At the chewy center of Praying Pelican Missions is the local church pastor.
Organizationally, they have a heartfelt desire to put the pastor’s vision for the church first and the needs of the visiting missionaries under that. So, whenever possible, short-term mission team stay with the pastor in his church or even at his house.
But who are these pastors? What are they like?
Over the past six years that I’ve been coming to Haiti I’ve had the glorious opportunity to meet with and hear from dozens of pastors.
Before you can understand the pastors you need to understand a little bit about the role of the church in Haitian culture.
Unlike in the United States, the government does not provide a safety net for the poor.
Some people, myself included, would like to see American churches more involved in the social welfare of our communities. But the reality is that programs like WIC and welfare make sure people don’t starve. All children under 18 years old have access to free public education. And in most states the poor have access to Medicaid, housing assistance, and other things which look people who need help.
In Haiti, this work largely falls to the local church. It’s not something they “should” do. It’s an expectation that the local church helps the poor in very practical ways. I’ve met pastors and church leaders who offer feeding programs, operate schools, run medical clinics, build and maintain sanitation systems, and last week a team spent time working on a local library. One of my favorite pastors, Pastor Jean Obed Delcy, I lovingly refer to as “the mayor” of his town.
So, when you meet with local pastors in Haiti, you automatically need to know they are heavily invested in both the ministry of their church as well as meeting the practical needs of their community.
Haitian pastors are mostly male, almost always fun-loving and full of smiles, warm and quick to welcome you with a hug, universally tired from long days, no-nonsense and ready to get down to business, well-trained– seminary is just the beginning of their training, and infinitely patient. Oh, I almost forgot, most of them are paid very little or unpaid altogether. So they do all of this for their church but often times have another business or job!
So who are these pastors? They are passionate men of God who work serve in harsh conditions all of their lives. What are they like? They are an inspiration. You can’t help but admire these men.
Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with two pastors about their lives in ministry– specifically life in ministry with their spouses.
Meet Pastor Docteur and His Wife Jacqueline
A: Have you always lived in Hinche? Were you born here?
Pastor: We are mostly from the north part of the country. I was born in a small town. We now live in the central part but I’m from the north part. So my wife was from the same area. We went to primary school together. We used to go to the same church, a missionary church. So we grew up together. We used to share spiritual activities because we went to the same church, prayer groups, choirs, and things like this.
A: Tell me about your church. How did you get started in Hinche?
Pastor: This church was started in a small room, close to this building, (pointing to the building next door of a small radio station) and it was in 1983 that we started here. I got to study for your years at the Bible college but they gave us money for supplies. So when I got back in December 1986.
We started with the church in 1983, working with children. Now after a year the room was pretty full. So we bought the house down the road from the church and after some years the house downtown became pretty full. Then in 2001, we started wit this building of the current church. The Lord has blessed us very much.
A: What are some challenges that you face in Hinche? What are some difficulties?
Pastor: Some challenges. You know Haiti is a poor country? As pastor in this country. You know how it is. You don’t have to take care of just your family. You have to provide food for people in the community. You have to provide opportunities for the children to go to school. Like when school is ready to start, you will have a lot of people coming to the pastor and asking for money to pay for school fees. How can you help me? And I can’t even provide food for them… how can I provide for their education? Maybe in the United States it it is different. In Haiti, the pastor doesn’t have to only take care of the church spiritually, but also physically. You don’t have enough for your own family, but you also have to take care of everyone else. It’s a big challenge.
And some of the people they don’t even have a house. So this is a challenge. The church sometimes needs to provide a room for them to live. Actually, the church is trying to build a place for some of them to live. Even when some of them die you need to take care of them. It’s a lot of challenges.
A: How do the challenges of ministry impact your marriage?
Pastor: Sometime we are discouraged with the attitude of some of the christians from the church. You are trying to help them but they don’t understand what you are trying to do.
A: Did Madame Docteur see herself in ministry as a little girl? Did she always see this life for herself or was that something she did because of you?
[laughs are shared]
Pastor: Her father was a pastor. She used to work with her father, so she had some training before they got married, during her early age, for ministry because her father was the pastor.
A: How did you know you wanted to marry her?
Pastor: [he giggles, HUGE smiles] It’s a big and a good question. I know I was going to marry her. The first thing I did, I prayed to God, chose for me a girl who can be my wife. I think I received revelation from God to chose her. (Celine Dion’s “To Love You More” in the background… IT’S TOO GOOD!) Because I was a Christian and she was a Christian. Everything we would like to do, we knew we would go to God first.
To Jacqueline from Annie: How do you view your role in this ministry?
I always knew I would marry a pastor, that God would put a pastor on my path. I give myself to the ministry.
From my childhood, I had this heart for ministry.
A: Specifically, does she work with women and moms?
Pastor: She works wit the women, children, and she is involved with the men. She has a women and men’s singing group.
A: Do you have a place that you go to rest and recuperate in the ministry? Maybe home to visit family or just something you do in your marriage?
Pastor: That’s not happened often. Sometimes when we cannot do it when we would like to. More often what happens is that we go with friends and we can go to some place and spend some time out of the ministry, out of the house, and we can get rest.
A: It takes someone else to tell you to do it?
Meet Pastor Valcourt and his wife
A: I’m curious how long you have been married?
Pastor: December 23rd I am celebrating 20 years. Since then we have two girls and one boy.
A: How did you meet your wife?
Pastor: [laughing] I met with my wife at that time. She was one of my neighbors friends, he knew both of us. He invited me to go and visit a church and she was there.
She used to come visit her friend, who is my neighbor. When I went to visit her church I saw that she was very active, she had a lot of responsibilities, I saw that she had a lot of activities in the church. At that time I was also one of the leaders here in this church (Cote Plage) even though I was not yet a pastor. I saw in her someone that I can love and work together in that way.
Through my neighbor we became friends. So when I told her that I loved her, she was surprised, she didn’t have that in mind.
And then after that we realized that– I realized and she realized that God had made us as the perfect ones for each other.
A: Did you both grow up in church families?
Pastor: Yes. Her dad was the pastor. In my family, only my mother was a Christian but my dad was not. So when I got married, my mom was not a Christian, but then she became a Christian.
A: So, Madame Valcourt knew what she was getting into because she knew what the life of a pastor’s wife was?
Yes, she knew that. She always testified that her mom used to welcome all the missionaries who would come. So she was ready for that. Because the way we do ministry together, it’s like she was used to that in her family. You know, welcoming the missionaries and all that. I can confirm all that.
A: What are her gifts?
Pastor: She composes music, she leads worship, she can preach, she is a teacher for the children at the church, she used to teach kindergarten, she is a mom, she knows how cooks well, she studied culinary in school, as well she has her own school at Mariani where she teaches the youth how to cook. And she knows how to sew. She makes all the uniforms at the school. And she works in the social area and she also works in the special.
A: Madame Valcourt is an amazing woman!
Pastor: What are things you remember about the last pastor’s conference?
So the thing was… it was about unity! It was a vision for unity. We had all the denominations, even the Catholic priest, and we sat together and met together. We didn’t talk about our doctrines because that was not the goal of the conference. So we sat together, to feel the unity, and PPM always shows that unity works– just like when teams move like 200 cinder blocks together– that’s a symbol for how we can all work together on the same vision. So we took that moment to share our visions for our churches together. And now we have contacts with all of the pastors so we can stay connected with one another.
I had the honor to stand in that conference as the first beneficiary of PPM. I remember when they came in August 2010. For me, from that partnership, all the other churches can learn about how they can benefit from a relationship with PPM.
A: Why would it be a benefit to have the pastor’s wives attend the conference?
Pastor: After each conference, the past conferences we’ve had, I always share with my wife everything that happens, the theme and all of that. It would be a big benefit if my wife could ask questions. I don’t know if my wife will be in the same meetings as I am, but if she is at the conference she is going to benefit a lot and that would help me in my ministry.
In the same way I hang out with the other pastors, sharing my experiences, my wife would be able to do the same.
A: How often are you able to get away with your wife alone?
Pastor: [A long pause… HUGE smile. Really the smile tells it all.] Because of all of our responsibilities we don’t do that often. This is something that we are working on and trying to do that more often. But, you know, when we have some days off we try to take some time off. We try to make time at night to take time and talk. And with the kids, too. There is time we do that with other people, too. So what we do every day is that we always pray for the ministry together.
As I’m a musician and I can compose music, too. So when she has to compose music for the ladies sometimes we work together. So that’s a way we spend time together, working together to serve the church.
Expanding the Pastors Conference
A few weeks ago I had a conversation with Cassie Jean-Louis about my upcoming trip. She’s been praying about their upcoming Pastors Conference, where she and Almando gather together all of the PPM partner pastors for a couple days to pray and share vision for all that God is doing.
Cassie’s heart is to expand the purpose of this Pastors Conference to include their wives. In previous year, it’s been good, but they’ve squeezed 3 guys into hotel rooms… literally strangers sharing a bed. To do this, she is hoping to raise about $6000.
The Smile Says it All
As we were interviewing pastors and their wives, during each interview I made sure to ask when was the last time they’d been alone together. And, universally, they’d stare at each other and smile… you know… they smiled in that way a husband and wife smile at one another.
I’ve got a lot of friends in ministry. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re in ministry. And you know just how important it is to get away from the ringing phone and the people coming to the office and all of that. That’s why this Pastors Conference is so important. Yes, of course, it’s about getting PPM partner pastors away to share vision and strategy for the ministry to come. But it’s also about Almando and Cassie ministering to these pastor couples who are integral to the success of the ministry in Haiti.
Please consider helping me make the chewy center of PPM missions in Haiti, the pastors, just a little bit more sweet.
How to Give
Make sure to add a note to indicate that the funds are for the PPM Haiti Staff Retreat. If you want more information about the cost of these events or just want more information about them, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me through my blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc.