March 9, 2017 | Port Salut, Haiti | Libna Stevens/IAD
Five months after Hurricane Matthew devastated Haiti’s southern peninsula, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is still trying to cope with helping members restore their lives and rebuild dozens of churches.
The hurricane caused mudslides, bridges and roads to collapse, destroyed homes and churches, and displaced thousands of people.
Nine church members died and some 70 churches were destroyed, local leaders in southern Haiti said. Five Adventist schools were also damaged and one school in Jérémie was completely destroyed.
“We have more than 3,000 church members who are still affected by the hurricane that hit us,” said Pastor Jean Mathieu Mitchel, executive secretary of the South Haiti Mission. “Thousands of our members lost their homes and many are living in tent-like settlements.”
Neighboring churches from the central, north, and northwest regions in Haiti have been sending clothes and food items to help fellow members in the south, he said.
Helping care for the immediate needs of members has been a priority, said Mitchel. “Food and shelter are important, but we are working on helping them keep their faith grounded in God through this experience too,” he said. “This is a great challenge and we are praying for God to help us.”
Praying and fasting has doubled among the members. Every last Wednesday of every month, members and church employees take time to fast and pray for God’s leading in rebuilding their lives and the 70 damaged houses of worship strung across south Haiti, explained Mitchel.
Part of Temple Adventiste Horeb in the coastal commune in Port Salut exhibits the scars caused by Matthew. The roof was completely destroyed and one side wall stands connected to the back wall. The church is nothing like it was before, leaders said.
“This is a beautiful place here with a view of the ocean and sky, but it’s like an earthquake came and destroyed everything,” said Joseph Jacob Charles, a former pastor of the Temple Adventiste Horeb who is currently the finance director for the ADRA Haiti office in Port-au-Prince.
Charles was reminiscing about when he was pastoring the 200-member Horeb Adventist Church. He was on his way to oversee an ADRA Haiti program dozens of miles away in Roche-à-Bateau but stopped to visit.
Members meet at the Horeb church early on Sabbath mornings. Some sit on pews set outside, or under trees to sing and worship as early as 6:00 a.m., said Charles.
The Horeb Adventist Church is just one among 70 churches still in need of rebuilding, said Pastor Pierre Caporal, president of the church in Haiti, who routinely visits the leadership and membership in southern peninsula.
“The faith of our church members is very strong, that they believe in seeking God first before food,” said Caporal. Members of one Adventist church refuse to receive food from a nearby government agency on Sabbath mornings, related Caporal.
“We cannot leave God to look for food, because this is God’s day to thank Him for His goodness,” is what Caporal heard from several members during one of his visits to the South Haiti region, which boasts nearly 90,000 Seventh-day Adventists.
Caporal said that he is working with a team of engineers to design simpler temples to build. Caporal hopes to have a formal proposal to present to the Inter-American Division officers soon. The Inter-American Division provided funds to assist those affected by the hurricane soon after it hit.
Caporal is thankful for any. He is grateful to the Southern New England Conference from the North American Division for contributing funds to rebuild the Adventist church and school in Beaumont in Grand’Anse.
Church members across Haiti donated funds during the annual gratitude offering collected in December, said Caporal.
“God is faithful and will see His people cared for in Haiti,” Caporal concluded.
There are more than 447,600 Seventh-day Adventists worshiping in 1,083 churches and congregations in Haiti. The church operates a hospital, a university, a radio station, and dozens of primary and secondary schools.