Benjamin K. Hopp
When you think about the work of the OPC in Haiti, who comes to mind? Most likely it is the missionaries who have labored here on your behalf since 2003. Maybe you think of Matthew Baugh, who gave his life in service to the kingdom in Haiti.
Maybe you think of your current missionaries, Octavius Delfils and Benjamin Hopp, who are preaching and teaching in various locations in the capital city of Port-au-Prince and on the rural island of La Gonâve. Who would have thought that God would raise up Octavius, a Haitian man, send him to seminary in the United States, and then return him to his native land? And that he would be working alongside a native of Canada like myself?
Yet, even though we see God’s providential hand in bringing these two missionaries together to work in Haiti, they are not the future of a Reformed and Presbyterian church in Haiti. No, it is the men from the indigenous Haitian churches who are its future. The beginning of the regional church in Haiti is based on these Haitian men—from different communities, with different educational backgrounds, and with different spiritual strengths.
As the missionaries from three Reformed missions met together in March 2018, to discuss the formation of a presbytery in Haiti, we were grateful that each mission could identify men who are well on their way to being qualified as the pastors and elders needed to be the initial core of the regional church.
Pastor Lexene is one of the men God has been preparing since the early 1990s. He attended a seminary in Port-au-Prince to receive his theological education and then returned to La Gonâve to plant a church in the rural community of Doglace. God prepared Pastor Lexene with the biblical education he needed to plant a church and to equip the saints for their growth in grace. Now he continues to grow in his knowledge of the Reformed faith. Praise God that some of the men he is bringing together to form the presbytery come with little or no “assembly required.”
Of course, it is not only educational background that makes one a pastor and a participant in the theological debates of a presbytery. The Scriptures remind us that an elder is to be “above reproach” (Titus 1:7). Pastor Lexene is well connected in the community. His previous work for a large non-governmental organization gave him a reputation as someone who is honest and fair in his dealings with people. He cares not just for the spiritual lives of those on La Gonâve, but also for their physical well-being. He is “a lover of good” as he preaches the gospel to the unconverted and to his congregation (Titus 1:8).
As you look over the group of men with whom the OPC Haiti Mission is working, it would be hard to find someone more different from Pastor Lexene than Maxime Teveno. Teveno is an elder-in-training who leads the services at the church in Nan Mangot. When you first meet Teveno, you might not see him as a natural leader. He does not come with much education, but he does bring to the table a vibrant humility, a love for people, and a deep personal understanding of suffering.
The story of Teveno’s life is not unusual here in Haiti, but it is tragic nonetheless. He has suffered the death of two teenage daughters—one in the 2010 earthquake and the other to a grand mal seizure in 2008. His remaining teenage daughter, Esther, has exhibited the same seizures that her sister did and requires constant supervision. Teveno’s wife, dealing with her grief and difficult losses, abandoned the family and left Teveno with three children to care for on his own. His is certainly not what one might consider the ideal family, but through his suffering, Teveno shows the church how to care for their families even as he cares for God’s church.
While we might desire a regional church full of leaders who are strong and impassioned, God calls all kinds to lead his church. The people at Nan Mangot love Teveno because he loves them. He prays with them when they are suffering. He advocates for them when they are in physical need. He leads them to worship the Savior with joy. What more could you ask for in an elder than one who rejoices with those who rejoice and mourns with those who mourn, even as Jesus did?
The story of Elissaint, elder-in-training at Doglace on La Gonâve, is different yet again. He is a man with a true servant’s heart. Elissaint may not have much formal education, but he has a great desire to learn. Recently we were able to print and make available copies of Louis Berkhof’s Summary of Christian Doctrine in French. Hoping to spend some time studying with Elissaint, I gave him a copy. Several Sundays later, I sat in on his Sunday school class at Doglace, and he was already using it to teach on the doctrine of God. He could not wait to put what he was learning in front of the people! Elissaint is definitely someone who is “able to give instruction in sound doctrine” (Titus 1:9). He absorbs the teaching into his own life and then communicates it simply to the saints of this rural, island church.
The Apostle Paul reminds Timothy that elders must be “well thought of by outsiders” (1 Tim. 3:7). This is also true of Elissaint and was on display recently as we hosted a team to plaster the wall at the mission’s guesthouse on La Gonâve. He worked as hard as, or harder than, every member of the short-term mission team.
Elissaint also labors diligently to provide for his family. He works at a garden at his home near the church and is a skilled mason and metal worker. He volunteered his time building the Doglace church, using both his masonry and metal-working abilities. His faith in Jesus impacts all his life. He works hard for the Lord, not just on Sunday, but every day of the week, to show people that all we do, we do for the glory of God.
The church of Jesus Christ, both locally and globally, consists of not one member but many. Just as each of those members is different, the same can be said for its leaders—or its future leaders. Please pray with us that, as plans move forward to form a fledgling presbytery here in Haiti, God would knit together the hearts of each of these men. Pray that they would learn to trust one another despite their differences. These men are just a few of the leaders he has chosen to guide his church in Haiti.
The author is an OP missionary in Haiti. New Horizons, May 2018.