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New Horizons

Is There Hope for Haiti?

Benjamin K. Hopp

I nearly ran over a man on the way to Port-au-Prince the other day. It was a clear day, and the newly paved highway was dry. The traffic was moving fast as usual as I came over the hill. And there in the middle of the road was a man staggering around.

Think fast. Go left or right? Hit the brakes or try to swerve around him? Which way is his next stagger going to take him? Honk the horn! Zoom and I am past him. Another collision avoided by the grace of God.

Once my racing heart calmed down and the adrenaline rush was over, I had time to think about that man. He was obviously drunk. Why was he stumbling around on the main highway in Haiti? Did he have a family?

It seems to me that the man I almost hit was a man without hope. Would anyone have missed him if he did not get home? He is representative of many who are without hope in Haiti. Some days it seems like the country is filled with hopelessness. Is there hope for Haiti?

Amidst the hopelessness of Haiti, we have the ongoing saga of the presidential elections. It all started back in November, and a winner will not be declared until April (after this has been written). Just like elections in North America, the candidates ride around the country campaigning and making promises.

Michel Martelly, otherwise known as the singer "Sweet Micky," called me the other day. He was one of the winners of the first round of voting. When I answered my cell phone, it was Martelly on the other end. Of course, he was not calling me personally, but using a new election tactic of calling Haitian cell phones to play a message.

What did he have to say? Sweet Micky certainly seems to offer hope. He promises that if he is elected, every Haitian child will have an opportunity to go to school and get an education (for free). He promises jobs for everyone who wants to work. But can anyone deliver all that? The sad history of Haiti would say otherwise.

And in the end, do high school diplomas and money in your pocket give hope? Maybe for today. Everyone does need to eat. But what about a meaningful future? Our ever increasing conviction as we live and learn about Haiti is that hope only comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ. An education is worthwhile only if it points to the giver of all wisdom. Food is only good if it also comes with the spiritual nourishment of the Word of Christ. Hope comes through feeding on the bread of life, not by looking to empty promises.

Haiti is a country of signs. Along with the election billboards and signs advertising cold drinks, every store and every church has a sign. The church plant in Port-au-Prince has a new sign. We are "L'Eglise Presbyterienne Reformee de Delmas." The sign tells everyone passing by that a church meets there.

The sign also invites visitors to come in and hear the gospel. We preach our message not just to those of the household of faith, but also to those in need of a physician. People come with many different motives, but we welcome them all to the gathering of God's people. The sign points not just to a building, but to the place where saints gather to worship the one true and living God.

While most churches have a sign out front, these days they don't tend to draw people in. I suspect that most people come to church through a personal invitation, or possibly because they found it online or in the yellow pages. Recently we were delighted to have a young couple show up at the doorstep of the church on a Sunday morning. They lived in the area and had seen the sign as they drove by on the dusty road. We are thankful that God is building his church in unexpected ways. People come from far and near to worship with us.

Another sign towering above the streets of Port-au-Prince gives a hint of hope. But it points people in the wrong direction. A large green sign with black lettering says, "Jesus is returning on May 21, 2011." Jesus is indeed returning to judge the world and welcome his saints into their heavenly rest. But the Bible makes clear that we do not know the day or the hour. We are to wait patiently with an eager expectation that Jesus will do what he said he would do.

The false teachers spreading this message can give only a false hope. Our job here in Haiti is to preach the good news of Jesus Christ. This is the only place where people will find hope for today and tomorrow. Jesus may return tomorrow. He may even return on May 21. But the message we bring is a true message of hope for sinners living in a fallen world.

It is encouraging that, while we don't always see immediate fruit from our work, we did see some evidence of it on a Sunday in March. Twelve Haitian believers had been sitting under the preaching of the word at the Port-au-Prince church plant since we restarted services back in September 2010. They gave stirring accounts of God's work in their lives and made profession of faith before the church.

Many of you who are members of churches have gone through the same kind of interview. You sit down with the elders of the church and are asked questions: Who wrote the Bible? Are you a sinner? How did you come to faith in Jesus Christ? These believers in Haiti answered the same questions and gave a good account of their faith. This is how God is building his church in Haiti.

By bringing people to faith and into his church, God is building up the body of Christ. Even while the rubble still clogs the streets and thousands still live in tattered tents, there is hope. I came across a striking example while driving around the city last month.

You might remember that the day after Haiti's devastating earthquake last year I was in Port-au-Prince taking part in an attempt to rescue young girls from a collapsed school. The building was a mass of wreckage and fallen concrete. By God's grace, a dozen girls came out of the building alive.

The other week I happened to be driving by that location in Port-au-Prince on my way home. As I passed by, I noticed that the school had been rebuilt. Out of the rubble had risen new classrooms, and children were in attendance. So there is hope. But the physical rebuilding of Haiti's capital reminds us that another building project is urgently needed in this country: a spiritual one. We are grateful that we can play a part in building the church of Jesus Christ and bringing his elect into the kingdom. In that there is real hope.

The author is an OP missionary to Haiti. New Horizons, May 2011.

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