This post was written by CHC Co-founder, Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, on January 12, 2011, the one-year anniversary of the Haitian earthquake.
It only took thirty-seven seconds.
In thirty-seven seconds, the frailty of life on this earth was shockingly apparent as a massive earthquake destroyed or damaged half of the buildings in and around Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
I am in Haiti with Pastor James MacDonald, founder and president of Churches Helping Churches, on the one-year anniversary of the quake. Today, under the leadership of our director, Thomas Kim, CHC hosted a church service in front of what remains of the collapsed capitol building. Television and radio stations aired the service, with the latter reporting fifty thousand people in attendance before the crowds had even finished pouring in for the event. People packed into the streets around the open-air stage, standing in the hot sun with only the food and water they carried, to spend the better part of a day learning about Jesus and worshiping in song.
“There is virtually no reconstruction underway anywhere and no sense of urgency.”
It was a day of stark contrasts. The city remains in ruins. The parks are filled with tent cities where people sleep under tarps without even the most basic of supplies. Estimates are that over a million people are living in tents around Port-au-Prince. Since I was there a year ago, little visible progress can be seen. Rubble has been cleared from the roads and bodies that were easily accessible have been collected while the rest remain untouched under collapsed buildings. There is virtually no reconstruction underway anywhere and no sense of urgency. Without much of a functional government or military and only the most minimal of police forces, combined with the fact that the average person has only a third-grade education, any cultural renewal in Haiti will be painfully slow. Destruction has simply become the new normal in Port-au-Prince.
“Haiti is experiencing a revival.”
Still, the spirit of the people is not broken. Despite bathing with buckets of water in the open among tents and tarps in what used to be parks, people remain well groomed and wear clean clothes, their sense of personal dignity intact. On the streets, people are incredibly friendly and kind. To be sure, there are a handful of criminals and dangerous people, but the vast majority of Haitians are an amazingly loving and gracious people.
The spiritual response in Haiti has been incredible. The pastors report that more people than ever before are becoming Christians, attending church, praying, and so forth. Many are also turning from demonic spirituality and voodoo to a simple but sincere faith in Jesus as the only Lord and hope. Because people are so displaced, getting accurate data is impossible, but many credible leaders say Haiti is experiencing a revival. Many church buildings were destroyed, so congregations are meeting outside, and organizations like ours are building new structures in which to meet. Driving through town, churches and the rubble of what used to be churches are filled with worshipers, even spilling out onto the streets.
“It was emotionally overwhelming to see the spiritual hunger in Haiti.”
The citywide worship service we were able to host was very graced of God. The staging and sound system were rented to us very inexpensively by the government, which was going to use the same set up afterwards for another event. Also, Franklin Graham had hosted an evangelistic crusade in the city shortly before our one-year quake anniversary service. However, apparently some of his follow-up literature did not arrive on time, so he was kind enough to gift the materials to us to use with those who professed faith in Christ at our event. On behalf of CHC, we want to thank Franklin and his team for being so generous.
The worship service brought together numerous churches and ministries from across the city for the purpose of not just grieving the quake but also trusting in the Lord and using this life for his purposes. Packing the streets and standing in the sun without food or water, people worshiped God and listened to his Word for the better part of an entire day. For me personally, it was emotionally overwhelming to see the spiritual hunger in Haiti. Churches are exploding in growth, and megachurches of homeless people fill the night air in tent cities with songs of worship and rejoicing in Jesus Christ.
The anniversary worship event included a number of notable moments for me.
Every one of the dozens of speakers, preachers, and worship leaders, with the exception of Pastor MacDonald and myself, spoke in the tongue of the people—Creole or French. This was an event by and for the Haitian Christian leaders and they did a fantastic job. The last thing we wanted to do was pretend we understand the complexities of their culture, and it was an honor to serve those leaders who serve God’s people.
I was kindly given twenty minutes to speak (with the aid of a translator), but felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to take only perhaps half of that time and leave the day to the Haitian pastors to speak to their own people. I spoke out of Galatians 4:4–7 on the difference between being a son and a slave. I did so because the Haitian people were originally mainly comprised of physical slaves, but following their liberation many have fallen into spiritual slavery to demonic and widespread voodoo (an African word meaning “spirit” or “demon”). Tragically, many professing Christian churches have historically included voodoo practices. I explained how a slave only has a master who uses them, but a son has a father who loves them. God is our Father and he sent his only Son to make them sons. Furthermore, like the Haitians, God’s Son was poor and homeless, and he suffered and died. But he rose in victory, and like him, those who die in faith will rise one day.
“The church has grown to more than three thousand people—a megachurch of homeless people who have lost family and friends.”
Many professional soccer players lost legs and other limbs under the falling debris of the quake. Some are Christians and they came together to form a choir. They used their physical disabilities to speak about their faith in Christ and lead people in worship—especially younger men who look up to them as former athletes. These men are homeless, living in tents and under tarps without limbs, but somehow dressed up in suits and used their time for evangelizing and worship leading.
One pastor I spoke with typifies many. His home and church were destroyed during the quake. He has since been living amidst the rubble of his destroyed home. He has planted a church in a tent city of some fifty thousand people, and the church has grown to more than three thousand people—a megachurch of homeless people who have lost family and friends. Yet, he smiles with enthusiasm and speaks passionately about the opportunity God has opened in Haiti for people to consider the frailty of their lives, their inevitable death, and their need for eternal life with Jesus Christ.
The most moving moment of the joint church service for me was when a twelve-year-old boy led worship. He took the stage in a clean, pressed white shirt and black dress pants. There was a spiritual authority in his presence and a giftedness in his voice that was stunning. He was like a young Michael Jackson filled with the Holy Spirit. Without fear he led fifty thousand people in worship, who cheered when he was done. It was astounding. I got to speak with him a bit, but the gap between his Creole and my English was a bit difficult to manage. From what I understood, he may be an orphan and is living in a tent in a park. The pastor of one of the churches in the park has essentially adopted the boy to look after him. The boy leads worship and one day a missionary who has served in Haiti with his family for thirty-five years was walking through the park and heard the boy singing. That pastor invited the boy to sing at our event. I had the great joy of giving him a financial gift from the Driscoll kids, and felt prompted by God to promise him we would find a way to cover his education so he could grow up to pursue the calling God has on his life.
Lastly, I want to thank many people.
First, I want to thank my friend and our president, Pastor James MacDonald, for leading the vision of CHC. Second, I want to thank Thomas Kim, our director, for connecting with the most trustworthy and godly Haitian pastors in order to help support them.
Third, I want to thank the other organizations on the ground that are working hard to care for the overwhelming needs. There are many Christian and non-Christian groups doing work that is amazing to see.
Fourth, I want to thank the hundreds of churches that have taken special offerings for CHC, totaling over $2.7 million. As the budget stands right now, we’ll have spent all of that by this summer. With that money, we’ll have delivered $1.7 million in medical aid and held dozens of retreats for Haitian pastors to serve and build them up so they are healthy and able to go serve their communities. We’ll have rebuilt over 50 churches in Haiti, not just random buildings, but structures for gifted churches who serve strategic leadership roles in their communities, and we’ll have done this through a novel matching grant program, one that can actually lead to badly needed long-term development in Haiti through these churches.
Fifth, I want to thank the people of Mars Hill Church who graciously gave over $750,000 to CHC last year for Haiti, gave over $1.5 million to church planting, and beat budget by $500,000. It is a great joy to help pastor a generous people.
One day in the kingdom of God it will be quite a party when we get to worship with our Haitian brothers and sisters in Christ—and I’m hoping the twelve-year-old boy will be leading worship for us.driscoll, earthquake, HA04, Haiti, rally