Since that last post, the zika virus has become a front page news story. The impact of the virus itself, from what I understand, is relatively mild as far as viruses go. (Malaria is more common, dengue is more dangerous, chikungunya is more painful.) But the potential impact on unborn children has the potential to be absolutely devastating. There are governments encouraging families to not get pregnant if they live in an infected area, even the Pope weighed in this week, relaxing the Catholic Church’s strict prohibition on contraception: ” “On the other hand, avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil. In certain cases, as in this one [Zika], such as the one I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it was clear.”
As of right now there is not a travel warning for Haiti related to the Zika Virus. But there is a Level 2 travel notice from the Centers for Disease Control providing travelers to infected areas with information on how to avoid contracting the virus. These precautions get personal… sexual even… and that, I’m sure, is bringing about caution on traveling to anywhere that might be infected.
We Will Be Cautious
This is the great advantage of working with the local church in Haiti through Praying Pelican Missions. You will be the guest of local ministry leaders, people who are living with zika every day, who will go above and beyond to make sure that every detail of the trip is well thought out and safe for you. This extends far beyond mosquitos! Where you sleep, what you eat and drink, where we travel… all of these things are done in a way that manages the risk for you.
There’s no guarantee that you won’t get sick. But as someone who has been to Haiti a number of times I’m much more worried about a participant getting sick from dehydration than I am anything else. (Kidney failure is a big deal!)
We Must Go Because We Are Sent
When it comes to risk and the American fascination with risk abatement, I like to keep things in proper perspective. We don’t do missions work because we want to. We don’t do missions work to see stuff or to check off a box that says “been there, done that, got the t-shirt.” We do missions work because we are sent by God to be the hands and feet of Jesus. When we lift up the local church by providing encouragement (and empowerment) for a pastor’s vision we are also partnering with the God who is big enough to see the big picture, powerful enough to prevent harm, and wise enough to allow us to trust that His ways are much safer than our ways.
When I think about doing something risky in response to His calling, I think the risk is not going.
The earthquake of January 12th, 2010 brought the world’s attention to Haiti. The Western world had become comfortable, casual even, in referring to Haiti as a place of political instability and extreme poverty. Phrases like the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere rolled off the tongue easily and most Americans had very little working knowledge of Haiti’s rich history, culture, and importance.
And yet the volume of destruction on January 12th kept the media’s attention much longer than a typical news cycle. With an estimated 100,000-150,000 killed, many more injured, hundreds of thousands displaced, and an entire nation impacted in some way, the world wanted to know what to do.
Large NGOs responded.
And in February 2010, I joined a group of youth ministry bloggers on a trip to begin seeing how North American churches might respond.
Since that trip, tens of thousands of North American’s have gone to Haiti to do short-term missions work of one variety or another.
As I reflect back on that very first trip the thing that has stuck with me, the phrase I heard as much as any other, was: “Don’t forget about us.”
So I’m pleased to report that we’ve not forgotten. While I can’t speak for anyone other than my house we have remembered Haiti.
Friends, the Haitian Church is Strong
Much more has awoken in Haiti since January 12th, 2010.
In the immediate aftermath, in the hours, days, and weeks between the terrifying moments of the earthquake and when the emergency aid began to arrive from around the world, the church sprang to action.
Several Haitian pastors have told me that this was a seminal moment for them. The church in Haiti had largely been silent, meek even. It was active but under the radar. But when God’s people saw how He worked through them to meet the needs of the masses they were encouraged that they didn’t need to be quiet anymore. As I’ve written about over and over– when the walls crumbled thousands heard the call of Jesus on their life. Many gave their lives to Jesus because of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. And a Haitian culture who had long depended on voodoo priests and priestesses to keep them safe were quite aware that while the church took care of people, loved everyone, voodoo was largely silent.
Those forces combined to unleash what we see today. A strong, growing, and vibrant Haitian church.
Haiti is Beautiful
Just felt like sharing this moment with the people back home…
Over the past six years I’ve made several trip to Haiti. I’m there just enough to see the progress unfold. Mission work in 2010-2012 mainly focused on post-earthquake relief and restoration under the direction of the local church. Beginning in about 2013, short-term mission work shifted it’s efforts to helping local churches meet the needs of rapidly growing congregations. Churches grow and divide to plant more church, grow and divide, grow and divide, and so on.
And just like my trips to Haiti have witnessed this project I’ve had the opportunity to push further and further out from Port-au-Prince to see more and more of God’s work.
And everywhere I go I’m left with this reality: Haiti is beautiful.
The geography is beautiful.
The culture if beautiful.
The people are beautiful.
The language is beautiful.
The food is beautiful.
The church is beautiful.
I’m trying to tell you… it’s beautiful.
Come With Me
As I’ve been involved in Haiti for the past six years I’ve met lots of church leaders who are intrigued, who feel a tug to get engaged with Haitian churches, but are just stuck in knowing what to do next.
That’s why I continue to put my time and energy into vision trips. I believe that partnering with Haitian churches will transform you, the people who go with you, and your entire church. (I’ve seen it over and over!)
But I also know that Haiti is a place you’ll probably need to visit for yourself before you can approach your church (or youth group parents) about going.
So that’s why I’m inviting you to come to Haiti with me on April 2nd-5th, 2016. Together we’ll travel to Port-au-Prince, Haiti to check out ministry opportunities. My friends at Praying Pelican Missions will handle all of the logistics.
Literally, your only responsibility will be:
Show up at the Port-au-prince airport on Saturday April 2nd around noon.
Come with a willing heart.
They’ll take care of your transportation, housing, and together we’ll spend four days visiting local churches and exploring what a short-term trip might look like for your church, young adults, youth group, or even a group of families.
Are you interested? If so, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me an email or leave me a comment and let me know.
Haiti is a dangerous, politically unstable, corrupt, and voodoo worshipping country. It’s the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, a virtual pit of foreign aid, and a place to be avoided.
That’s a pre-2010 narrative. That’s like saying you shouldn’t go to Tijuana because of gang violence. There’s truth in the claim but not context to validate that opinion.
There is a new narrative in Haiti that I want to ask you to consider: Haiti is beautiful.
Last week, I made my 8th trip to Haiti since 2010. And in those trips I’ve actually never seen the pre-2010 narrative validated with my experiences.
“Haiti is Dangerous”
On the local level I’ve never heard of a violent crime against a Western visitor. I’ve heard of a few petty crimes like pickpocketing or even getting yelled at about something. But I can’t think of an incident where I experienced being “in danger” anywhere in Haiti.
For a North American visitor, particularly accompanied by a Haitian, Haiti is no more dangerous than where you live in the United States. (It’s probably safer)
I would counter the “Haiti is dangerous” narrative with “Haitians are generous.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve enjoyed the generosity of my Haitian friends… and even strangers. I have a terrible habit of setting things down and forgetting them. (Water bottles, backpacks, camera equipment, etc.) These things are always returned to me!
“Haiti is politically unstable”
Like other developing nations, Haiti has experienced military coups. Several times in its history the United States has sent troops or occupied parts of Haiti, really the U.S. has a weird history with Haiti. But it’s been 11 years since the last serious bout of instability.
Right now, the parliament in Haiti is dysfunctional but not unstable. Some elections didn’t happen on time, the majority of members of parliament had their terms expire, which left the parliament unable to operate properly for a period of time. But there are parliamentary elections coming very soon.
So unstable isn’t the right term– and definitely not dangerously so. I mean, have you seen the U.S. Congress lately? I’d say we’re equally dysfunctional.
Haiti is definitely different than the United States in the size and function of local government. Things we take for granted just don’t exist. But I wouldn’t label any of that as politically unstable, more like the local government is severely underdeveloped.
I’ve never seen evidence of this in my trips there as I’ve worked with church leaders.
Everyone in Haiti is aware that the vast majority of post-earthquake foreign aid never went to address the needs of the people. “Where is the money?” was a question asked by everyone. There have been protests and inquiries and all point to corruption. But, again, I would challenge you to look at the local level where you’ll see another story.
Instead of allowing the narrative of “Haiti is corrupt” I would encourage you to think about “Haitians encourage strong local leadership.” As we saw last week with Pastor Jean Delcy, a local leader has the ability to get things done with or without government aid by establishing healthy long-term relationships.
“Haiti is a voodoo worshipping country”
Yes, voodoo is an active religion in Haiti. Like other areas in the world it is somewhat syncretized with Catholicism. Whereas, in the United States most Protestants would have no problem lumping Catholics together to say we’re together “Christians” this isn’t normally the case in Haiti.
Since the 2010 earthquake Protestant Christianity has seen a dramatic increase in Haiti whereas voodoo has taken a hit. So you can replace the “Haiti is a voodoo nation” narrative with a more accurate “Haitians know Christianity brings good news.” One pastor said that the earthquake provided a wake-up call to the Haitian church. They didn’t have to be shy, they just had to serve people and that’d open doors for the Gospel to spread. I find this correlation between acts of service as evangelism refreshing!
“Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere”
OK, this remains true. If you are talking about economic development Haiti is absolutely the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
As Americans we equate economic poverty to all kinds of poverty when that’s not the case. As if our “having it all” somehow addresses every deficiency.
A first time visitor is usually overcome by the visual signs of poverty. But as you get on the ground you realize something quite quickly– while Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, there is something here which reveals great wealth among the Haitian people.
When you combine all of these narratives most people seem to put it all together in a nose crinkling way, “Haiti is just a place to be avoided.”
Americans like things to be pretty simple. Most of us want to travel to places that make sense to us, that fit within our existing framework of understanding. This is why people go on cruises to other countries instead of just traveling to those countries. They want the illusion of having been somewhere without… you know… actually leaving a cruise-line owned compound where everyone speaks English and their all-inclusive wristband is a form of currency.
Haiti isn’t the microwaveable meal that a trip to Puerto Vallarta can be. You aren’t going to get a guide book and rental car and just figure it out. It’s more like the first time you tried sushi– you’ll need some help understanding what everything is and what you like. It’s full of juxtaposition. You’ll meet people who live in a home with a dirt floor but don’t have a spot of dirt on their clothing. You’ll spend a day volunteering to clean up a beach full of garbage, rancid seaweed, and human waste— then go 20 minutes down the road to discover the most beautiful beach you’ve ever seen in your life.
Haiti isn’t McDonald’s traveling. It’s harder than that. But there’s a richness to Haiti that you won’t find anywhere else. When you hang out with people who go back again and again you’ll discover that Haiti is kind of addictive. It reminds me of a local fisherman who started selling sea urchin ceviche at our farmers market a few years back. At first, he had to give it away because it was outside of our American palette. But when you tried it you discovered something. Sure, it’s a new flavor. But when you tried it you discovered a new delight.
I want to challenge you to reconsider the “Haiti is a place to be avoided” narrative with a new one: “Haiti is beautiful.”
It’s time for you to see for yourself
If you follow this blog you already know I’ve got a deep love for Haiti and what God is doing in Haiti through His church. I want to invite you to consider going on your own or even taking a team of students or adults. I’ve invested tons of time and resources in vetting the ministry of Praying Pelican Missions and their work in Haiti. I know them, their leadership, and their philosophy well… which is why I recommend them.
If you want to know more about their work please fill out the form below. Also, feel free to drop me an email or leave a comment here. (My next open trip will be in April 2016. Join me!)