(Left) The Rev. Dr. L. George Abrams pictured at the Bishop’s Symposium in 2012. (Center) Nurse Caroline Ellis (right) is applying a fluoride to a child’s mouth. Children have to keep the tray in their mouth for two minutes. A challenging part in this process is trying explain this procedure to these in Creole. We treated over 100 children in one day. (Right) In Gebeau, Haiti, a local druggist restocks previously empty shelves with medical supplies. Abrams recommends purchasing a kit provided by MAP International that is around $400, but with $10,000 worth of supplies.
Step By Step: Ministry in Haiti
By the Rev. Dr. L. George Abrams
I was part of medical/missionary teams visiting Haiti in 2002, 2003, and 2005. (A visit in 2004 was cancelled due to political unrest in Haiti). The teams were under the leadership of Dr. Doyle Ellis, a dentist, and his wife and registered nurse, Caroline Ellis. They are from the Vincennes District, Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church.
Dr. Ellis was a delegate to The United Methodist General Conference in the 1970s and sponsored the legislation that created the United Methodist Volunteer in Mission teams. He has been leading teams to Haiti since then. Through his extensive connections in Haiti, we were able to accomplish our work, assigned to us by The Haiti Methodist Church, and then have dinner in the Hotel Montana with some of the descendants of the original French families. In Haiti, 1% of the population controls 45% of the wealth (Aristide, p. 238).
Haiti is a country that is divided by “de facto apartheid” (ibid, p. 236). Language decides whether you are part of the elite 6% of the seven million people who run the country or part of the 94% who speak Haitian Creole. “The polarizations are many: literate/illiterate, rich/poor, black/white, male/female, those who have clean water to drink/those who don’t (ibid, p. 236). “Only 20% of the population has access to clean drinking water” (ibid, p. 236).
Haitian Independence Day was January 1, 1804. That is the date that Haiti officially became a democratic nation. Alexandre Petion invited the The Methodist Church to come into Haiti in 1817 and it’s the oldest protestant church in Haiti. In Les Cayes, we built a third story on a Methodist private school next to a church that was founded in 1847.
“By law, education is free and compulsory in Haiti for children between the ages of 7 and 13” (Warnock and Dimmitt, p. 3). However, churches and communities provide school for 85 percent of the children. The private school uniform color for Methodist students is yellow. Private schools are so important that one of the non-Methodist Haitian presidents sent his children to a Methodist school. There are 105 Methodist schools, a Methodist teachers college, and 136 Methodist churches in Haiti (Warnock and Dimmitt, p. 6).
Haiti is economically poor. “Ours is an economy of dependence, a restavek (unpaid domestic workers) economy.” (Aristide, page 236) At one time Chiquita Banana had plantations in Haiti, but they relocated in the 1960s-1970s. Haiti then exported bauxite until resources were exhausted. Cruise ships made regular stops in Haiti until 1980 when the international press published that AIDS was coming from Haiti (which was discovered to be false). Today some cruise ships have returned. In 1980, agriculture was 50% of gross national product, but by 2000 it was only 28%. A shortage of water is severely limiting agriculture. (Aristide, 238) “We can trace the roots of our current ecological crisis to Haiti’s heavy debt to France in the 19th century, which encouraged the logging of Haiti’s tropical forests for export to Europe. Today only 3% of our forests remain.” (Aristide 237)
Approximately 80% of the population is officially unemployed. However, Haitians are remarkably creative in finding ways to work. Many live off the land (what we would call, “subsistence living”). Approximately 70% of Haiti’s population lives in the “countryside” (outside of the city) and are known as “moun adeyo,” literally, “outside people.” (Aristide, p. 237)
Port-au-Prince was a planned city and was built for 600,000 people. Today, there are an estimated 3 million people in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. In 2005, the General Board of Global Ministries maintained a “UMCOR/Methodist Guest House of the Eglise Methodiste d’Haiti” in Port-au-Prince to assist Mission Teams from America. We stayed there on our way to and from the countryside.
Under Dr. Ellis’s leadership, our mission teams were limited to about 12 people. With the major economic, political, and logistical challenges in the country, small teams are encouraged. Rain alone can severely change plans. Our translator was Leonard Jean Gilles, who still lives in Haiti and is available to help with language issues.
I really liked the mission trips to Haiti. I found the people very friendly, but so poor. I enjoyed worshiping in the Haitian Methodist Churches and assisting with baptism and Holy Communion. I highly recommend taking a box containing $10,000 worth of medications supplied by MAP International (cost is about $400 per box). It gave me a great sense of accomplishment to fill the empty shelves of a pharmacy in Gebeau with the medications that I had carried with me. Otherwise, I felt that whatever we could do for the Methodist Church of Haiti was just a drop in their bucket of needs. On the other hand, a long journey starts with the first step. I was glad to help take one small step.
1. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, “The Water of Life,” The Christian Century, March 1, 2000, 236-238.
2. Warnock, Ted and Carla, Dimmitt, Joann, “A Handbook: Coming to Haiti in Mission, Nov. 2000.
3. MAP International, P/O Box 215000, Brunswick, GA, 912-265-6010, www.MAP.org
4. Doyle and Caroline Ellis, 1705 South Main Street, Vincennes, IN 47591, home, 812-882-2716, cell 812-890-7455
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