Haitian church gives 2 years’ wages for relief

PORT-DE-PAIX, Haiti — A Baptist church in northern Haiti has made an unprecedented gift of 20,000 gourdes ($506) to aid in the recovery from the Jan. 12 earthquake. The gift, though small by some standards, is the equivalent of about two years’ wages in the Haitian economy.

“Too often we look at the size of the gift, not the size of the sacrifice,” said Dennis Wilbanks, Florida Baptists’ associate director of partnership missions. “I was so moved that I could not believe this was actually happening.”

The gift from members of Nazarite Baptist Church in Port-de-Paix on northern Haiti’s Atlantic coast is the first time a Haitian congregation has given funds “to distribute as we see fit,” said Wilbanks, who is accustomed to receiving numerous requests for financial aid from the impoverished Haitians and was surprised by the unexpected no-strings-attached gift.

On a recent trip to Haiti, Wilbanks, along with Tennessee pastor Steve Nelson and Jean Louis Otandieu, director of missions in Haiti’s Northwest Baptist Association, visited the church to thank leaders personally for the sacrificial gift.

“After crossing five rivers and the roughest road I have ever traversed, we finally arrived at the church site,” Wilbanks said. “When I saw the building, I was completely at a loss. I could not believe that the congregation that meets in this building could ever raise those kinds of funds, much less even consider giving them.”

With a dirt floor, walls of white mud packed onto rough-hewn wooden slats and a metal roof, the church building belies its members’ spirit of selflessness and generosity.

On a typical Sunday, pastor Pierre Cenervil, a father of 10, preaches to about 130 Haitians, many of whom walk long distances for worship. Cenervil explained to Wilbanks that the church has been praying for a “stronger facility, with chalkboards and benches, so that they could have a school,” a desperate need in the area.

Still, having seen what the Confraternite Missionaire Baptiste d’Haiti convention (CMBH) and Florida Baptists have done for Haiti during the past 15 years and saying that Florida Baptists “have been there when no one else seemed to care,” the pastor led his church to look beyond its own need, Wilbanks said.

Cenervil said he wanted the financial gift to “help the poor people of Port-au-Prince who lost everything in the earthquake.” Although his own church has dire need, he said his congregants needed “to be obedient to God and that this was the right thing to do to give the money to CMBH for the disaster relief effort.” Read more.

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