congregation

I’ve gotten to where not a lot startles me in Haitian church. I know the rhythm of worship. I have friends to help me find the songs in the hymnal when I don’t hear the right number. I have other friends who know their English well enough to find the Bible passages for me when it is a book of the Bible I don’t recognize in Creole. I love Sunday mornings in Haiti, because it starts with such pure, unhindered worship and leads us into a completely chill day of community.

But just because you get used to something doesn’t mean you won’t still be startled out of the norm. I was sitting with Pastor Claude’s kids while Makenson and Jonas were farther down the bench recently on a Sunday morning when I was startled abruptly…jolted, really. I knew it was the time where new people are brought to the front and have to introduce themselves, and after almost two years in Haiti, that’s not me anymore, so I had spaced out so I could save my brainpower for trying to understand the sermon in Creole. I know people within the congregations where we go to church, but when I attend without visitors I sit with the kids I get to hang out with when visitors are in country.

Then I hear from Pastor Claude, who is staring me down, ‘Sè Éstefony, cr-blah-ba-kloo-ish-to-ril…’ I panicked. All I understood was, ‘Sister Stephanie…’ Heart beating fast, rapidly thinking why he could be calling on me in front of the ENTIRE congregation during the introductions of ONLY THE NEW PEOPLE. I glanced down at my friend Kervens and his illuminated, expectant, joy-filled face was NO help and then I remembered…Jonas, my friend…who speaks Creole AND English…was 6 feet away…

‘Jonas?’

‘Oh, you didn’t understand him?’

The lack of response, jerky movements looking for help and panicked look in my face wasn’t an indicator? Okay, got it.

‘No, Jonas, I didn’t catch the whole question.’

‘Pastor Claude asked you why you come and are not a member of the church yet. He says you should become a member of the church.’

Whaaaaaaat?!?! Really? Oh dear. Immediately images of the other Pastors I’ve become friends with, and also attend their churches, finding out I became a member AT CLAUDE’S CHURCH and not theirs terrified me.

Thankfully, Pastor Claude moved on and I was able to avoid answering.

These are the cultural moments that I look back on with great humor, because…really it’s the only option. It was hilarious, and I hadn’t had a moment of panic in a Haitian church for many, many months. It’s good to know I can still be thrown off in a place I’ve become comfortable, right?!?!

I keep digesting that moment in church, and thinking about the other pastors and their local church congregations. I am consistently inspired and constantly driven to not only answer God’s call on my life by their faith, but they light a fire in me to fight to see God’s Kingdom on earth through their work in the orphan window. For many of the Haitians in the local church, they live out exactly what the Bible say to do for the poor, orphans and widows in their communities. Granted, there are many who do not and still simply sit in church on Sunday and do not allow God to be real in their daily lives, but that is really to be expected anywhere. The key is that they are constantly surrounded by the witness of people who do make it a part of their daily lives.

It also draws my thoughts to after leaving Haiti, what will I want in a local church?

Strong Biblical grounding, believers who are led by the Holy Spirit, leaders who value discernment and prayer, a significant emphasis on discipleship, worship that pulls me closer to the heart of God…but give or take where I am called not all of those are non-negotiable. What is a non-negotiable for me as a believer called into the global orphan window is that believers are actually doing what God told us to do for the orphans of the world…the kids who need someone to champion them locally or globally.

Anyone who knows me is shaking their head right now, because this has been true for me since 2003 when God tossed me into the orphan window with such force that I never had an opportunity to look back. But realistically, I’ve never been a part of a congregation that is so deeply connected to the orphan window that their lives reflect that connection to injustice. But after living in Haiti and seeing the church partners of some of our pastors come through, I know it exists in the States.

But now…now after being here it has become more of a non-negotiable for congregations I will choose to be a part of in the States. Whether God will use me to cultivate that culture or it already exists will remain to be seen after I leave Haiti, but what I do know is when a community is reaching for the heart of God, fighting for it and advancing as a whole…there are incredible things that God does among them and that is something that a lot of people will want to be a part of…

 

isaac

Pastor Isaac & familyFor many pastors in Haiti, they never imagined themselves as being a pastor. In Pastor Isaac’s case, it elicited significant feelings when others would look to him as though he was expected to be a pastor.

“When I was growing up I didn’t expect to be a Pastor. I thought being a Pastor was hard, because you have to always have something to share and wisdom to give. I thought that someone being a pastor should have a lot of money so when people come and ask for help, you have money to share with them. When I was a kid, there was a man that called me pastor, and it made me really mad. Anytime missionaries came to my church, they called me pastor. Sometimes I was really sad, because it didn’t want to be a pastor. When I was in 9th grade, I remember one time when all the kids were playing around calling me ‘Little Pastor,’ and I said, ‘God if you want me to be a pastor, I don’t want anyone to call me pastor until I have enough money to help people.’ After that, no one called me pastor, and I forgot that I had said that to God until I was much older.”

Pastor continued through law school, started school for education and was taking theological classes when he and his wife moved to Marmelade from Gonaives. However, they were unable to find a church that fit their desire for worship, and started having a prayer meeting in their home in 2001. The meeting continued to grow until their home was too small. The people suggested moving into a classroom to not only have their prayer meetings, but also church on Sunday mornings with Pastor leading them. He kept telling them no, and putting it off, then he says, “I had something in my head that I couldn’t explain to my wife or myself. I was in a bad situation. I felt like God wanted me to start a church, but I didn’t want to. I felt like there was something in my heart that I could not resist. One afternoon, when I came back from Gonaives it was a Saturday afternoon and I said to my wife, tomorrow we are going to worship in the classroom of the school. So when I went to church on that first Sunday we had 7 people. My son who was 2 years old, he represented all the kids in the church. And my wife represented all the women in the church. And my friend who could come represented all the people that could come. And the 2 ladies who came represented all the people who do not know Jesus. Out of the two of them, one of them stayed.”

The same year the prayer meeting turned into church was the same year the school opened at Pastor Isaac’s village after having been at a different location since 1995. Pastor didn’t start housing kids at the village until 2012, though he had already been helping kids through school while they were still living with their families since 1992. Seeing students gain an education is a big passion of Pastor, “Another thing that gives me joy is how the kids are doing in school. Some of them like school and they will finish well. Some of the older kids, I would like to see them finish high school and go to university so they can help themselves. I know that not all can finish high school, and those I want to see them go to professional school so they have skill to make a living.”

Creativity in teaching the kids is a big component of not only school during the week, but also music lessons on Sunday mornings with their Sunday school classes. Inspired by several students who grew up in Marmelade and were taught classical music to gain good jobs as musicians in the capital of Port-au-Prince, Pastor has two congregation members who give their time to train the kids at Marmelade in theory and classical music. Observing the class on a Sunday morning, or catching a one-on-one lesson with the kids is a beautiful image of God’s people pouring their love, gifts and passions into the next generation.

As a local judge, Pastor was continually confronted with people from the community who were at a loss of how to care for kids who had lost their parents. Aunts, uncles, no relatives wanted to take them in, so Pastor would assign someone to care for them in situations that were not always the best for the child. After years of many people seeking him for wisdom as a pastor and having to make rulings as a judge, he felt a solution was to create a home for the kids that needed someone to champion their future. “In Haiti, if you are the one with innovative ideas, you are always the innovator,” Pastor frequently says when talking about why he began to care for kids in the community of Marmelade.

Although for Pastor Isaac, caring for the kids is rooted in a place he continually points his congregation to through his Bible studies creatively disguised as sermons on Sunday mornings, “I was always thinking about what the Bible says that we need to take care of the widows the orphans and the strangers, but I didn’t have money to support them yet. While you are preaching the Gospel it is good to do some action, by doing action you preach the Gospel as well. The Bible says that when you support someone who doesn’t have any other person to help them you are helping God himself. That is all the motivation I have to do something for the kids and change the community as well. Another thing that motivates me, when I see people I used to help and today they have become someone helpful for society, that is another motivation I have to keep doing what I am doing.”

The Lord has led GO Project to support the leadership of Pastor Isaac as he cares for economic and social orphans at his village in Marmelade east of Gonaives into the mountains. At GO Project, individuals or communities can contribute to life care and education costs of the orphans on a monthly basis or through long-term support of the pastors.

mongerard

Pastor Mongerard & familyGod’s call on the lives of pastors in Haiti is unique to each one, and drawing on that direction from God gives them encouragement even when difficulties are presented. For Pastor Mongerard, it was God’s call to go back Cayes while he was studying to be a car mechanic in Port-au-Prince that led him to a community in need.

“I was looking for a place that didn’t have anyone to help them. I found Darivager that had no one helping. I felt God needed me there, because of the bad situation of the community. But the community didn’t feel that I could really make changes and they made fun of me. I would ask pastors to come preach, and when they saw the muddy road, they would turn around and not come preach,” Pastor shared.

God continually assured Pastor that he was supposed to be in Darivager to help the community. His commitment to his calling led him to work on making a road passable to the village, a well for clean water and provided many conversations with the community members.

“I started the church in Darivager in March of 2001. It was very difficult to get there because the road was muddy and the place was not good. We used to have to walk the road to come here. Before the church existed, there was no car that could get there because the roads were so bad. Then I started an organization to talk to the population to ask what the community needs and what they hope exists in the community. I asked people in the community what the biggest problem in the community was and they said they didn’t have a school in the community. They didn’t have water or a church, and most of the community was practicing voodoo and there were a lot of voodoo priests,” Pastor said.

As Pastor talks about the kids in his care, there is an unconditional love and inclusiveness to his words. The kids in his care are his family, yet he still takes every opportunity to reunite the kids with their parents. He shares the story of one young girl’s dad he had heard where he was, so he took her to him. Unfortunately, the story does not end in reunification. Instead the dad refused to acknowledge her as his daughter, even though the young girl knew it was her dad. Hard situations within the orphan window are prevalent with pastors and their local churches, and for this young girl, Pastor made it very clear that she did have a place to belong and that there was a family for her within their community.

Digging deep into God’s word defines Pastor Mongerard’s unique leadership of his congregational and kids within his care.

“It is written in the Bible to support the orphans. Everyone who is following God, pastors and leaders, they are supposed to help kids, but not only kids, but whoever doesn’t have the possibility to support themselves. The Bible talks about supporting orphans, widows and strangers. In my ministry, I am thinking about having a place to help the widows, because helping the kids is good, but having a possibility to help the widows would be good as well. And I would like to have a place where I can keep strangers, if someone gets lost or doesn’t have a place to stay, I could welcome them to a guest house,” Pastor said of his vision for future ministry.

As Pastor’s twin five year old sons run in after their school day was over, one of the boys beckoned him to bring his ear closer. Pastor leaned over, listened with his hand resting lightly on his shoulder and chuckled at whatever was whispered into his ear. Kissing him on the head, and sending him on his way, Pastor continues,”Sometimes I feel like I need to give up and feel discouraged, but when I go to the Bible it tells me that I should never give up and continue doing what I am doing. Only God can put on people’s heart to help other nations. I know that there should be some difficult times, but the promise of God is not for the difficult time. It is not for the desert, the promise of God is for Canaan. Sometimes I make some promise to the kids and they don’t believe me because they don’t see how it will happen, but when they see it happen, they know God is with us.”

The Lord has led GO Project to support the leadership of Pastor Mongerard as he cares for economic and social orphans at his village in Darivager outside the city of Cayes. At GO Project, individuals or communities can contribute to life care and education costs of the orphans on a monthly basis or through long-term support of the pastors.

renaud

Pastor RenaudThe community of Cassamajor is ingrained in Pastor Renaud since he was a child growing up there. He went to school and seminary when he started the church in early 2007, and then began housing children by September of that same year.

“I was not a pastor before I started the church. I never wanted to be a pastor. I don’t know how it happened. It was one of my nightmares to be a pastor. In Haiti, not just Haiti, in the world, pastors are not seen with good eyes. Whenever someone sees a pastor they see a businessman or a stickler. I want people to see me as a father, because my ambition is to help them to heaven.”

His ambition to be a father figure also overlaps into the classroom as he weekly makes sacrifices for the education of 9th graders who will soon be taking government tests to continue their education. For a pastor who is already very busy, this further emphasizes his commitment to education the kids in his care. He is also continuing his own education as well in Cayes while taking classes at the law school and university of agriculture.

“If I do not help the kids today, tomorrow they will be gangsters and bad for the community and the other kids as well. They will destroy Haiti. Some kids could not go to school before I had the school, and now they are attending school. Some of the kids had never heard about the Gospel before, and now they know the Gospel. The Gospel and my faith in God keep me inspired to keep doing what I am doing. When you are working with people, they may not understand what you are doing, but God will always reward you for what you are doing.”

With 170 kids in his care at the village, and a school that is educating 253 primary students and 119 secondary students, Pastor has a lot that weighs on him daily from not only the kids in his care, but also his congregation and community. He is greatly encouraged by friends who pray for him, and remind him of the sovereignty of Jesus.

“I had a friend who shared a text message with me, he told me to not look forward, because there are so many things that may discourage you if you look forward. And do not look back, because there are so many bad things you already left. Do not look right and do not look left. On your right there are pitiful things and on the left are the same things. So I cannot look forward. I cannot look backward. I cannot look left or right. The only way I can look is up, and stare at Jesus. I am not afraid of anything, because whatever the storm is, God is with me and I have nothing to be afraid of. That’s what I believe,” he shared.

The Lord has led GO Project to support the leadership of Pastor Renaud as he cares for economic and social orphans at his village in Cassamajor outside the city of Cayes. At GO Project, individuals or communities can contribute to life care and education costs of the orphans on a monthly basis or through long-term support of the pastors.

jeannot

Pastor JeannotFor many Haitian pastors, they easily talk about dreams, visions and times that God has led them to this life of caring for orphans and advocating for their education. Pastor Jeannot, who ministers at the end of a very arduous road in the same village he grew up in, is no exception: “Before I started, I had a dream a long time ago and saw that there was a UN (United Nations) guy in a car and he was going to Desire. He gave me a chocolate, and he said I needed to give the chocolate to everyone in the community. And when there was chocolate left, the UN guy said that I could keep it to continue helping everyone in the community. I was 9-10 years old when I saw that in a dream. When I explained it to my mother and father, they laughed and said I had the dream because I ate well that night. After my parents laughed at me when I told them about my vision, I forgot about it as I was growing up.”

How many times could anyone say the same? Feeling a leading from God and being told it couldn’t be real? Or worse, that it wasn’t from God? But it is the moments you don’t allow those voices to define your calling that matter. In 2006 Pastor was reminded of that dream when he was a young boy, “I was sitting and I thought about that dream I had, so I met with people in the community and gathered some kids and asked people to help them so they have some activities. I decided to go to the minister’s office at the UN and they told me they were already coming to Desire that Friday, then in the same way, in the same place, I saw a soldier giving a child a chocolate and I was reminded of the vision I’d had as a child. At that point I thought, ‘God approves of what I am trying to do.’”

That affirmation led Pastor to start housing children at Desire on July 2, 2006, and with a school on property since 1988, there was already a means to educate the kids Pastor identified as orphans. His father had started the school when met with the reality that the kids in the community did not have an opportunity for education. Pastor Jeannot then started the church after taking the leadership from his father in 1999. “The people in the community didn’t have nice clothes to go to church, and didn’t have a church close by, so I started a church so they can come however they are,” he shared.

The time spent caring and providing for the kids at Desire has not been free of struggle in a community plagued by lack of resources, in now what is a desert area after decades of using the surrounding forests to make charcoal for profit. When Global first met Pastor Jeannot, the kids and mamas were living in tents on property. However, Pastor is adamant about one thing, “When God calls someone, the person is supposed to follow God, because if you don’t want to follow God it’s not going to be good for you and God can do whatever he wants to make you follow him. You will meet some difficulties, but it should not stop you from doing what God asks you to do.”

The commitment to his calling and the community of Desire continues to be firmly rooted in sharing the Gospel with not just the kids in his care, but the community kids as well. It is not unusual for the community kids to come hang out with visitors at Desire, and they know they are welcome in church, with and without shoes, despite Haitian society’s expectation that church attendance requires shoes, slacks and collared shirts for boys, and dresses, or skirts, with no bare shoulders for girls.

Pastor Jeannot’s commitment extends to all ages in the community of Desire. Last summer, a movie night in the church starring a popular Haitian comedian brought out the entire community in a way Pastor had never seen before in his church. Outreach to the community has become a priority to Pastor, and also provides a unique opportunity to creatively welcome in a new way beyond the church body, which mostly consists of kids in Pastor’s care.

“When I see the kids going to church and worshipping the Lord, it makes me very happy because some of them would have never been able to go to church. When I see them reading a book, and I know that I am the one investing in their education and their learning how to read. It makes me very happy,” Pastor Jeannot said.

The Lord has led GO Project to support the leadership of Pastor Jeannot as he cares for economic and social orphans at his village in Desire northeast of Gonaives. At GO Project, individuals or communities can contribute to life care and education costs of the orphans on a monthly basis or through long-term support of the pastors.

lavaud

Pastor LavaudPastor Lavaud didn’t choose to go to Bible school and take the path of being a pastor on his own, it was a friend’s insistence that he would come with him that gained him the education that led him through moments leading to starting a church.

“I knew too much about pastors in Haiti to want to be a pastor, but God put me into it. He gave me two truths to prove it to me. One of my friends, a former school mate, was working for World Vision as a project director, and in 1997 they wanted him to go to Bible school but he said, ‘I’m not going without Lavaud.’ So the World Vision boss came to me and said, ‘You are going to school.’ Then all of a sudden I saw me going to school. The other thing is I used to be a Sunday school teacher and supervisor, and established a Bible study at the school. After 6 months, five of the students chose the Lord and I said, ‘Ok, you can go to any church.’ And they said, ‘No, you need to start a church.’ So I started the church in the year 2000 with those five, and now we have about 500 in the church. Those are the two proofs God wanted me to be a pastor,” Pastor Lavaud shared.

Some of pastor’s defining moments as a believer involved watching the lives of his schoolmates disintegrate in front of him. To him, “nothing is more important than drawing people to God. It helps my personal life, too. If you keep with the word, there is nothing you cannot do. I had three school mates of mine that were living the high life and they were taking drugs. They looked like crazy people at night. And I said, ‘God, take my worldly life and give me spiritual life,’ because if I was of the world and with my friends, I would be drawn to those bad things.”

Those choices led him to align himself so deeply with God’s word that it continues to be rooted in his daily life.

“Isaiah 41:10 says do not be dismayed and it is telling me right now that God will never forsake me and God is always with me and that I do not have to fear. The other verse for me right now is Psalm 3:5, I sleep and I wake up because my God is watching over me. This isn’t only for the kids, but for my church and all other people. I think of the other people as my other church, because God has me share with all,” Pastor said.

When talking about the kids in his care, Pastor will even go as far as expressing his dislike for children’s homes to house kids. His first desire is for them to be with their own families, but circumstances don’t always allow for that option. While they are in his care, he cannot help but also lead them to deeper knowledge of the character of God and how his word directs their lives.

“The hope I have for the kids is for them to know God. The earthquake left too many parentless and the hope is to give them a better tomorrow and for them to follow what the Bible says. It is the will of God that will make you a new person that is my hope,” Pastor said.

The Lord has led GO Project to support the leadership of Pastor Lavaud as he cares for economic and social orphans at his village in Hinche north of Port-au-Prince. At GO Project, individuals or communities can contribute to life care and education costs of the orphans on a monthly basis or through long-term support of the pastors.

bertin

Pastor BertinPastor Bertin was called to the area of La Hatte through a non-existent local church in the community. It was a love for the Lord, and to see others love the Lord, that brought him to La Hatte going house by house and talking about Jesus.

“I was not a pastor before I started the church, when I met the 4 people that wanted a church in the community I started that church and started going to seminary at the same time. I did think about becoming a pastor, it was not part of my dream. When God calls you, he will make you do what he asks you to do however he wants you to do it. You cannot refuse God. When I went there to talk to people about the Gospel, it was the first time I had ever been there. The sign for me was meeting the 4 people that were refusing to go to church because they did not have a local church to worship,” said Pastor.

He had been given the land by a man in the community that felt led to give a piece of land to a pastor for a new church. A school quickly followed the start of the church after Pastor Bertin noticed several of the children in the area had never had the possibility to go to school. It was through the school that he says God showed him that there was a need to care for kids in the community in one location as he saw kids showed up hungry, without clothes and shoes.

“The reason why I think it is important to care for kids, when they don’t go to school and don’t have anyone to care for them, is it is bad for society,” Pastor said.

In Haiti, and most in rural areas, pastors are confronted with the realities of voodoo practices within their communities. Typically, pastors and the voodoo priests find themselves on opposite sides of many issues within the community, however, pastor reflects on a conversation that surprised him, “The voodoo priest shook my hand and said, ‘Pastor, if I had money, I would pay you for what you do. Our lives are in danger, because of kids who are growing up without school and they are a danger for society. Some of them will be beaten up because of stealing people’s stuff, and some of them could go to Port-au-Prince to be gangsters.’ The reason the voodoo priest said that is not because we had a good relationship with him, but because he knew I was doing something good for the community.”

That good in the community continues to be done as Pastor leads the kids in his care to love the Lord so deeply that they are drawn into leadership of their local church, as well as outside of their own community to minister in other towns as a type of mission trip.

“Because the kids are part of the church, they participate in every activity of the church. In the same way other church members have access to go on mission trips, the kids have access to mission trips. Mission trips are important within the church to share the Gospel. When I go on a mission trip with the kids, they are doing the same thing the other church members are. We give responsibility to each person to do something on the trip, and they kids all share in that responsibility. Secondly, it is good to include the kids in the whole society so they know that what everyone else does, they can do it as well,” pastor shared.

Once you step onto the village property at La Hatte, an overwhelming sense of God’s presence is immediately electric. When I pointed out this observation to pastor while we were talking, he gently smiled and responded with, “The kids all get along at the village. They do not fight. God makes it peaceful here for us. We pray a lot. I ask God in my prayers to protect the kids in the village. I want you to pray for me so God can give me more wisdom and knowledge so I can continue to lead the people I am leading.”

His dedication to prayer extends to specific prayers for the ministry of GO Project as well, “When we pray we always pray for Global. I always pray for God to give Global more vision, and more love for the kids. Global loves kids and God will bless them for what they are doing. I always pray for Global, because they are doing something positive. The way the Global team reacts is really positive, and I am asking God to help them to remain the same.”

The Lord has led GO Project to support the leadership of Pastor Bertin as he cares for economic and social orphans at his village in La Hatte outside the city of Cayes. At GO Project, individuals or communities can contribute to life care and education costs of the orphans on a monthly basis or through long-term support of the pastors.