I have lived in Cabaret, Haiti with Breathe Partners for about three years. I have fallen in love with a language that, years ago, use to sound like static to my ears. I have learned a plethora of similarities and differences of the Haitian culture that never fails to amaze me. Three years is either a long time, or just a short amount of time (I haven’t quite decided), but in these years there is one reality that has stayed constant in me – I know nothing.
Well, just about nothing.
No matter how long I live on this beautiful little pearl of the Caribbean, I will always be a foreigner and American with a background of a vastly different culture and worldview. I could never truly understand what it’s like to be a Haitian, what it’s like to think like a Haitian, and even what the most fruitful ways to reach Haitians in the name of Jesus are. What I think works could actually be harmful, unsustainable, offensive or even undignifying. Although I often think I know the answers in this foreign country, I almost never do.
North American churches are able to partner with Haiti on mission, but we believe there is one factor that determines if the ministry has the potential to be fruitful, God honoring, and dignifying to the Haitians. The question that begs to be asked is, “Are there Haitians behind the heart of whatever is being done?”. North American churches (or any outside of Haiti) are able to work in Haiti, but it would be absolutely detrimental if it is: not being done alongside Haitians; not taking notice and working towards what the Haitians are saying is needed and important; and failing to put the Haitians and the Haitian Church at the forefront of everything being done.
I truly believe that this factor is what will set a ministry aside in Haiti, or any foreign mission field. Although it is a difficult goal to implement and achieve, it is one that says, “This is not my country and I can’t expect it to be the same as my home country.” When we are able to die to savior complexes and pride, we have the great, beautiful opportunity of lifting up our fantastic Haitian brothers and sisters to scream to the Haitian people, “We believe you are capable to help and reach your own people!”. At Breathe, we strive for this everyday. Is it hard? Yes. Do we fail sometimes? Sure. But is it worth it to lift up and encourage the Haitians, their Church and not ourselves? Every day.
At Breathe, we have the absolute honor of working alongside our sister organization in Haiti, Oganizasyon Respire Lavi Ayiti (Organization Breathe Life in Haiti or ORLA). ORLA is built up of our Haitian pastors and leaders, and they are who we serve through and with while visiting and living in Haiti. I am the lucky gal with the title Breathe Haiti Coordinator, that gets to call and visit our Haitian pastors before their partner churches come to visit them and their communities. I get to ask questions like, “How can this team best serve you and your family while they are here for a week? How can they best serve your church? Your community?”. Our goal is not to claim we can ‘fix’ Haiti, but lift up the ones who not only truly know their country, but are the ones that will be there forever.
Just like Haiti, we also exist in Philadelphia, PA where we exist to accomplish the same vision. Extreme similarities exist in both Haiti and Philly, so the methodology is not much different. We want to empower the local church. After all, the local church is the one that is present in the people’s daily lives that we want to healthily reach. We desire to change the lives of the people of the neighborhood by coming alongside of healthy local churches that have been in relationship with these people already. Why start something new when a good work has already started that we can come alongside of to strengthen? We partner churches looking to engage in the city to local churches to sustainably and most effectively reach these people!