By Paul Shingledecker, WGM retiree
Paul Shingledecker is a retired missionary who served in Haiti as well as on WGM’s support staff. In this story, Paul shares about the devastation from natural disasters in Haiti and how the church has responded to one unfortunate event after another. Read on to learn how God uses our lowest points to bring change and growth for His kingdom work.
Haiti is known for its political upheavals and its natural disasters. Over the years, it has been hit by numerous major hurricanes. In 2010, Haiti experienced a disastrous, magnitude 7.0 earthquake that killed over 220,000 people. Since 1804 when Haiti gained its independence from France, it has been ruled by a succession of repressive, self-serving governments, including more than one dictatorship. And on top of all of this, or because of it, Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world.
What is less well known is that in spite of all Haiti has been through, and maybe also because of it, Christianity is on the rise and the church is growing and flourishing. Protestant Christians, who numbered less than 1 percent in the 1950s, now represent over 40 percent of the population. God is on the move in Haiti.
Take the 2010 earthquake. Over 200,000 Haitians were converted as a direct result of that disaster. The Haitians in Port-au-Prince saw how their Christian friends and neighbors reacted and how they responded with hope and reached out to others—even when reeling from their own personal losses—and they liked what they saw.
I personally attended an open-air service the first Sunday after the disaster—open-air because everyone was too afraid yet at that point to go inside a building, any building, even if it was one that was still standing. It was an overwhelming experience as the crowd sang and praised God for their very lives. At one point the leader had them raise their hands and then praise God they still had arms and hands to wave to Him. Then they stomped their feet and praised God that they still had their feet and legs. Because you see, not only did just about everybody there lose loved ones, they also all had family members and friends who had had legs or arms crushed or amputated. Still they were singing and praising God. No wonder their friends were amazed and drawn to that kind of hope and resilience. For many months, the churches were overwhelmed with the new converts and scrambled to provide follow-up and training for these new Christians.
Residents pray on Sunday, October 9, 2016, at a church in Jérémie that was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
We saw something similar recently when Hurricane Matthew devastated the southern part of Haiti. This Category 5 storm demolished whole neighborhoods and towns. It destroyed every building in its way and blew away all the crops, fruit trees, and even the farm animals. I understand that today many are still living in caves or lean-to shelters.
The churches, likewise, were not spared. At one point, they were saying that almost every church on the peninsula had lost its roof. However, one of the most poignant and amazing pictures that we all saw as word of the catastrophic nature of the disaster finally began to get out was from Jérémie. It was the picture of the worshipers gathered that first Sunday in their Baptist church, without a roof, dressed in their best, there to worship God and praise Him! Right next to it were aerial shots showing every building in the town either destroyed or roofless, including many of these same people’s homes!
Yes, God is building His church in Haiti in the “rain.” As missionaries in Haiti, we often said, “It can’t get any worse.” And then it did. But you can’t stop God. He said, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18 KJV). No rain is so strong or situation so bad that He cannot use it to strengthen His people and build His kingdom.
Will you join WGM in praying for strength for His people in Haiti? Visit wgm.org/haiti to learn more about the country and how WGM can help you get involved today.