Answering the call to Haiti
by Norm Miller
Continuing its ministry in Haiti, Truett-McConnell College sent a team of 24 students and staff to the impoverished, Voodoo-ridden nation during Christmas break, Jan 11-18.
The students, each a resident assistant for other students living in dorms, shared the gospel of Jesus Christ, and ministered in villages and an orphanage through Vacation Bible School activities and personal, one-on-one attention with adults and children.
In addition to gospel-centered ministry, the team experienced "bonding, and enjoyed a cohesive esprit de corps," said Jonathan Morris, mission team leader and director of student development at Truett-McConnell College.
"Mission trips help prepare our students for ministry and emphasize the contagious nature of missions," said Morris, adding that some RAs had never been on a mission trip before.
By definition, a missions venture is outwardly focused, but Morris also noted an internal component: "We were hoping to foster spiritual growth, and to encourage the evangelistic hearts in our resident assistants because of their leadership responsibilities among other students."
Every morning, after quick and cold showers, the students prepared mentally and spiritually to share the gospel. Morris said the team was "excited to share our faith with Haitians, but what happens to that excitement when we get back home to our everyday lives?"
"We wanted the students to grow in their willingness and ability to share their faith always – not just on the mission field – and wanted them to see how God can equip them and help them share the gospel."
"We hope that sharing the Christian faith becomes a part of their lifestyles," he added. "Just because we are not on a mission trip every day does not mean that we are not on a mission field every day."
"That said, there should be no difference in the way we started our days in Haiti in preparing to share the gospel, and the way we start them in Cleveland," he said. "Nothing should change."
"We do not live our Christian lives by chance. We will not accidentally share our faith. We will not grow closer to God by chance. We have to plan to do those things," Morris said, noting that one must also plan and prepare daily to tell others about Jesus.
Poverty and the American dream
Nursing student Kristen Loy told TMNews, "There are two major life lessons that the Lord taught me while serving in Haiti. The first thing the Lord taught me is that material things do not matter."
For Morris, the comparative poverty-to-affluence of Haiti and the U.S. provided a significant perspective adjuster: "The American dream is not the Christian dream. The Christian dream is not to have a big house, a fine car, and a nice retirement package. The Christians in Haiti will never have any of that stuff, but they can be used of God just as effectively as he can use us."
Morris also wondered: "Am I chasing what God wants, or am I chasing what I want?"
Truett-McConnell's associate professor of missions and evangelism, Dr. Van Sanders, said the mission trip "exposed me to overpowering, dense, stifling poverty. But in the midst of this poverty, I met Haitian believers who had deep joy and a rich relationship with Christ. This reminded me of Jesus' words "to take heed ... for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses." (Luke 12:15) Jesus is my life, not the stuff I own."
Loy said the orphanage children "have nothing according to the world's standards, but if they have Jesus, they have anything and everything they could ever need. Their joy was contagious, and I will remember that for the rest of my life."
"The children would just run up to us and jump into our arms." Some of the older orphanage residents had chores, such as washing dishes and clothes, and TM students pitched in to help them.
Noting the second lesson God taught her, Loy said she would keep following God's path for her life "no matter what the cost."
"In addition to the material poverty, I also encountered debilitating spiritual poverty among many Haitians," Sanders said. "Some of our students who were involved in a cross cultural communications class would go with me each day, home-to-home, in nearby communities, sharing the gospel."
"Quickly, it was evident to all of us that we were not wrestling with flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers (Ephesians 6:12)," he said. "There was much confusion regarding Jesus Christ. The combination of Voodoo beliefs, various unbiblical expressions of Christianity, and the simple love of sinful lifestyles posed formidable barriers to communicating the gospel. Our hearts were broken as we saw the depths of this lostness and hopelessness."
Morris said there was "no way" for him to say "enough good things about Dr. Sanders and what he added to this mission trip – his leadership and insights. He helped us understand and experience the culture."
Sanders exposed the prevalent religious syncretism, saying that, though most everyone will say they are Christian, they still will consult Voodoo priests and make sacrifices to please the spirits.
"One of the locals told us the population is about 50 percent Roman Catholic and about 50 percent Christian, but 100 percent Voodoo," Morris said. "The fear of the Voodoo spirits is crippling for the people. Many proclaiming Christians put their hope and trust in the Voodoo priests and spirits – not in the work of Jesus Christ on Calvary."
Some of the team actually visited a Voodoo priest's home, and the local interpreters for the team, who claimed to be Christians, were obviously afraid to be there, Morris noted. "When we started toward the gate, our interpreters walked the other way." Morris said he had to insist that the interpreters stay with the team. "But they stood behind Dr. Sanders as he talked with the priest," Morris said.
Morris believes nothing less than a radically evident gospel transformation will overcome the stranglehold that Voodoo has on Haiti.
Expressing gratitude for a college whose leadership is focused on evangelism and missions, Morris said such a commitment affords students the opportunity not only to learn about missions in the classroom, but also to engage in missions at home and abroad.
Loy concluded: "If I were to describe the trip in one word, it would be: incredible. Haiti was an awesome trip for our Residence Life Staff. We got to watch the Lord work; we had fun sharing God's love, singing, and playing with all the children, and we got to grow closer to each other and closer to the Lord."
Said Sanders, "Sharing life together with the students and staff for a week was extremely rewarding. The fellowship we had through serving others for Christ's sake is almost impossible to replicate back home, where most of the time we live our lives primarily as individuals rather than as community. I had a taste of true, New Testament koinonia that I will never forget."