Benjamin K. Hopp
So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that ... we ... might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul. (Heb. 6:17–19)
Since the earthquake in Haiti, the truth of God's unchangeable character and his promise to his people have provided hope and encouragement. Although life in Haiti will never be the same, the goal and vision for our OP mission there remain the same: preach the word, bring a cup of cold water as it is needed, and pray for God to bring growth to the church.
It is Wednesday morning, and I find myself in Tampa, Florida. I am here for a meeting with three other Presbyterian missionaries who work in Haiti and various other advisors.
My dear friends, Charles Amicy (a PCA missionary to Haiti), Octavius Delfils (a missionary with the Presbyterian Mission to Haiti), Esaie Etienne (with Mission to the World), and I have been working toward the same goal of establishing a Haitian Reformed and Presbyterian church that will be able to train, examine, and ordain its own elders. We have gathered to put together a book of church order for a presbytery in Haiti.
The day is long and the discussion is intense, but by the end of the session we have a good draft document. We have commitment on all sides to continue working on the document so that, Lord willing, we can have the first meeting of the presbytery sometime later in 2010. We all return home to Haiti with great hope in our hearts.
I sit in the Port-au-Prince domestic airport, watching the planes come and go. The plane bringing a team from the Central Plateau is delayed, but a pilot friend with Missionary Aviation Fellowship assures me they will arrive soon.
As the team from OP churches in the Grand Rapids area disembarks, I spot Pastor Steve Igo. It has been almost three years since we visited the church in Hudsonville, Michigan, but it will be good to work with him again. Pastor Igo is coming to spend a week training church leaders on the island of Lagonav and to experience the OPC's work in Haiti.
Pastor Igo's morning arrival gives us time for a quick tour of Port-au-Prince. We make a brief stop at the Caribbean Market, picking up some needed grocery items. We make our way up the mountain to Petionville and then back down along the ravines toward downtown. The view out the left side of the truck shows hillsides covered with cement houses, both mansions and small single-story buildings housing who knows how many. We pass the National Palace downtown, snapping pictures as we drive by.
We pass by a three-story building near the water. It is a beautifully constructed cement structure. The sign says it is a school and church. Someone has spent the time to make it beautiful as well as functional. Little do we know that this will be our last view of the city with everything still standing.
It is late afternoon. We have spent a more relaxing day preparing for our teaching sessions and talking about the ministry. The temperatures are warm as usual, and the kids ask if we can go down to the Kaliko Beach Club for a swim.
The kids are laughing and joking in the pool with Pastor Igo. As I am watching them, I hear a loud roar. The ground underneath me begins to shake. I can still hear the kids making noise in the pool. As I turn, I can see the buildings of the resort swaying. It takes me a few seconds, but then I realize that it's an earthquake. People are running out of the buildings now, and I hear the clatter of pots and pans falling in the nearby resort kitchen. Then everything is quiet.
In twenty-five seconds, everything has changed. Our world has been rocked, quite literally. We are safe; that is a mercy. None of the buildings in our areaincluding our houseappear to be damaged. But it does not take long to realize that, while we have been spared, many have not.
We have spoken often with our children about the need to be ready to meet our Maker at any moment. But now, after living through a devastating earthquake, we recognize more fully the truth of the biblical mandate to be ready for the day of judgment. The earth may shake, but God never changes. His promises, both of mercy to those who believe and of justice to those who would come in their own efforts, are still true.
I will never forget what I saw the next day as Pastor Igo and I viewed the enormity of the destruction in Port-au-Prince. Joy and sorrow weighed in our hearts as we pulled several girls alive from the rubble of a collapsed school and then turned to see their classmates, still sitting at their desks, trapped and crushed under the concrete. In just twenty-five seconds, these teenagers went from copying lessons in their notebooks to standing before the Creator of heaven and earth.
It is now nearly one month since the quake. A disaster relief assessment team and I are on Lagonav. We visit the churches, talk with the people, and try to determine what the needs are. The physical needs are not so visible here. Homes are still standing, with only the occasional wall down. Food is available, and the market in downtown Ansagale continues to function. Out in the countryside, some are already planting for the upcoming growing season.
However, there is one big change. Everyone has post-quake fears. People will not sleep inside their homes. Their hearts race every time an aftershock rocks the island. People want to talk about their experiences: near misses, grief over lost loved ones, and the constant fear of another big quake. In this context, plans for counseling and training are forming. We desire to help people see their experiences in light of the truth of the Scriptures. The plan is to train church leaders to come alongside folks in a more purposeful way and help them through their hour of need. The spiritual needs are great.
While still on Lagonav, a visiting doctor and I make the rounds at the Wesleyan Hospital. As we visit the sick, we meet a young woman, whom we will call Joanne, lying in a hospital tent. The hospital building is unsafe, so patients are in tents. A team of surgeons has recently been there to perform several surgeries, but they decide Joanne is not a good candidate for surgery. She has terminal cancer.
The devastation of the earthquake and the huge loss of life fade into the background as we share this reality with Joanne's family. All the hospital can do is send her home with medication and promise to check in on her. Where is the hope in all these changes? Only in the unchangeable God. We pray with Joanne and talk with her about her standing before God. She confesses that she has already put her trust in Jesus Christ alone for her salvation. Bright hope in a dark time.
Outside of Port-au-Prince, much of life is back to normal. The gas stations are pumping gas, some stores have reopened, and women are selling oranges and grapefruits on the side of the road. But worship at the Port-au-Prince church plant has still not restarted. The building where we held worship was so badly damaged that it can no longer be used.
We go out visiting people from the church with one of its pastors, Leon Amicy. He takes us to his house, which stands undamaged. The second story of the house is partially completed. We make plans for work teams to come and finish the house so that another pastor from the church can live there.
Later we drop by to visit the Aksena family. They have been faithful attenders of the church plant for over a year. Brother Aksena no longer has work because the mayor's office has laid off most of its workers. Their wall is down. A small tarp covers an area where the family is sleeping outside. Despite their outward circumstances, you can see the joy on the faces of this man, his wife, and his six young children. When you consider the life changes that they have recently experienced, you begin to understand that this joy comes only through their confidence in God. There is only one sure and steadfast anchor for the soulJesus Christ.
As I write, I am on an airplane flying to Haiti. As we come in for the final approach to Port-au-Prince, I look out over the city. From this height, it is hard to see the extent of the damage, but blue tarps dot the cityscape. They shield people from the sun and rain. They represent both the difficulty of the present life and the hope that someone is coming to help. People are trying to rebuild their broken and changed lives.
In response to all these needs, the OPC's first construction team arrives. They are part of the long-term response to the earthquake by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, made possible by your sacrificial giving to the OPC Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund. We are committed to the Haitian people for the long haul because we want to see the church of Jesus Christ built up. There is a great hope set before us, and we continue preaching that good news in desperate times.
In times of change, when our lives are rocked to the soul, we are confronted with our humanity, our sinful hearts, and our desire for stability. Our changeless God is our only refuge, stronghold, salvation, and hope. These are the truths that we continue to share with the people of Haiti as we minister to them in word and deed. Out of the rubble of broken and changed lives, may the Lord build his church and bless the formation of a presbytery in Haiti.
The author is an OP missionary to Haiti. Reprinted from New Horizons, May 2010.