by Rex Bullock, ICCM Regional Coordinator for Haiti
January-March 2016 issue Free Methodist World Missions Pulse
The old tree still stands, looking stately and very much alive in the courtyard of the Parc Chretian Free Methodist Church in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. It was under those branches I sat with Bishop Eliador Desvariste, newly elected bishop, as he recounted the history of the FMC in Haiti. “Under this tree was where it all started with just 12 people 50 years ago. In June 1964, Bishop Walter Kendall visited Haiti and it was right here where you and I are sitting that the Free Methodist Church in Haiti was born,” he said. “That’s a pretty small beginning when you think that today we have over 27,000 members and approximately 100,000 attend Sunday worship services.”
I was awed to think of what has happened in the intervening years, much due to missionaries such as Nahum Perkins, the first missionary to Haiti, and the legendary Maxine Riddle, whose footprints are all over Haitian soil. Under Maxine’s leadership, International Child Care Ministries was opened, which now sponsors more than 7,000 Haitian children and operates 60 schools. Parc Chretian School, which Maxine founded, educates 600 elementary and secondary students. Maxine said, “I want the FMC in Haiti to become big, very big, and I want it to train leaders all over the land.” The Haiti FMC is well on the way to becoming the kind of large church she envisioned, and it trains leaders in greater numbers every year. There are almost 100 fully organized churches and 20 new church plants. In addition to elementary and secondary schools scattered throughout Haiti, a Bible college, as well as a thriving university, Haiti Providence University, which opened in 2012, train leaders.
Knowing Haiti has withstood natural disasters, epidemics and ruthless dictatorships, I asked Bishop Desvariste how the church survived. “The earthquake of 2010 was our test,” he replied. “Over 200,000 people died and about 20 Free Methodists were killed, including missionary Jeanne Acheson-Munos and two other American volunteers. Many were severely injured, including my wife. It seemed there was no hope. We were done. But one week later, the churches all over Haiti stood up and said, ‘We will move on and grow. There is hope in Jesus.’ The earthquake destroyed our buildings and many of our friends, but it did not destroy our hearts.” At Parc Chretian Church, where the bishop is senior pastor, more than 1,000 people have accepted Christ since the tragedy, and today an engineering team is studying ways to enlarge the structure because weekly 5,000 or more people crowd into this life-giving center in the heart of Port-au-Prince to worship the Risen Lord.
It was a great moment in the history of the Haitian church when in June 2015 it became a full general conference and Desvariste was elected bishop before all the Haitian pastors, superintendents, Canadian Bishop Keith Elford and FMC-USA Bishop David Roller who had worked with the Haiti leaders to bring about this moment. Hundreds of people cheered and praised God. It’s a new day in this strife-ridden country. Under that old tree, which has witnessed so much across these 50 years, Bishop Desvariste gave me a bear hug and, with tears in his eyes, said, “There’s hope for the church in Haiti. God is with us.”