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200 years in Haiti

Michigan UMs were in Port-au-Prince to mark the anniversary and consecrate 115 Local Preachers.

Senior Editor-Writer, Michigan Area

It has been 200 years since followers of John Wesley first came to Haiti. The arrival of the English Methodist Mission and how Methodism has developed since is described in Leslie Griffith’s book, A History of Methodism in Haiti.

Griffith was in Port-au-Prince last month to commemorate the bicentennial and Methodism’s roots in Haiti. Michigan United Methodists were in Port-au-Prince as well to consecrate 115 Local Preachers whom the Detroit and West Michigan Conferences helped train.

Across four days of activities, February 2-5, 2017, those gathered in Port-au-Prince celebrated the past and looked toward the future.

Partners meeting

An official celebration took place on Sunday, February 5 but for three days prior Methodist partners met in Port-Au-Prince. This year’s meeting included The Methodist Church in Haiti (EMH), The United Church of Canada, The Methodist Church of the United Kingdom, The United Methodist Church and The Methodist Church of Ireland, and The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).

Such partner meetings have been held regularly since the 2010 earthquake, providing opportunity for review and accountability of ongoing projects and planning for future ministry. Partners are shifting focus from disaster relief toward a longer view of development and risk management.

The current School Report from Haiti is that available funding will only provide three meals a week for Haitian school children. Gifts to Haiti Hot Lunch, Advance #418790, will help reach the goal of five days a week.

Rev. David Hills, current chair of the Michigan Area Haiti Task Force, was present during the partner meetings. An important take-away for Michigan United Methodists came out of the school report, At the present time the Haiti Hot Lunch Program is able to feed students only three days a week. “Their deep desire,” Hills said, “is to soon be able to have the resources to increase the meals to five days.”

A highlight of the Partners Conference came on Saturday when 115 Local Preachers were certified through the Methodist Church of the Americas. The Local Preachers included women as well as men, ages ranging from 20s to 70s. Fifteen were recognized for 40 years of service. These credentialed pastors can now serve communion, when authorized to do so by an Elder, and they can start new congregations.

Rev. Karl Zeigler, retired pastor from the Detroit Conference, who directed the Local Preaching Academies that prepared these men and women for that moment remarks, “On one day, February 4th, more Local Preachers were accredited than were already active in the EMH.” Underscoring the significance of the certification, Zeigler added, “The accreditation of these men and women will mean that most of the Methodists in Haiti will now be able to receive the sacraments.”

As an added blessing from the Michigan Area Haiti Task Force, each Local Preacher received a gift bag that included a Creole Bible and Haitian Hymnal.

The training for the certification of Local Preachers was conducted over the past two years by the Michigan Area Haiti Task Force in partnership with the EMH. The seminars were offered in four locations meant to reach all 11 Methodist circuits in the country. Total attendance at each of the sessions averaged 362, “many of whom had been in process for years,” according to Zeigler.

Rev. Don Gotham, past chair of the Michigan Area Haiti Task Force, reports that when the Michigan Area renewed their Covenant with EMH in 2014, “They impressed upon me the importance of the local preachers training. Haitian leaders asked that it be our number one priority.”  There were 18 pastors from Michigan who served as trainers at the academies. The Michigan Area Haiti Task Force contributed $75,000 to the training enterprise and the General Board of Global Ministries gave a grant in the amount of $25,000.

Rev. Jeremy Peters, pastor of Flint: Court Street United Methodist Church, was among Michigan pastors who taught in the Local Preachers Academies in Haiti. ~Facebook photo

“The EMH is trying to double their number of pastors, churches and members by 2022,” Zeigler said. Currently in the EMH there are 15 ordained pastors, 225 congregations and 9,000 members. The 115 new Local Preachers join the ranks of 50 Local Preachers already in service. The need for pastoral training remains great.

All of the lectures were recorded on video so they can be used in future training sessions. EMH expects another 100 Local Preachers will be ready for commissioning in May, 2017.

Thanks and praise

On Sunday, February 5, a Service of Celebration was held at En L’Eglise Methodiste de Port-Au-Prince in the center of the capital city. Representatives were present from Europe and North America, including 22 from Michigan.

Speaking before the offering, Rev. George Mulrain of the Methodist Church of the Caribbean and Americas (MCAA) cited the verse, “When he saw him, his heart was moved with pity.”  “My grandfather used to like to cite this verse, and note how in Haitian Creole, in all its simplicity, conveys the truth of this scripture very well,” he said. “How beautiful those words from Luke’s Gospel sound in our Mother’s tongue, calling us to love one another in the way of the Good Samaritan.”

Dr. Olusimbo Ige, Executive Director of the Global Health Unit of the General Board of Global Ministries, said she prays that people continue to follow the call to serve as the hands and feet of Christ in Haiti. She expressed the hope that in “May 200 years from now, Methodists gain inspiration from the ministry we are doing today.”

Bishop Gesner Paul cuts a ribbon opening an historical exhibit celebrating 200 years of The Methodist Church in Haiti. ~photo courtesy David Hills

Bishop Gesner Paul, leader of the Eglise Methodiste d’Haiti (EMH) quoted John Wesley in his sermon, highlighting Wesley’s admonition: “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”  Paul rejoiced in the success the Methodist Church in Haiti has had in establishing schools. The Methodist Church of Haiti is largely involved in education. It operates 102 schools with about 18,000 students. He noted, “With public and private partnerships with the government in education, the task has not been easy.”

Paul continued, “The church has been persecuted. But when you are with Jesus Christ, the mission will be fulfilled in spite of what others try to do.”

The Bishop called for continued strengthening of existing partnerships. “We are celebrating our unity and asking you to continue to keep us in your prayers. We are out to accomplish the mission set by God himself. We want those in power to know that integrity raises up a nation. May God bless you as we continue on this mission.”
(The Missouri Annual Conference contributed to this report.)

Last Updated on March 14, 2017

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