Haiti Is Their Jerusalem
Last weekend, at the invitation of Pastor Ines Frankin, Susan and David Watkins (co-leaders of the Haiti Ministry) had the privilege of joining Pastor Franklin onstage in the Chapel as part of her message, “Rebuilding the Heart” (#7 in the Favor with Kings series). Referring to them as a “modern Nehemiah couple”, Pastor Franklin interviewed the Watkins about their work in Haiti and asked them how it has affected their hearts and their understanding of God’s love. To listen to the message, including the interview, click on either of the links below:
Following are the questions posed to the couple and their responses:
1. How did Mariners get involved with Haiti?
Mariners relationship with Haiti began with the earthquake in 2010. Within days of the quake, Mariners had sent a disaster relief team down to help with medical relief and to begin the process of identifying a local church with which we could partner long-term. It didn’t take long to find Pastor Samuel Metelus and the Church of God by Faith. Pastor Samuel’s father Joseph heads up a network of 24 churches, with the main church being located just south of Port-au-Prince. In the quake, the church and everything around it was demolished. The site became home to a tent-city of 350 families who lived there for 18 months. With Mariners help, the Meteluses provided water to all of these families and slowly started to rebuild. At the same time, Pastor Samuel was caring for 52 children who had either been found wandering alone in the tent city, or who had been brought to him by friends and family who knew they had nowhere to go.
2. When and how did you get involved?
In 2012 our lives changed forever when we joined a Mariners faith adventure to Haiti. By that time, the decision had been made to build a children’s home in southern Haiti where the children could grow up together as a family. On that trip, we had the honor to bless a 2.5-acre parcel of land that had just been purchased in Torbeck that would become the future home of the Glory Glory Center. What’s ironic today, in light of the devastation that’s just occurred from Hurricane Matthew, is that the elders in Port-au-Prince decided to move the children to the south so they could enjoy a better life. They wanted them to have room to run and play…to be by the sea…to enjoy the lush, tropical landscape. It’s an area they knew well because it’s where the Metelus family is from and where 14 of the Church of God by Faith churches are located. The south was the “bread basket” of Haiti, where the fields were full of corn, beans, and rice, and mangoes, bananas, avocados, and other fruit trees grew in abundance. Unfortunately, that’s all gone.
3. Lots of people go on mission trips and say, “That was great”, and never go back. What caused you to fall in love with Haiti?
We never expected to fall in love with Haiti, or to lead the Haiti Ministry, but after that first trip, Haiti was always on our mind. We started helping to raise funds to build the children’s home, we started reading books about how to help the poor without hurting the poor, and the conviction in our hearts grew that this was something God was calling us to. Even so, the first time we were asked to take on a leadership role, we said no. A supporting role seemed much more manageable! But the Holy Spirit kept nudging us, and when we were asked a second time, we agreed, and that’s when our whole world changed.
4. How has your “whole world changed?”
Over the past four years, we’ve witnessed God’s love and provision for His Haitian children. Through the generosity of folks here at Mariners, Pastor Samuel turned a cornfield into a children’s home, complete with four dorms, a kitchen and cafeteria, and a church that doubles as a medical clinic and community center. As he raises his kids to be the future leaders of Haiti,
Sam leads by example, giving tirelessly of himself to the community. He’s created jobs, reconciled families, inspired local youth, developed a micro-finance program, started a Bible school, and more. It wasn’t until Dave and I spent three months with Sam last winter in Haiti, that we truly understood how fully God is using his servant Samuel to bring hope to his corner of the country.
5. Wait, you moved to Haiti for 3 months? Why would you do that?
We had to. We had to put ourselves in Sam’s shoes to really understand the issues that he and his team face on a daily basis…so that we could become a better ministry partner. For three months, we witnessed Sam’s impact on his community, and we came to trust 100% in his God-given vision for Haiti. We became part of his world, which is why it’s so hard for us now to see what’s happened to the South as a result of Hurricane Matthew.
6. I grew up in Puerto Rico. And I know that every year, numerous hurricanes pass by the Caribbean. Haiti is affected by hurricanes all the time. Why was hurricane Matthew so devastating?
This was the strongest hurricane to hit the island in 52 years. 2.1 million people were affected by the storm. 1.4 million are in need of humanitarian aid. The land is decimated. 80% of buildings in Les Cayes (the largest town near the Glory Glory Center) were destroyed, heavily damaged, or flooded. There’s 100% crop loss in some areas. In others, 80% of the livestock was lost. It will take 10 years for the large fruit trees to return to full production. The hurricane dealt a devastating blow.
7. Did it affect Pastor Sam and the children?
Praise God, Sam, his team, and all of the children survived the storm, along with many others in the community who sheltered with them at the Glory Glory Center. But they did sustain damage…They lost a portion of the perimeter wall, and the cafeteria and the church lost their roofs, and many soft goods were destroyed by the rain or washed away in the tidal surge (including mattresses, linens, clothing, shoes, books and school supplies, medical supplies, etc.).
8. What is Pastor Samuel going to do?
Sam plans to rebuild, and we’ll be helping him to do that, but first, he’s already busy helping people who didn’t weather the storm as well as he and the kids did. Just days after the storm, [Dave] flew to Port-au-Prince with money for Sam to use for immediate disaster relief. With that money, he replenished the Glory Glory Center’s food store (which had been ruined by the rain), and then began distributing food to nearby villages. As of yesterday, Sam had distributed rice, beans, cooking oil, and water to 1,400 families in 5 different towns. As long as we’re able to continue sending him funds, he will continue his food distribution, as well as begin to help individual families rebuild with small gifts of plywood, sheet metal, and wire. He’ll hire local workers to help with repairs, and he’ll begin the process of replanting in and around the Glory Glory Center.
9. How has your involvement with this God-sized project changed your heart?
How hasn’t it? It’s affected us to our core. We have so much more empathy and compassion for those who are hurting. We realize that everyone has a story, that nothing is as simple as it seems on the surface. We’ve learned to put aside our assumptions and our judgements. We’ve been humbled and forced to admit that we’re not in control…and we’ve been inspired by those who demonstrate unwavering faith in a God who is bigger than their circumstances.
10. What have you personally learned about God’s love as a result of your work in Haiti?
In Haiti, we found our Jerusalem.
God loves us so much, He is calling us to a story bigger than we could have imagined. Once we leaned into it, serving and helping in Haiti became a part of our family’s DNA. Moreover, we were given the gift of experiencing how another culture worships and praises God…showcasing the fact that His love knows no bounds, is vast and pure. Through serving, through sacrifice, through pain, God shows His love for us. Once our hearts were opened, there was no going back. We will continue down the path God has lovingly created for us, always anticipating the amazing ways He will show His love for us and all of His children.