We arrived late afternoon on Monday. The Women’s Conference had been advertised on LaGonave Island on Tuesday-Wednesday unexpectedly, so our women’s team of Dotty Knoepflein, Sonja Dickherber, Beth Kassebaum, and Jan Shine hit the ground running. We searched the storehouse for items that had been shipped over in a container previously plus our six very full luggages to sort out what we needed for each day. Previous conferences started out slow with less than 100 on the first day, yet we had planned for 150. God outdoes our plan, and more than 200 women arrived each day.
Welcome gifts were handmade cloth bags filled with goodies. Though we didn’t have enough door gifts for everyone, they all had a chance to win prizes during games. We started with half hour of praise and worship each day followed by games. For women who find little reason for joy, laughter is a gift. Games were funny, starting with each woman being asked to blow up a balloon until it popped in her face. First poppers won prizes but everyone laughed outrageously. Then 10 women were randomly selected and only when they got up front did they learn they were contestants in a dance contest. We did a dance-off with the “top 4” and the audience voted on winner by applause.
Day 2 started with a craft. We had given each woman a t-shirt and scissors and Beth led them in making those into totes. However, many of the women put them on before we had a chance to tell them they were to be cut. In need of clothes, they preferred the t-shirt over the tote bag so only half of the ladies actually cut theirs. The first four did a modeling stroll down the center aisle and Pastor Joaquim joined in, easily winning the strutting contest but NOT the prize! Then a relay race with two teams walking the aisle with a ball between their knees. They figured out quickly that if they moved the ball up between their thighs they could practically run. Everyone won! We had hidden numbers in their gifts so we gave all the prizes away with a drawing. Interestingly they chose the feminine things first and not the practical things. Women are women everywhere and we want to look pretty. Their daily snacks were tied up in large scarves with descriptive words from Ephesians 1 on them: Beautiful, courageous, strong, accepted, beloved, chosen, redeemed, forgiven in Kreyol language.
Fun and laughter are good, but the Word of God is what will remain. Our whole team taught them about women in the lineage of Jesus and those qualities God saw in them that enabled them to thrive in very difficult circumstances. The central message is that each of us has a story that is important to God. He has always been part of our story, even when we didn’t notice His faithfulness to be with us always. They were asked to create their own story rope using fabric scraps tied onto a cord representing key events good & bad. That didn’t go as well as we had hoped because they had difficulty sharing the fabric and also trusting one another with their painful memories. We trust God that they will remember the stories and think about their own differently from now on.
Day 2 teaching was on truth and lies. Each of us has believed a lie about ourselves at some point. Often those include our lack of value, our appearance being unsatisfactory, not being smart or capable, or needing to yield our bodies upon demand. Each of those lies was disproven with scripture about how God sees us as magnificent creations made in His image and lacking no good thing. We ended the conference offering prayer in 4 areas: provision, physical healing, spiritual growth, and recovery from abuse. They flocked to the four team members by group and received prayer and a personal touch. We know that God hears us when we ask according to His will. We trust that lives have been changed because of those prayers and their belief in His power.
On Thursday the whole team from FCFC and Reach Church went into town to serve at one of the eight feeding stations. The children are required to bring their own dish and often siblings must take turns using the bowl. All squat on the ground and eat with their fingers. The youngest ones often only have clothing on the top half of their bodies. Only children 6 and under in the Saline Flats are fed because they are the most vulnerable and resources are limited. This is the only meal these children will get all day. Signs of malnutrition, such as orange hair and bloated stomachs, are gone since Celebrate Jesus began feeding them. Pastor Chris Meyer and Jake Sewell of Reach Church took a turn dishing up rice & beans. We gave out toys of dolls, stuffed animals, and hotwheels but the local Haitian leader, JZ, had to quell some fights as they compared gifts. This is to be expected amidst such poverty and we try to be careful to make gifts comparable. Note for future: girls want Barbies!!
On Friday we tried something new. We gathered the oldest high school girls from grades 11 through 13 for a ministry session. God provided so well. We had assumed we would have leftovers from the Women’s Conference but because attendance was so high we had nothing left. So we went to the CJ “ya-ya store” which is what Sonja calls their storage room. We searched through all the tubs of goodies previous mission teams had brought over. We found plenty of gifts to give, including pretty gold bracelets with two charms on them. One was a heart that said “love” and the other was a tree. This was significant because the teaching included the “lies” stored on the trees (neurons) of our brain and the truth of God’s word that dispels those lies. Only God can do such very special things! We also found tablets which we needed. We asked the girls to write the answers to two questions. First was their hopes and dreams…what they wanted to be doing in ten years. Sadly, it was very difficult for most of the 33 girls to write. They simply don’t dare to hope or dream for something beyond what they have seen their mothers or grandmothers do or be. But on the question of what qualities they would like to have in their future husband, writing was fast and furious. Only 3 girls were willing to share what they had written. That gave us the opportunity to discuss how valuable they are as tri-part beings… spirit, soul, and body… and the importance of waiting for marriage to a godly man before sex. Sonja taught about covenant and how God had made women’s bodies special to reflect a covenant relationship. Though they were quiet, they were not still. Lots of wiggling going on during that very direct talk. It was unanimous… they want us to do this again each time we come.
On Saturday while Jerry and I held meetings with staff, Beth, Dottie, Jake, and Jan spent hours at the Saline Flats ministering door to door. They took turns leading prayer for healing, provision, favor, and for deliverance from the entrapment they feel in their lives right now. There are no jobs on LaGonave and everyone suffers lack. Still, almost all said they were followers of Jesus though often answered truthfully that they do not pray. They were able to lead two men and two women in prayers of salvation and relationship with Jesus. Word traveled quickly that they were in the area and men and women began to seek them out. An older man asked them to come with him to his house to pray for a sick relative and they walked through alleys and finally came to his one room home where his elderly father lay on the floor propped up on one arm. He was wearing a catheter which needed to come out but the local hospital won’t do it unless cash is paid up front. They gave what little cash they had brought and anointed him with oil as it says in James 5:14 and prayed for his healing. As they left the house his small yard was filled with children looking for gifts and candy. They obliged but it became a hectic scene as even parents flocked to get something and they had to depart. A woman probably in her late 20s was waiting for them asking for prayer. They followed her through the alleys into an open area and saw the problem immediately. One of her breasts was greatly enlarged to the point that she looked lopsided. They prayed for her healing and also encouraged her to see a doctor. The challenge for all of them is that the local hospitals operate on a “cash first” basis and no one has any. The two hospitals, including one newly built, have no x-ray equipment for diagnosis.
Her only medical path is to go to Port au Prince on the main island and put her name on the list to be seen. While she waits for a turn, money for transportation, lodging, and food must be provided. Then treatment must be paid for. Many people die on LaGonave of treatable illnesses because they have no money to pay. This painful situation is what we have lived with all these years ministering there. Jesus said you will always have the poor among you. So we do what we can do to ease their suffering, knowing that we can’t do it all. This made me very sad as I felt so connected to this young woman. Please pray with us for God to do what He is able to do and heal her. It was a blessing to send them out, trusting the Holy Spirit to minister through them. Mark 16:18 says that believers will be able to lay their hands on the sick and they will be well. He asks only that we obey; He does the restoring. We trust His Word and we rejoice.
All the while this was going on, the expansion of the church building was continuing. We watched as Jerry lead his remarkable team of “Jerry’s men,” Joseph, CanCan, JZ and a few others. They were joined by Pastor Chris and Jake. They were like David’s mighty men. They started work at 6:30 am and worked until 5 pm. In the heat of Haiti’s summer season, they busted rock with a sledgehammer, hauled concrete mix in a wheel barrow and mixed it by hand. Then the “master builder” in charge of building the rock wall would refine each piece of rock with a hammer until it fit perfectly into the spot he had planned for it. This process reminded us of I Peter 2:5 “And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple.” Each of us has a spot planned out for us, but it takes busting and then some chiseling to get our rough edges off until we fit perfectly into the wall of God’s kingdom.
This beautifully diverse team of men built the overhead beams and laid the tin roof. They built frames to pour the concrete base and top for each section of wall. They worked in perfect unity. In only 5 days they completed the structure. Before we return in September, the steel grid which provides for both window and security will be built and ready to be placed. When all is complete, the Selebre Jezi Egles (church) will hold 500. As we stood in the church Sunday morning, their only request was that the expansion be filled with new believers.
It was fitting that our final day on the island included baptisms of one man and one woman. These are done in the Canal de La Gonave where a dozen families gather for a Sunday afternoon swim and a few watercraft are seen. Dr. Zacky, the physician in charge of the Celebrate Jesus Children’s Clinic, joined the ministry 6 years ago. Little by little, Pastors Joaquim has shown him the Kingdom of God by his example and teaching the Word. Now he was asking to be immersed by Pastor Sonja and it was a joy to join with Pastor Joaquim in his baptism.
Jerry and Sonja