish Jesus Had Never Said,” would include the words: “The poor you shall always have with you.” These words have allowed many of us off the hook in caring for the poor. For some these words are an excuse. I wish he had never said those words.
I included in the second chapter, “Words I Wish Jesus Had Said:” “Where two or more Disciples are gathered there will be conflict.” Personally I think Mark was way in the back of the room the day he was taking notes when Jesus said something very similar. While Jesus may be present where two or more Disciples are together there will also be conflict.
Then in the third chapter I will include two verses that are the best, the first is the story from Luke of the Good Samaritan. I love it! We have Samaritans in our society these days but they have different names and they serve God well. The question of the ages “Who is my neighbor?” is answered here. Also included in this chapter will be the story from Matthew about the Judgment one day and how God will line all people up and separate them like sheep and goats and tell them “as you did unto the least of these you did it unto me.” The important question, “When did I see you?” is answered here.
I first went to Haiti in 1992, during a military coup, when the military was running the country. While I was anxious about going the first time, I have to admit I felt God’s call and God’s imprint on my life right then that I would return. I went first to support friends who were missionaries there. One of the nights, I believe Wednesday night, a neighbor living in a house next to them, was assassinated in the dark of night. We could not go to the home; we could not support the neighbors, because the house would be watched. Some would be put off by that; I was only more attracted to the people of Haiti.
I have gone back 13 times with groups and each time
I start the trip by reading the story of the Judgment to the group and encouraging them to look for God while we are in Haiti because God would be there. God would be among the poorest there, but I also wondered who was playing the role of the Samaritan there. Each time I have gone to Haiti, I have received more from the Haitians than I gave to them.
This past January, our trip was like most trips of the past. We spent time with our Disciples missionaries, Kim and Patrick Bentrott, missionaries serving God on our behalf because of the gifts they have and with our support. We had met Patrick Villier, a man I think the world of, and heard about the mission and ministry of The National Spiritual Council of Churches of Haiti (CONASPEH). CONASPEH is doing great ministry in Haiti, all over the country.
But then on Tuesday, January 12, the agenda changed. Earlier in the week the Bentrotts had told me they could not be with me on Tuesday. Each was teaching and they had other stuff to do. I did not feel like I needed them with us. I had led groups in Haiti before. We were running late for dinner in the afternoon. (I don’t often show up late for dinner.) We went to the One-Stop Market to exchange money but I was told by the manager he had no American money at that time, but in the morning he would have American dollars. I was disappointed.
When I left his office, my fellow travelers wanted help buying some souvenirs, vanilla, essence of almond, brown sugar and coffee. I was glad to help but I ordered all to get into the van because we were late. With the last purchase made and everything in a box, all of us in the van, I turned to my right to close the door of the van but the door was never closed. It felt like someone picked up the van and shook it very hard. I was thrown to the floor unsure of what was going on. Someone in the back of the van who had spent a lot of time in California called out “It is an earthquake, get away from the buildings.”
I am so glad for those directions. I had no sense of what was going on. I ran to the middle of the parking lot and turned back to see my friends running toward me. As I turned I saw the market we were just in collapse on the store. When the earth quit quaking we all went back to the van and the driver drove us back to the guesthouse. The driver stopped short of the House. He pointed to a person on the side of the road, “Ma Femme” he said, pointing to a woman with an obvious injury to her ankle. He pointed me toward the House, picked up his wife, put her in the van and took off for a hospital.
While I didn’t see the House I went in the direction he had pointed me only to find that the guesthouse had collapsed. What was once a multi-storied building was now about three feet high. We quickly learned that five people had died in the collapse, two staff persons preparing dinner and three guests who had just checked in that afternoon. We heard wails from the street and witnessed some of the chaos that was all around us. It was the longest night of my life.
Although we did not know it, the guesthouse was between two protestant congregations. All night, and I do mean all night, members of those congregations sang hymns of the faith. We did not always recognize the words but sometimes we recognized the hymn tunes. It was like angels coming to sing to us to tell us we would be alright. At times there was silence, when all in the church were praying, praying for their families, themselves, and for all without a bed that night.
With the sunrise, we went to the American Embassy, leaving all we had brought into the country behind under tons of debris. While safe at the embassy, they had no food for us and little water. Eventually we went three days without a meal. We were flown the next day on a Coast Guard C-130 to Santo Domingo, Dominical Republic, and the next day to Miami and Nashville.
The quake left a great imprint on all of us. I was left with, and I think all of us suffered from, post trauma stress issues. Since dealing with these issues with a counselor and learning to put aside many of the symptoms I was experiencing, I am sleeping better and enjoying ministry and most of life in a new wonderful way.
Just as my love of God is imprinted in my mind, on my body and in my life, so is my call to ministry and darn it, so is Haiti. I have told David Vargas many times that I want to be a missionary to Martinique or St. Lucia but he knows God has imprinted Haiti on my life. But most important, I am aware that just as my love for God is imprinted in me, God’s love for me is imprinted as well.
When people hear the story of the Good Samaritan, they hear the twist at the end when the despised person cares for the beaten and robbed person. But what would it be like if as the Samaritan approached, the robbed man pulled himself up to his knees to wash the feet of the Samaritan. Haitians have given me much more than I have given them.
Who is my neighbor? When did I see you? The answer to both questions is Haiti!