Monday, June 02, 2008

A History of American Baptist Missions in Haiti

While revising an article this morning on the late Julio Laporte for the Journal of the Bahamas Historical Society, I came across an old copy of the following article in my files which gives a nice concise summary of the major developments in American Baptist missions work in Haiti. Unfortunately, I didn't note the source of this article when I first filed it. I believe it was published in the Nov-Dec 2004 edition of American Baptists In Mission but, if not, it was most certainly written as a publicity piece (by my former IM colleague Eleanore Lundy) for some other purpose.

Before posting the article, I'd like to note two important points that were omitted from the section on the Haitian diaspora, subtitled "Mission with and to Haitians beyond Haiti."

1. American Baptist Home Missionary Society (ABHMS) missionaries in Cuba led a vibrant outreach to Haitian cane cutters in Cuba throughout the 20th century up until the takeover by Fidel Castro in 1959. Today, many of those Haitian Baptist Churches in Cuba have been absorbed into the Spanish-speaking Cuban Baptist Convention that American Baptists still work with out of Santiago, Cuba. Also, many of the Haitians who came to Christ through ABHMS in Cuba, later returned to South Haiti and started a Baptist Association there which remains completely independent of ABC's historic work with the Haitian Baptist Convention in Northern Haiti.

2. In the States, American Baptist Churches have a thriving Haitian Caucus (now with 40+ churches) that is reaching out to Haitian immigrants to the U.S. Many of the pastors and leaders in the Caucus are graduates of the Baptist Seminary in Limbe. The late Julio Laporte, for example, is the recently retired director of Haitian Ministries for National Ministries. Laporte graduated from the Baptist Seminary in Limbe back in 1958 before migrating to Nassau, Bahamas, where he pastored Emmaus Baptist Church (where Estela and I currently work). Later, Laporte was active as a pastor in a Haitian congregation in New Jersey before being called to serve as the denominational liaison to the ABC Haitian Caucus for National Ministries.

Also, for those who are interested in reading more on Haitian Baptist history, the late ABC missionary Ivah Heneise has written a wonderful book on the Haitian Baptists, titled Pioneers of Light. It is possible that some copies are still available from the Haiti Hope Fund. For more information, e-mail or call 904-284-4165.

In the meantime, enjoy the article:
Mission in the Footsteps of Peter and Paul
Serving Christ and the People of Haiti for 180 Years
by Eleanor Lundy

During 2004 alone, One Great Hour of Sharing has provided over $15,000 in emergency funds to aid Haitian people suffering from the effects of civil unrest and natural disasters.

During the first decades of Christian mission, Peter and Paul were inspired to encourage fellow followers of Jesus in ways that are still vitally important. Peter urged believers to recognize that God’s grace has come to us in an amazing variety of forms, and we need to contribute whatever gifts we have received to the cause of Christ (1 Peter 4:10). Paul urged believers to persevere when they were tempted to grow weary, always looking in hope to the harvest that God would produce (Galatians 6:9). Between them Peter and Paul call us to do mission in many ways and to hang in there when the going gets tough. American Baptist work with and among the people of Haiti embodies both of these principles.

Natural disasters and political strife have brought Haiti into the news again recently. The situation in this tiny island nation continues to be incredibly difficult. But the Haitian Baptist Convention and American Baptists are working together to bring hope and the Good News of Jesus Christ to the people of this troubled country.

A brief plane ride from Miami, the Republic of Haiti is a world apart. Located between Cuba and the Dominican Republic, with which it shares the island of Hispaniola, Haiti was colonized first by Spain and then by France. Both countries developed huge sugar and coffee plantations and exploited the native Indian populations as laborers, later bringing African slaves to work in the fields. In 1804, with heroic effort, Haiti gained her independence. And not long afterward, Baptist missionaries began arriving in Haiti.

Laying the Groundwork
The first of these missionaries was Thomas Paul, the son of freed slaves from Exeter, New Hampshire. Paul sailed into Cape Hayti (later Cap Haitien) in 1823 with crates of Bibles and tracts, and for six months he preached, baptized, and laid the groundwork for the establishment of the First Baptist Church there. Paul’s stay in Haiti, despite its brevity, was an authentic sign of what was to come: he was followed by many Baptist missionaries from America, Jamaica and the United Kingdom. Their ministries have taken many different forms and have been supported in many different ways (including several different mission organizations formed by American Baptists). The common denominator has been a desire to see the grace of God in Jesus Christ bringing new life to the people of Haiti.

Thomas Paul was sent by the Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Society. A dozen years later, William Monroe was sent by the agency we now call International Ministries. From the 1840s to the early 1900s, many American Baptists served in Haiti under the auspices of the Baptist Free Missionary Society (which rejoined the Northern Baptist Convention in 1911). The American Baptist Home Mission Society (now National Ministries) began to send missionaries to Haiti in the 1920s. Supervision of ABC mission involvement in Haiti passed to International Ministries in 1973.

The Haitian Baptist Convention
Throughout this period, God was also raising up gifted and dedicated servants of Christ among the Haitian people. Overcoming opposition from governmental, Catholic and Voudou leaders, Haitian followers of Jesus gave courageous and sacrificial leadership to the growing Baptist work. In 1852, Jean Jacques Lillevoix became the first ordained Haitian pastor. 1964 saw the birth of a new indigenous organization within the part of the Baptist movement with which American Baptists are most deeply involved, the Haitian Baptist Convention (Convention Baptiste d’Haiti or CBH). Today the CBH has some 110 churches, hundreds of preaching stations, and over 90,000 baptized believers. In the midst of the political turmoil of recent years, God has used the Rev. Emmanuel Pierre to provide a steady hand at the helm of the CBH.

A Wide Variety of Ministries
Baptist witness to the grace of Jesus Christ in Haiti has long been embodied in a wide variety of ministries. Primary evangelism and church planting have long been done most effectively by Haitian Baptists themselves. Especially during the last sixty years, American Baptist missionaries have complemented Haitian-led evangelism with demonstrations of the Lord’s concern for improving the lives of God’s children in the areas of education, health, agriculture, women’s ministries and leadership training.

Touching Minds with the Light of Christ
From the founding of a Christian school for girls in 1942 (the Ecole [later College] Pratique du Nord) to the founding of a Christian university in 1993 (the Christian University of Northern Haiti), Haitian leaders and American Baptist missionaries have borne consistent witness to God’s desire to develop minds as well as hearts. Haitian leaders from Edith Robinson (founder of the Ecole Pratique du Nord) to Jules Casseus (founding President of the Christian University of Northern Haiti) have invited a large number of short- and long-term missionaries to serve alongside them in ministries of education.

It is worthy of special note that the Christian University of Northern Haiti (UCNH) grew out of the educational work to which missionaries Ivah and Harold Heneise were called in the late 1940s. The Heneises were sent to Haiti in 1947 to launch a school to train Haitian pastors, the Baptist Theological Seminary of Haiti. The Heneises have both gone home to be with the Lord, but their faithful work has been multiplied by missionary successors and dedicated Haitian professors. Pastors continue to be trained at UCNH, but so do hundreds of other students who are preparing to serve in agronomy, business and fine arts.

Touching Bodies with the Love of Christ
From the founding of a small rural clinic under the mango trees of the seminary in the late 1940s to the current high-tech operation of the Cap Haitien Eye Center, missionaries and Haitian leaders have worked together to demonstrate the love of God in Jesus Christ through a wide variety of health ministries. The little clinic begun by Ivah Heneise and Nevart Yeghoyan became a major medical facility, the Good Samaritan Hospital of Limbé. This transformation was guided by William and Joanna Hodges, who served as American Baptist missionaries from 1958 to 1995, providing outstanding leadership and incorporating the gifts of thousands of volunteers from all across the U.S. (The hospital continues its ministry as an independent institution today, due to a break in relationships with International Ministries in 1995.)

The Cap Haitien Eye Center was founded in 1989 by Hollis and Wanda Clark, with the support of the Haitian Baptist Convention. The Eye Center provides services ranging from eye exams and glasses to surgery for glaucoma and cataracts. It is now staffed entirely by Haitian personnel, most of whom were trained onsite by the Clarks. Many are evangelical Christians, including one of Haiti’s best ophthalmologists, Dr. Carmelle Lucien. The Center accepts all patients regardless of financial status, and continues to function in spite of political and economic chaos. Says Dr. Lucien, “There is always somebody in the waiting line!”

Missionaries Create a Legacy of Love
Bernice and Herbert Rogers served in Haiti for 28 years. Herb Rogers, who served for many years at the Good Samaritan Hospital and then at UCNH, now coordinates American Baptist volunteer work teams through International Ministries and teaches microbiology as an adjunct professor in the department of agriculture. Bernice Rogers was the founder and director of Jericho School, a missionary children’s school. She currently serves in International Ministries’ home office in Valley Forge.

For fourteen years, until their recent call to serve in D.R. Congo, Katherine and Wayne Niles served the Haitian people in medical ministry and agricultural development. Katherine worked at the Danda Clinic and facilitated outreach in villages stricken with AIDS and tuberculosis. Wayne helped farmers to design and build simple irrigation pumps, and also developed the “Kids for Kids” goat-raising project in cooperation with local Baptist churches. Still going strong, this self-perpetuating project entrusts responsible children and youth with raising the young goats, with the first offspring brought back to the church to be given to another child. Additional kids are raised and sold, with the income making it possible for many youth to pay school tuition.

In September 1998, International Ministries commissioned Mabudiga and Kihomi Nzunga for service in Haiti. The Nzungas previously taught at the Christian University of Kinshasa in their homeland of D.R. Congo. Mabudiga teaches theology at UCNH, administers a scholarship program, preaches in churches, and helps rural schools with needed supplies. Kihomi works in family counseling and women’s health issues, and supports the women’s association of the Baptist Convention of Haiti. In the autumn of 2001, the Nzungas organized a successful intergenerational soccer game that attracted 1,500 people from the surrounding community.

Mission with and to Haitians beyond Haiti
Haitians, like many of the world’s peoples, now contribute to the lives of many nations beyond Haiti. Haitian Baptists are an enthusiastic and growing part of American Baptist life in the U.S. With leaders like Lemaire Alerte and Edgard Nicolas, the Alliance of Haitian Baptist Churches is making an important contribution to ABC witness in the U.S. while maintaining a vital relationship with the work of the CBH.

International Ministries has missionaries serving other parts of the Haitian Diaspora, especially in the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic. Missionary nurse Kristy Engel ministers to Haitian workers and families in the bateys (work camps) of the sugar cane plantations of the Dominican Republic. Daniel and Estela Schweissing work with Haitian immigrants, many of them undocumented refugees, in the Bahamas. Madeline Flores-López coordinates American Baptist volunteers throughout the Caribbean, many of whom serve Haitian communities.

Getting Involved
When First Baptist Church of Lockport, New York, sent fifteen members to serve in rural Quartier Morin, Haiti, it was a life-changing experience. The volunteers worked with American Baptist missionaries and congregation members to build a preaching station. Lockport volunteer Mike Edmister says he has grown “immensely” in his spiritual life through participation in such mission trips. “Now I feel the Lord tugging at my heart to be a missionary or a children’s pastor,” Edmister said recently.

Similar experiences awaited the students, faculty, and friends of Central Baptist Seminary who went with members of First Baptist Church of Kansas City, Kansas on a “Work and Learning” trip to the Christian University of Northern Haiti in January 2004. Among the volunteers were a doctor, an emergency room nurse, and a drug enforcement officer. “We visited a church that held a 6:00 a.m. Sunday worship service, with over 1,000 in attendance and 175 that could not get into the building,” wrote the Rev. Robert Southard, pastor of First Baptist, Kansas City and coordinator for the trip. “The drug enforcement officer worked the streets with Haitian police and stayed an extra week to lead training sessions for the police.”

Peter was right: working side by side with fellow police officers, attending patients, doing construction, raising goats, doing HIV/AIDS education, training pastors, restoring sight to the blind, teaching tomorrow’s agronomists and businesspersons, encouraging the leadership of women . . . truly, the grace and gifts bestowed by our Lord are wonderfully diverse. Paul was also right: in the midst of the continuing crises that burden the country of Haiti, it is vitally important that followers of Jesus — including American Baptists and our Haitian Baptist sisters and brothers — do not grow weary in doing what is right, but continue to look to the Lord of the harvest. Pray for Haiti. And, as you pray, listen: perhaps the Lord may be calling you to become more deeply involved!

*With special thanks to Herb Rogers and Stan Slade of the IM staff for their contributions to this article.

Missionaries to Haiti Supported by American Baptists1823 to 2004
Charles and Grace Chapman
Hollis and Wanda Clark*
Ann and William Clemmer
Millicent Engel
Gene and Margaret Gentry
Suzette Goss
Deborah and Kenneth Heneise
Harold and Ivah Heneise
Evelyn Hillman
Barbara Hodges
Joanna and William Hodges
Elizabeth Howard
Nancy and Stephen James
Elizabeth and William Jones
Nancy and William Judd
C. Stanford and Mae Kelly
Electa Lake
Dorothy Lincoln
P. Reidar and Sigrid Lindland
Vera McAllister
William and Mrs. Monroe
Amy and William Moore
William Newman
Katherine and Wayne Niles
Kihomi and Mabudiga Nzunga*
Thomas Paul
J. Alfred Pearce
Edith Robinson
Bernice and Herbert Rogers
Laura Belle Romeus
Ronald and Susan Smith
Mark and Sandra Jo Thompson
Philip and Rose Uhlinger
Alice and Arthur Wood
Nevart and Zenas Yeghoyan
Nancy Yeghoyan
Helen Yost
Polly Young
...and thousands of short-term and volunteer missionaries

*Currently serving

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