My brother’s keeper: Remembering the Haiti earthquake of January 12, 2010

A deacon of the church plays his accordion in the ruins of the Delmas 3 Church of the Brethren, Jan. 20, 2010. This photo was taken by Roy Winter of Global Mission and Service and Brethren Disaster Ministries, just a week after the 7.0 quake that devastated the capital city of Haiti. Winter traveled to Haiti just days after the earthquake with a small delegation that also included Jeff Boshart, director of the Global Food Initiative. Photo by Roy Winter

By Ilexene Alphonse

January 12 is a date forever engraved in my heart for two reasons: first, January 12, 2007, I married the love of my life, Michaela Alphonse; second, January 12, 2010, the worst natural disaster in my time, a massive earthquake, destroyed my native country of Haiti and my people. It was the darkest hour for every Haitian everywhere. We as a people lost family members, loved ones, homes, places of worship, businesses, and most importantly hope.

In Psalm 121:1-2 we read, “I lift up my eyes to the hills–where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of Heaven and Earth.” God didn’t send down angels from heaven to rescue the Haitian people but he sent our brothers and sisters in Christ from the other side of the ocean, the Church of the Brethren and Brethren Disaster Ministries.

When the earthquake happened, many big organizations collected millions of dollars to help rebuild Haiti but they didn’t do anything to help the Haitian people out of the rubble. They made promises that they didn’t keep, they had their pictures taken with the children on the streets, and they got richer over the misery of the Haitian people.

We looked up and saw a small light shining over Haiti–God always has a plan for his people. The Church of the Brethren, a small church, heard the call of God and said, “Here I am, send me,” as a church and as individuals. They didn’t come with jets, helicopters, and promises they wouldn’t keep, but they came with love. Roy Winter, associate executive director for Global Mission and Service and Brethren Disaster Ministries, and others came to Haiti a couple of days after the earthquake to visit, assess, and evaluate the situation with the leaders of l’Eglise des Freres Haitien (the Church of the Brethren in Haiti).

The Church of the Brethren provided hot meals for schools, temporary shelters, food, and household kits for thousands shortly after the tragedy. Right after the earthquake, Brethren Disaster Ministries organized mobile clinics all over Haiti, which became the Haiti Medical Project that is still at work today. Brethren programs supported the giving of animals, seeds, water filters, and more–which became a development community that today serves thousands of people all over Haiti. Brethren Disaster Ministries repaired houses and rebuilt hundreds of homes for people affected by the earthquake.

This photo from 2011shows a family in front of their new home in Canaan, Haiti–one of the 14 homes built there, along with a new church, after the 2010 earthquake. Brethren Disaster Ministries worked with Eglise des Freres Haitiens (the Church of the Brethren in Haiti) to help residents who were displaced from Port-au-Prince by the earthquake. Photo courtesy of Jeff Boshart

They didn’t just rebuild houses but also lives, after such a disaster where people lost everything and were traumatized. Brethren Disaster Ministries invested in a trauma resilience awareness program, providing classes for people to come to listen, to share, and to learn about their trauma. In those meetings, people who thought they were fine realized their trauma and need for healing. They also trained many people to go all over Haiti to hold classes and trainings.

Those services weren’t limited to the Haitian Brethren church members but anyone in need. Those actions spoke louder than words–people came to Christ, and people from other denominations joined the Haitian Church of the Brethren, not because most of them needed anything from the church but because they wanted to be a part of a loving body.

The Church of the Brethren also built relationships when Brethren Disaster Ministries organized workcamps in Haiti to help the rebuilding. Brothers and sisters from the church in the US came to Haiti to share themselves in every way possible and to help the Haitian people get back on their feet. Some of them did not have any skill to work in construction, some had never traveled outside of the US, but they came. They brought hope, they played with children, they hugged those who had never hugged before, they smiled with those who had no reason to smile, they sat with those who could not stand, they sang and prayed with them, they shared communion, they listened and cried with them.

The Haitian people felt that they weren’t alone in the situation, for brothers and sisters in Christ they didn’t know took the time to come and spent time with them. It was Jesus’ words in action: “I am with you always.” Church of the Brethren US really showed the Haitian people that they are their brothers’ keeper.

Brethren treated Haitians as human, with dignity, love, and compassion. The Church of the Brethren aided the Haitian Brethren in creating a holistic ministry serving body, mind, and soul. The action of the US Brethren, led by Global Mission and Service staff Jay Wittmayer, Roy Winter, and Jeff Boshart, boost the morale of the Haitian people.

Everything can be destroyed in one day, from animals to houses and more, but the love the Brethren have shown will never perish. When God asks, “How are your brothers and sisters on the other side of the ocean?” the Brethren will be able to respond positively and say: “Yes indeed I am my brother’s keeper.”

Haitian and BDM workcamp volunteer rebuild following earthquake. Photo by Sandy Christophel

Like fertilizer for the church

The partnership and support received from the Church of the Brethren was like fertilizer for the church in Haiti. L’Eglise des Freres Haitien grew from 11 churches to 24 churches and 8 preaching points. It is all new church planting; the Haitian Church of the Brethren is still not accepting any organized church as a member. Actions speak louder than words, as mentioned earlier those services were provided to everyone in need. I heard many testimonies from different people saying that this is the first church that they saw doing something good not just for themselves but for people they didn’t even know, whether Christian or not.

After this decade of recovery I can happily say things are going well for the Church of the Brethren in Haiti. Because the Church of the Brethren didn’t just give us fish, but taught how to fish, the mobile health clinics and the agriculture program continue.

When you hear about the Haiti Medical Project, this was a seed of Brethren Disaster Ministries work after the earthquake. Paul Minnich, one of the doctors who served in a series of medical clinics just a few weeks after the earthquake, went home to Kansas thinking that more had to be done. Today the Haiti Medical Project has local doctors, nurses, and volunteers going to different places in Haiti every Saturday to give care to people. The project also has established dispensaries with medication in the communities where the Haitian Brethren congregations are located, with trained local agents to serve immediate needs.

From the earthquake recovery efforts, the development community was created. They provide seeds, animals, water projects, and latrines in remote areas of Haiti with support from the Global Food Initiative and Jeff Boshart. They tap creeks, collect rainwater, dig wells and cisterns, and use reverse osmosis to provide clean and safe water.

Child at temporary shelter in Delmar, Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Because of the good example of the Church of the Brethren, the Haitian Brethren were able to create BDMH (Brethren Disaster Ministry in Haiti). When in 2016 Hurricane Matthew hit the south of Haiti, BDMH led the recovery efforts for the church with support from the Emergency Disaster Fund and Brethren Disaster Ministries. We were able to hold workcamps and we called skilled church members to join us to work together to support each other, just like the US Brethren in our time of need. We organized workcamps to work alongside American Brethren and also held workcamps just for Haitians. We worked in Croix des Bouquet Church, Remonsant, Cayes, Saint Louis, and currently BDMH is working in Pignon and Saint Louis du Nord.

For the earthquake recovery, Brethren Disaster Ministries built a guesthouse and a staff house in Croix des Bouquet for the church. Very soon after, that place became the denominational headquarters for l’Eglise des Freres Haitien. Inside the gates there are the guesthouse and staff house and offices for the denomination’s National Committee, Community Development, Haiti Medical Project, as well as depots and a well that provides water for the community–and more.  

Thank you for your continuing prayers and support. We thank God for each one of you every time we remember you!

— Ilexene Alphonse is an ordained minister and pastor at Miami (Fla.) Haitian Church of the Brethren.

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