A group of Adventist Chaplains from the Inter-American Division’s French territory were on a mission to minister to as many victims of the recent earthquake that devastated the southern peninsula in Haiti. The chaplains were able to offer emotional and psycho-social support to more than 400 people from Sep. 9-17, 2021.
Asnel Valcin, Psy. D., BCCC, director of Pastoral Care & Education at St. Johns Episcopal Hospital in Rockaway, New York, United States, and instructor for Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries (ACM) of the Adventist World Church, invited a handful of Adventist chaplains from the French Antilles Guiana region and from Haiti. The chaplains had been receiving training on clinical and pastoral education since April and it was fitting to be able to have an opportunity to provide much needed assistance, said Dr. Valcin.A challenging mission trip made possible
“We prayed about this mission trip and God opened the doors for us to fly to the commune of Les Cayes from Port-au-Prince thanks to donations from friends and colleagues, members of the Adventist Church in Brooklyn, as well as the help of several local church and government leaders, who believed in our mission to Haiti,” said Dr. Valcin.
Eight chaplains from Guadeloupe, Martinique, and French Guiana, flew to Haiti to pair up with eight chaplains from the Haitian Union.
What they experienced was more than they expected, said Dr. Valcin.
“The first night we met with local pastors and leaders in Les Cayes to explain the purpose of the visit. One local pastor had just returned from leading his eighth funeral and was anxious for his congregation which had been experiencing so much physical and emotional devastation,” said Valcin. They began talking to several members who approached them and who were so grateful to share their story of survival, and to know that someone cared for their emotional wellbeing, he explained.Sharing their story
Their journey throughout the town found so many people who were eager to share their story. “People expressed feeling liberated after sharing their stories,” said Dr. Valcin.
For Pastor Esaïe Auguste, chaplain ministries director for the church in the French Antilles Guiana Union, the experience was like no other during his seven years in chaplain certifications.
“We felt overwhelmed by the scene of misery in which the people were living in and the hopelessness and resignation many of the people were facing,” said Auguste. He vividly remembered a young lady who had planned to go to university to pursue medical studies. “She had lost her mom in the earthquake after the house buried her,” he said. Now she has to care for her three younger brothers and said that her dreams had been shattered in less than one minute. “She told us that for the first time since the Aug. 14 earthquake, she felt heard and could express her emotions,” said Auguste.Word of the chaplains’ mission spread to several Sunday congregations. A Catholic church, which was holding a funeral service for victims of the earthquake, invited the chaplains to speak to their members, said Dr. Valcin.
Talking about trauma
“We saw so many who were willing to talk about trauma,” said Dr. Valcin. “People have had serious emotional challenges that have been repressed from many years ago and when they saw this open door to share, they poured out their heart to us.”
One pastor pleaded to get to his congregation, said Dr. Valcin. When the group of chaplains arrived, there were more than 250 people waiting the next morning.The team of chaplains saw an average of 41 people every day and their main purpose was to listen deeper and help them to tell their stories. “Conversations bring healing, persons experience relief in just having someone who cares enough to listen to them, and that begins the process of transformation,” said Dr. Valcin.
The chaplains also visited a local hospital where they spoke to medical staff and health professionals. One particular nurse was fatigued from working so hard in caring for patients. “She was surprised at our visit and was so thankful to be heard,” said Dr. Valcin. “She soaked up every moment we were with her and was thankful for the time we took to listen to her and help her express her experience,” he added.
Ministering to members and the community
The team of chaplains took time to preach in several Adventist congregations on Sabbath, Sep. 11. Members were given the opportunity to share their story. “We were worshiping in the church building, which had been completely destroyed by the earthquake, and after preaching to a small group, I individually counseled most of the members there,” said Auguste. “They were able to recall their story and put into words their suppressed emotions.”“One could only read the smiles on the faces of the people in the different communities that we visited,” said Pastor Richner A. Fleury, chaplaincy ministries director for the church in Haiti. Fleury, along with seven other chaplains from Haiti, was blessed by the experience. “We heard so many words of satisfaction from the lips of those to whom we listened and supported. I know God will continue to help us care for the wellbeing of those affected,” Fleury said.
In addition to providing emotional support, Dr. Valcin along with local church leadership, were able to distribute 110 tents and 110 air mattresses to those still living out in the open air.
The intervention took a lot of coordination and funds, but was a really great opportunity to make an impact on hundreds of people in dire need of attention, said Dr. Valcin. It was an opportunity that could not be passed up.Answering the call to mission
“When God calls you, God makes preparation for the mission,” said Dr. Valcin. “Regardless of where we are in the world, we have our humanity as the one thing in common,” he said. There are many faces he cannot stop seeing, stories he cannot release from his mind. “This mission trip helped us understand how God truly used us in our humanity to connect with other people,” Dr. Valcin added. “I am humbled by this opportunity to serve.”
The intervention in Les Cayes was only scratching the surface, but one that will bring about more awareness in the needs of the people in the aftermath of any disaster, said Pastor Pierre Caporal, president of the church in Haiti.
“This intervention by Dr. Valcin and the group of chaplains from the French Antilles Guiana Union will for sure make an indelible impact, not only on our church members and persons in the community in Les Cayes who were helped, but also on our own chaplains who took part in this important ministry,” Caporal said.Esaïe Auguste and Richner A. Fleur contributed to this report.