Special Report: Haiti 2023
The Light on the mountain
By Gary Fallesen, founding president, Climbing For Christ
Louis-Joseph Janvier, a Haitian journalist, medical school graduate, and author, argued that for Haiti to become a great nation it needed the Protestant church. Of Protestants, Janvier wrote in Les Affairs d’Haiti (1885), “He puts the light on the mountain.”
We first climbed the mountains of Haiti in 2005 on Climbing For Christ’s third-ever Evangelic Expedition – or short-term mission trip. God led us to a village, Gentilhomme, where He used us to build a church which then doubled as a school. We served the people in the Chaine de la Selle mountains from 2005 to 2014. During one of my many visits, as I prayed, I felt a conviction that revival for Haiti would come from the mountains.
“You are the light of the world – like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.” – Matthew 5:14 (NLT)
I was reminded of many spiritual and physical battles fought – some won, more lost – in the mission field of Haiti when I read Andy Olsen’s excellent article, “What Evangelicals Owe Haiti” in Christianity Today (posted Feb. 28).
Haiti was a desperate, uninviting place when we first went there in 2005. But, as Olsen wrote, it was bad long before we arrived, and it has gotten worse since. “Almost no missionaries are traveling to Haiti at present. The risk of kidnapping – the risk of simply driving past areas where gang snipers indiscriminately shoot an average of six victims a week – is too high.”
Militant gangs are in control; there is no government. The economy is failing with inflation hovering around 50 percent, fuel costing $10 a gallon on the black market, and famine threatening in what has long been the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. Haitians are fearful, suspicious, and losing hope.
An appeal has gone unanswered for international military assistance to fight gangs that have grown so powerful they have waiting lists for new members.
“We have a country that is being controlled by gang groups that are added to every day,” said Gilbert Lindor, who first went to school in Gentilhomme at the age of 10 and now is being supported by Climbing For Christ in medical school in the neighboring Dominican Republic. “They (gangs) have killed many policemen and the few (police) that remain are not capable of confronting and putting an end to the different gang groups.
“Is it that we are no longer people with human sensibility or heart? Because it hurts me to see so many innocent people killed for no reason. People are leaving their homes to go live in cemeteries or on the streets, children and pregnant women without a chance to get a plate of food, and we’ve never heard an improvement plan for them.”
God has a plan.
The story goes that an uprising by slaves against colonizers from France in 1791 was preceded by a vodou ceremony. It was the birth of a troubled nation. Haiti, derived from the native Taino language, means “land of high mountains.” It achieved independence in 1804.
“I often heard both Haitians and blans – as foreigners are known there – attribute the nation’s afflictions to vague causes. Corruption. Deforestation. Vodou,” wrote Olsen, who worked in Haiti in the early 2000s, first as a journalist and then with an aid organization.
Corruption, deforestation, and vodou are all realities. So, too, is “this tendency” as military historian Chris Davis told Olsen “to write off Haiti as naturally politically unstable and just assume this is their fate.”
There is a long, sad history of instability in this impoverished Caribbean nation.
The United States has contributed to this. In 1915, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sent the warship USS Washington into waters off Port-au-Prince and 330 Marines began what was a 19-year occupation. World War I had just begun and Germany was starting to influence Haiti’s economy, which troubled U.S. leaders. There also had been seven Haitian presidents in four years so Haiti was ripe for a foreign government’s picking. The U.S. enacted its Monroe Doctrine, a foreign policy that opposed European colonialism in the Western Hemisphere.
“The United States set up a puppet government and dissolved Haiti’s legislature when representatives refused to vote as directed,” Olsen wrote. “Business interests swept in, taking advantage of the situation to manipulate Haiti’s economy and steal its government revenues for U.S. banks.”
Slave labor – known as corvée, a French word meaning unpaid, forced labor – and other abuses were reported. Missionaries had a hand in ending the injustices that were occurring. Military historian Davis observed, “I haven’t seen that kind of interaction today, which is kind of a shame.”
Shame has been ongoing.
Haiti was ruled by successive dictators, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier (1957-1971) and his son Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier (1971-1986), after which there has been a string of short-lived presidencies usually ended by a coup. Since its independence, Haiti has endured 32 coups.
On July 7, 2021, President Jovenel Moise was assassinated. He was the 43rd president of Haiti. Ariel Henry has been the acting president since the assassination. He has overstayed his constitutional limits, but there is no one remaining in the country’s legislature to uphold the rules.
Christianity Today’s article chronicles two eras of evangelical missions in Haiti: the mid-19th century and the late 20th century. The first was funded – incredibly – by Haitians themselves. “In 1881, mission records show that the government was contributing 42 percent of the Methodist church’s budget,” Olsen wrote. “These numbers seem almost unfathomable to me today. You could fill a library with books and articles critiquing Haiti’s toxic dependency on foreign aid.”
The second occurred after U.S. occupation, particularly in the 1950s and then the 1980s. Easy access to Haiti made it a short-term mission paradise. “The biggest threat to our ministry,” one mission leader told Christianity Today, “is not being able to get mission teams in.”
Political unrest has both forced God’s soldiers out and kept them from GO-ing.
The original Gentilhomme church in 2005. (Photo by Gary Fallesen)
In 2005, Climbing For Christ entered a country without a president. Another coup the previous year had forced into exile the once-popular Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a Catholic priest regarded as the first “honestly elected” president of Haiti. A United Nations peacekeeping force was then in place and most organizations working in what has been dubbed “the Republic of NGOs” had pulled out.
God led us up steep slopes in the direction of Pic la Selle, which at 8,793 feet (2,680 meters) is the tallest mountain in the Chaine de la Selle range. We had no idea where we were GO-ing. Until God brought us to Gentilhomme, a small village in a land the late philanthropist-doctor Paul Farmer once referred to as “mountains beyond mountains.”
This is where Climbing For Christ’s story begins.
“I want to tell you that the work C4C was doing in Haiti (from 2005-2014) was priceless,” Gilbert said, looking back at the construction of churches, schools, supporting agriculture in remote mountain villages, and providing medical care. “That is why only God will reward you. I am saying that now because when you were traveling there, I stayed in the pastor’s house (but) I didn’t know anything about what you were doing in Haiti. But seeing the broken (as he looked through a photo album of Mission: Haiti 2013 at C4C member Eileen Lakey’s house in Cañon City, CO), I was impressed. I congratulate all the missionaries of C4C for the work they are doing throughout the world. I’ve been learning a lot from you.”
It is always a two-way street.
Climbing For Christ exists to equip, encourage, and empower indigenous workers currently in 10 countries, including Haiti. C4C has supported Gilbert through school, college, and the growth of C4CNG – Climbing For Christ’s New Generation.
C4CNG, consisting of about three dozen Haitians, serves as Jesus’ hands and feet in those mountain villages where I first tread.
The future is now
As Christianity Today’s article retold the story of Haiti, it looked to the future. “Foreign evangelicals cannot end Haiti’s problems,” Olsen wrote, “but we can stop doing our own thing. Careful listening – to what Haitian churches want, to what Haitian community leaders want – will be one of the most powerful tools for building back a nation.”
Olsen quoted Guenson Charlot, the president of a Wesleyan college and seminary in Haiti, saying: “We need people who are thinking about the next generation.”
That is where Climbing For Christ has invested its support in Haiti.
“The first and easiest step” toward fixing a broken Haiti, Olsen wrote, “will be ensuring that mission groups are investing in the Haitian leaders already under their noses: promoting Haitian staff to the highest levels, if they haven’t already, and giving them the largest vote in organizational decision-making processes.”
The future Dr. Gilbert.
Climbing For Christ has invested in Gilbert’s education and the ongoing work C4CNG is doing in Haiti. We also would like to invest in the college education of Miche Flerisme, another young man from Gentilhomme who grew up in the Dominican border town of Jimani and finished high school last summer. He is an excellent student in need of sponsors to provide $600-$700 per month for his college education.
Education, as Gilbert will attest, is crucial. This is why we support three schools – overseen by C4CNG – in the mountains of Haiti.
Christianity Today’s in-depth article resonated with us – with me and with Gilbert. We have seen and experienced firsthand what the author wrote about. We agree with some of the solutions – and, in fact, are already doing what Olsen suggested. Each year, Gilbert and I spend at least a week together mapping out the months ahead for C4CNG. Gilbert and his C4CNG co-workers plan and propose what the ministry will do. This is in line with Olsen’s article.
“Training Haitian medical students, if they aren’t already,” Olsen continued, “then finding ways to employ them to treat patients who before might have only been treated by visiting medical teams.”
Again, this is what Climbing For Christ has been doing. Where we once took in a short-term team, headed by Board member Dr. Steve Quakenbush of Colorado, we now have nationals trained up to do the work. Gilbert will lead two medical missions in the coming months. Climbing For Christ supports these prayerfully and financially.
“I always thought that in order for us to have a lasting change in the country, we need to start from scratch,” Gilbert said. “Create plans to train children and young people to teach values such as loving people, homeland, and love their brothers regardless of their level of education. Eliminate prejudices and begin to practice justice. And then begin to propose a development project creating jobs while working to provide basic services in the country.”
Rebuilding Haiti – reconstructing a democracy overrun by gangs and returning life to a new normalcy – will not happen overnight. It’s a reboot that will require more blood, sweat, and tears. It will require intervention from the international community. But only to help Haiti back to its collective feet.
Olsen called on Christian aid groups to be part of the process “not out of guilt, but out of generosity.” Our hearts should be rebroken for the state Haiti is in today.
Climbing For Christ will continue to work in the mountains of Haiti. Revival may still come to this troubled country from those mountains. God put His light there when He sent us nearly two decades ago. Today, our Haitian brothers and sisters – led by Gilbert – keep that light shining.
You can read Christianity Today’s entire article, “What Evangelicals Owe Haiti,” by CLICKING HERE to access the story.
We invite you to be a part of what God is doing in Haiti. Climbing For Christ supports schools in Kalimet, Majon, and Morne des Commissaires, where more than 500 children are receiving an education that otherwise would not be available in those villages. This education is life changing and could help to change a culture and country. Gilbert is an example of this. We would like to help Miche continue his education and need sponsors willing to see him through college.
We also need ongoing support for medical missions, and spiritual outreach into remote villages. Haiti, which purports to be 95 percent Christian, is bathed in syncretism. Catholicism was the accepted religion, but vodou looms large in the lives of Haitians. As college president Guenson Charlot told Andy Olsen, “Missionaries often passed down a faith that was orthodox but not contextualized. Believers learned to avoid vodou but not how to engage a culture seeped in it.”
You can send a gift to Climbing For Christ c/o Haiti at P.O. Box 16290, Rochester, NY 14616-0290 USA. Or CLICK HERE to give online via PayPal. In Canada, make cheques payable to The Great Commission Foundation, and on the memo line add Climbing For Christ CANADA. Mail your support to: The Great Commission Foundation, P.O. Box 14006, Abbotsford, BC V2T 0B4. Or CLICK HERE to give online.
The final Word
“God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” – Acts 3:26 (ESV)