In 2004, the South Lewiston Baptist Church of Lewiston formed a partnership with Bethesda Baptiste Church/school in Haiti, led by Pastor Nathan Cherelus. The building is located in Delmas 33, just outside Port-au-Prince. That same year, members of the church started traveling to Haiti to help enlarge the church/school for Pastor Cherelus.
When we first arrived in Haiti, the building was also a school for 300 to 400 children, and several hundred families attended church each week. The building was 1½ stories, where Cherelus and his wife, Olive, along with their triplets (only known triplets in Haiti), lived in a 12- by 12-foot room. All meals were cooked in an outside kitchen area.
Our goal was to add a second and third story, allowing the family some privacy separate from where church services and school would be held.
We completed the second and third stories in April 2009 and were well on our way to completing the building, with the exception of the last half of the roof, on the third floor during the 2009 trip.
When the earthquake struck on Jan. 12, 2010, Pastor Cherelus’ family was in the building during the quake. Fortunately, their lives were spared because they were able to run to the end of the building where the roof was not completed, saving their lives as there was no roof in that area. Many people in Haiti died during that earthquake because they were inside a building that collapsed.
On Jan. 30, 2010, I was sent to Haiti to assess the damage to the building. When I arrived at the church/school, my first reaction was total shock. I turned to Pastor Cherelus and said, “I am so sorry that you have to deal with all of the damage.” He said to me, “Andrew, God is great. We will rebuild, no problem.”
I have been going to Haiti since 2005 and I have witnessed how the people of Haiti are so resilient, no matter how bad their lives are, no matter how little they have to eat every day — they are always positive.
Not once did we lose our faith that God would be there with us as we rebuild.
So, in April 2010, I organized a team of 21 men and women to go back to Haiti to rebuild.
During that trip, we saw thousands of homes toppled into a heap of concrete rubble. People were in a state of shock and living in the streets. Everywhere we looked, there were tent cities with thousands and thousands of people displaced.
As we toured the downtown area near the epicenter, we could see electrical wires all over the streets and cars crushed by debris. The presidential palace was completely destroyed and the largest church in Haiti totally demolished (the archbishop was killed there). Most of the government buildings were destroyed. Trash was everywhere.
During our most recent trip, on April 7, 2011, we were able to continue the rebuilding project. We could see that most of the debris that we had seen during the previous April had been removed, mostly by the Haitian people, demonstrating how important it is to them to get their country back to how it once was.
We could see government workers on the streets cleaning up trash and sweeping. Electricity was more available than it had been in the past. Last year, people were lined up to get water all over Haiti. This year we could see more water stations and more stores open. There are also new lumber and hardware stores open.
Peter Geiger noted, “Last year, there was misery on the faces of the people. This year, there seemed to be purpose in their lives. People were busy doing things and going places.” He went on to say, “The one thing that did not change is the spirit of the people. They remain kind, gentle and committed to their families. They demonstrate hope and a courage that could be a model for all of us. They have a faith in God, and I believe that has helped sustain them.”
The people of Haiti truly believe there is hope. I could see it in their eyes — a belief that newly elected President Martelly would help. Finally, the billions of dollars that have been sent to Haiti would be used to help them.
Just outside Port-au-Prince, the many tent cities will become new cities. One tent city we visited will be called Canaan. That area has about 5,000 families (approximately 30,000 people). After the earthquake, the government allowed many people to acquire plots of land (approximately 50- by 100-feet), allowing them to build small houses for their families. Cisterns are being dug for water. On the west side, another city called Jerusalem is being built.
As we continue to go to Haiti in the coming months, it is our determination to continue to rebuild our sister church/school and be certain that we involve the Haitians in that effort, allowing them to earn some money for their families. It also gives them a sense that they are a valuable part of rebuilding. They are a group of people who are very willing to work.
Andrew Letourneau has been a member of the South Lewiston Baptist Church since 1983. He is the team leader and coordinator of missions to Haiti.
The South Lewiston Baptist Church and East Auburn Baptist Church have established a sponsorship program for Haitian children. Through this sponsorship program, each child at the Bethesda Baptiste Church/school will get a uniform, books and one meal per day.
Donations, made out to SLBC-HAITI MISSION, can be sent to 39 Dyer Road, Lewiston, ME 04240.