Lunch at the Source of Light orphanage. (Photo by Allison Maxwell)
Lunch at the Source of Light orphanage. (Photo by Allison Maxwell)

In Haiti, response to earthquake becomes a mission game-changer

Virginia Baptists’ response to Haiti’s 2010 earthquake has led them into long-term mission work on the island, from agriculture to orphan care to church planting — a trend in disaster-relief work, say experts.

By Jeff Brumley

Like thousands of other faith-based groups, Virginia Baptists responded in big ways to the 2010 earthquake that ravaged Haiti. The $1 million they quickly raised was turned into aid that Baptists used to meet an array of immediate humanitarian needs.

But that, it turns out, was just the beginning. Today, officials with the Virginia Baptist Mission Board say even they are amazed that what began as emergency relief work has evolved into long-term relationships and the ongoing transformation of an impoverished Port-au-Prince neighborhood.

In fact, Haiti is turning out to be a game-changer for the organization’s global outreach efforts, which used to be conceived as five-year plans.

“There is no end date in sight for this,” said Nichole Prillaman, missions volunteer coordinator for the VBMB’s global missions program.

PrillamanWith agricultural, home-building and orphan care projects completed, the VBMB is now turning its attention to church planting.

“What’s happening in Haiti is showing us that long-term involvement and investment is shaping the way we will do future partnerships,” Prillaman said.

Trend: lengthing response

And they aren’t alone. During meetings in March, members of the North American Baptist Fellowship’s Disaster Response Network shared dozens of long-term recovery efforts stemming from earlier disasters.

Officials with American Baptist Churches-USA, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Lott Carey Foreign Missions Convention and others invited participation in continuing efforts ranging from Africa to Haiti to the Philippines.

The United Nations office charged with organizing global disaster-relief efforts has urged a similar shift in thinking, urging participants to consider how they can transition from immediate humanitarian crises to engagement with protracted development and rebuilding.

The UN idea is to promote long-term visions at the outset of disaster relief that ensure the participation and even leadership by local, grassroots movements and groups, said David Harding, CBF coordinator for international disaster response.

‘Catalyst and cheerleaders’

But faith-based groups have been at the forefront of that approach for years, Harding added, by promoting asset-based community development principles in areas struck by man-made and natural disasters.

That means empowering local churches and other communities to determine and communicate their own rebuilding needs and taking ownership of efforts to see them met. Denominations, churches and other religious groups are left to build relationships, provide some funding and expertise when needed, he said.

David Harding“We become the catalyst and the cheerleaders,” Harding said.

It’s been just that kind of approach, one step at a time, that’s led Virginia Baptists to where they are now in the Delmas 19 community of Port-au-Prince.

Meeting broad needs

Short-term relief work in Haiti, where the organization had not been active before the earthquake, led to a partnership with the Haiti Baptist Convention, Hungarian Baptists and the Baptist World Alliance to finance the construction of an orphanage in Delmas 19.

The facility known as the Source of Light Center was completed in 2012 and houses nearly 39 orphans and a school serving 200 students, Prillaman said.

The three-story building also is used to provide continuing adult education in fields including nursing and automobile repair.

The project was completed using local labor and was initiated upon the request of neighborhood residents and HBC, Prillaman said.

Another need identified by locals was for sustainable housing as thousands continued to live under blue tarps donated shortly after the quake.

Under Haitian leadership, VBMB designed a two-bedroom home plan, using block construction, Prillaman said. Local labor used supplies provided by the VBMB to build nearly 30 homes, most of them in Delmas 19, she said.

“As a result of all these activities, the community has been very aware of our presence.”

‘A hand across’

That’s how the idea of planting a church in Delmas 19 was eventually presented to Virginia Baptists, she said.

It originated with a Haitian pastor who had been praying about God’s next move for him in engaging the community on a wider level.

“He knew we had done a good job of meeting their physical needs,” Prillaman said. “We had dug a well, were providing orphan care, agricultural projects, chickens — and we began to have a conversation” about planting a church.

Prillaman approach VBMB church planters, who earlier this month secured three-year funding for the project, said Wayne Faison, team coordinator for the courageous churches team, the VBMB’s new church starts and evangelism program.

Prillaman said she is headed to Haiti next month to work with Haiti Baptists in mapping out the establishment of the new church. Faison will travel there in the fall. Neither knew a firm timeline of when the church will be completed.

But Faison said the initiative will come from Haitians with guidance from Virginia Baptists and their long-standing church-planting partners from Ghana, in West Africa.

The organization has planted an average of 23 churches a year, including 14 a year in states other than Virginia since 2012, Faison said. Globally they are planting about a dozen new churches a year.

In Haiti, as it does elsewhere around the world, the VBMB and its partners will be vigilant in avoiding the pitfalls of western mission work that has created global populations dependent on outsiders for their vision and resources, Faison said.

“This is not something we are giving them, this is something we are receiving,” he said. “It’s not a hand-out or even a hand-up — it’s a hand across.”