A Vision of the Kingdom of God
Land of Mountains
From an airplane, the first glimpse of Haiti is one of mountain after mountain, a fitting view since “Haiti” literally means “land of mountains.” Even more fitting are the words Haitians use to describe the country’s experience among the world’s powers (as well as the country’s geography): “Dèyè mòn gen mòn” or “behind mountains are more mountains.” Just when you think you have scaled one mountain, you realize more mountains remain ahead of you.
In Haiti, the first and only country in the world created through a successful slave revolution, the meddling of the Western powers of the world have, more often than not, made life difficult for the Haitians, whether through blockades, an indemnity forced upon them by their former colonizers, or the U.S. takeover of Haiti’s government from 1915 to 1934. Many unbecoming things have been printed about Haiti and its residents in the past and still today; Haiti has been put down by foe and “friend” alike. Yet, if this were the only picture that one had of Haiti and her citizens, it would be incredibly incomplete. Haitians—like any people—have their fair share of challenges, but they also have many good things happening as well. It is in this context, in this country, that the Haitian Timoun Foundation works and partners with people, as witnesses to the Kingdom of God, so that all may have abundant life.
Our group of nine seminary students, three church members, one pastor, and one seminary president came to Haiti to see and experience a number of ministries supported by the Haitian Timoun Foundation (HTF). In Creole, “timoun” means “children,” and so, each of these ministries supported by HTF, in some way, benefits the lives of Haiti’s children. HTF visits each ministry multiple times a year, allowing for the formation of real solidarity and real friendships. Each ministry is already led by or ultimately will be led by Haitians, since it is through the Haitians themselves that Haiti will thrive. We came to Haiti to learn about authentic relationship, real solidarity, visionary leadership, and what it means to have a missional mindset. There were plenty of examples of all of these, yet what stands out the most is the relationship aspect of working with the people of Haiti, the experience of getting to know them, and the idea that this communion is, indeed, a foretaste of the feast to come.
Our first stop on this journey was Wings of Hope, a home for children with disabilities. Many of the children at Wings of Hope were abandoned as babies. People found them and then delivered them to Wings of Hope. Thus, this is a place where those who are rejected become, in Christ, cornerstones of community life.
Walking into Wings of Hope, we were greeted with an explosion of joy. What followed can only be described as a grand celebration. The children ran, laughed, sang, danced, and played with us. They were the greatest possible ambassadors on our first day in what was for us a strange and new land. Eventually, after supper, the children had to go to bed, but in the morning, we awoke to find them patiently waiting for us. The celebration continued, culminating in a Eucharist service where the joy and love of God were proclaimed, ringing out between the hills in this suburb of Port Au Prince. God continued to bless us with abundant life in the midst of people who had been threatened by death.
In the midst of the sprawling city of Port Au Prince, we visited HELP, the Haitian Education and Leadership Program, which gives need- and merit-based scholarships to the youth of Haiti who want to attend university. HELP also provides housing, English classes, internships, and leadership classes for its students.
We witnessed a presentation by HELP’s leaders, who explained how Haiti has experienced a “brain-drain,” and how they are working to rectify the situation. In a conversation with the students over lunch, they shared their passions and hopes with us. One student talked about his call to become an architect, explaining that after he witnessed the devastation of the earthquake in 2010, he wanted to learn how to make buildings, so that he could rebuild Haiti in a stronger, more resilient way. Luke McSurley, a first-year M.Div. Student at TLS, recalls our visit to HELP in this way: “With so many of the educated in Haiti leaving upon graduation, these HELP students are instilled with the motivation to give back to their country by developing the roots from which they came. It was truly inspiring to witness the enthusiasm of these students in an environment where education is viewed as gold. The pride that reflected radiantly off their smiles gave me the gift of never taking my own education for granted.”
The Central Plateau
On our last full day in Haiti, we boarded a bus and traveled through the mountains to the Central Plateau of Haiti, where some of the poorest people of the Western Hemisphere live. We visited CLM, Chemen Lavi Miyò, which, as part of Fonkoze (Haiti’s largest micro finance organization), works to assist the women of this area in their climb out of poverty. Over the course of an 18-month program, CLM offers educational training to women and their families, and provides them with a water filter, a latrine, two different types of animals with which to generate income, and healthcare provided through Partners in Health. CLM respects the dignity of these women, offering them assistance through case workers, but recognizing that the ultimate success of the program belongs to them.
After a brief stop at the CLM headquarters, we drove out into the countryside, walked through a beautiful pasture, and met our first family of the day. The mother was proud to show us around her newly-constructed home and to demonstrate her knowledge of the water filter. She beamed with joy and gratitude for the assistance of CLM, though, as stated before, the results belonged to her. As the day progressed we visited two more families, each as joyous and radiant as the last.
About CLM’s work, Pastor Doug Hill, of Abiding Hope in Littleton, Colorado, wrote: “CLM exemplifies true death and resurrection over an 18-month period with women who were once the scorn of their communities. Through mutual love, investment, and trust, these women become confident leaders bringing new life to their families and those around them. CLM demonstrates that poverty eradication lies within our reach. The only thing in our way is a lack of radical generosity among our U.S. community.” To visit CLM and the Central Plateau is to visit a harsh environment where it is unlikely to find life in full bloom, yet somehow life is overflowing and thriving.
These new friends demonstrated for us new ways to be disciples in the world, new ways to live out our vocations as Christians, and new ways in which to recognize how it is that the “last” might become “first” and the “first” become “last.” To visit Haiti with the Haitian Timoun Foundation, meeting its partners and companions, is to witness one more way that the Gospel functions and impacts our world for the better, for the Kingdom of God, which is always in-breaking in new and exciting ways, running from mountain to mountain and overflowing with life.
By Mike Hanck
By Mike Hanck