Haiti relief sees 'Hallelujah' impact
PORT-AU PRINCE, Haiti (BP)--With 152,000 Buckets of Hope en route, 85,000 professions of faiths and 64 new churches, John Sullivan has declared it's "Hallelujah time in Haiti!"
"Only the Father knows the great impact for the Gospel that is emerging out of this earthquake," said Sullivan, executive director of the Florida Baptist Convention. "He is allowing us to share in moving a nation from tragedy to triumph."
In the months since the Jan. 12 earthquake that devastated Haiti, Florida Baptists have worked alongside their Haitian brothers and sisters and Southern Baptists from across the country to distribute food, staff medical clinics, provide counseling and fill countless physical and spiritual needs.
"Our feeding and food distribution continues at full speed," Sullivan said. "On an almost daily basis we are sending food supplies of rice, beans and pasta, having processed over 200,000 pounds of rice, 85,000 pounds of beans and 7,500 pounds of pasta."
They have been able to accomplish this, Sullivan said, through the generosity of Florida Baptists, sister state conventions and Baptists across the nation. By May, some $4 million in contributions had been received.
At the request of the Haitian pastors who yearned to reap a spiritual harvest while the hearts of their countrymen are open to the Gospel, Florida Baptists have underwritten the cost of regional and local crusades throughout the country, resulting in more than 85,000 professions of faith and 64 new church starts.
Jeff Howell, pastor of Church on the Rock in Plant City, was an eyewitness of God's triumph in Haiti as he led a team from the Florida congregation to minister in the midst of the tragedy.
"The needs are all over that land, but God is bringing revival and people are getting saved. It is nothing short of phenomenal," Howell reported.
The Plant City team, which was in Haiti March 27-Apri1 2, worked alongside a church in Mirebalais, about two hours northwest of Port-au-Prince. They led Bible study conferences for leaders, deacon training, Vacation Bible Schools and crusades, seeing dozens of Haitians indicate they were making professions of faith.
The team also provided food for children and families in the Mirebalais church.
And they helped defeat Satan, Howell said. Many of those who were led to Christ were from voodoo backgrounds, he explained, and the team helped several new believers abandon relics, vials and potions used in voodoo practices.
"God is working in Haiti, and He allowed us a place of service," Howell said.
Craig Culbreth, director of the Florida convention's partnership missions department, expects to send a team each week to partner with a specific Haitian congregation in a similar way.
Culbreth reported that the Buckets of Hope sent from Southern Baptists across the nation with rice, beans and other food commodities have arrived in the Saint Marc Port Authority, waiting release from customs.
The group has tried to unclog the bureaucratic channel by several methods, including a meeting between high-ranking government officials and Delouis Labranch, director of ministry of the Confraternite Missionaire Baptiste de'Haiti, the Baptist convention affiliated with the Florida convention.
Fritz Wilson, disaster relief director for the Florida convention and onsite SBC Disaster Relief coordinator, believes the Buckets of Hope will be released from customs in "God's perfect timing."
Haiti's rainy season began in late April. "The people will be depressed and must determine whether it is safer to stay in their temporary housing or go back into their homes," Wilson said, noting that food on the ground will become wet and illnesses will breed.
"Then these dry containers with a supply of dry food will arrive in their communities. It will be huge for the Haitian people."
Wilson said relief efforts "have gotten past urgency. There are still many and great needs throughout Haiti, but people have settled in and look to the long-term efforts."
Medical teams which have served cities across the nation will subside in May, Wilson said. Teams to conduct chaplaincy training will be increased to help Haitian pastors comfort their congregations, along with rebuilding/ministry teams. And another wave of evangelistic crusades is expected.
Florida Baptists' efforts in the aftermath of the storm have brought visibility to the CMBH convention leadership, Wilson said, noting, "Their prominence has been elevated within the Haitian government. I believe that will help our relief efforts and their credibility in Haiti for years to come."
Wilson said all of the relief work has been done "through the CMBH with the Haitian face in the forefront. That is the way it is supposed to be. They will be here to minister to their nation when the recovery is over."
Also in the coming weeks, Florida Baptists will provide food to more than 1,000 deaf people in the Port-au-Prince area, a group that has largely been ignored due to their disability, said Dennis Wilbanks, a partnership missions associate for the Florida convention who met with a delegation from the deaf community in mid-April.
"Some are living with family and others in tent camps," Wilbanks said, adding that the evangelical deaf school, one of three schools in the region, was destroyed, scattering the students.
"They have struggled since the earthquake. When food is distributed in their communities, they learn of it after the distribution is completed."
Wilbanks said other relief agencies had promised to provide supplies but never followed through. Among their needs are medical attention, schooling and jobs, as well as food, beds, tents, tarps, shoes, glasses and family hygiene kits.
Sullivan said this type of targeted ministry to "an essentially unreached people group" will continue to bear fruit in the days ahead.
Overall, Sullivan said, "Our Haitian pastors believe that at least 200 new churches will be planted this year. Each church will serve as a distribution center for the Gospel, a distribution center for counseling and hope, and a distribution center for meeting humanitarian needs."
Sullivan urged Florida Baptists "to get your heart around this and continue to pray for the harvest and for the conservation of the harvest through church planting."
Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention.