Hearing God

In post-earthquake Haiti, the church offers comfort and hope for new beginnings.

Originally published by Northwest Haiti Christian Mission, May 10, 2010.

By Andy Olsen

Saint-Louis du Nord, Haiti — Sherly Pétion almost doesn’t have words to talk about it.

The 24-year-old from Carrefour, a sprawling city south of Port-au-Prince, stole glances at the floor as she described the days following the earthquake. Fear. Sadness. Weeping.

“You could not sleep and you could not eat, even if you had food,” said Pétion, who lost her fiancé in the disaster. “Everywhere you saw people crying and dead people.”

Like many earthquake survivors who lost everything, Pétion took a couple of numbing weeks to pull herself together and then headed out of town to live with a relative. She came to Magdala Remy, her cousin and Northwest Haiti Christian Mission’s campus manager in Saint-Louis du Nord.

Pétion began attending church and a women’s ministry group with Remy. One day, she was worshipping with the group and felt an overwhelming need to change something. That was the day she gave her life to Christ.

Pétion is one of thousands of people across Haiti who are reported to have become Christians since January 12, finding renewed strength and joy in the wake of the impoverished nation’s darkest hour. From Port-au-Prince to the rural towns of Northwest Haiti, church leaders say an atmosphere of revival is clearly evident.

“The earthquake did not cause me to become a Christian, but it made me become a Christian faster,” Pétion said. “God was calling to me long before the earthquake, but I was rebelling.”

Whether in the earthquake zone or miles removed, millions of Haitians were forced to confront death and pain in unprecedented proximity. And while many churches collapsed and pastors were killed, many others were there to provide comfort and support, reminding a grieving people that God loves them even in such times.

On February 12, the one-month anniversary of the quake, Haitian President René Préval called for a three-day period of prayer, fasting and mourning. While international news outlets showed dramatic scenes of song and prayer in front of the collapsed National Palace, churches across the country were also praying and fasting, with worshippers spilling out church doors.

At the Citadel Church in Saint-Louis du Nord, 35 people became Christians during those days, according to Remy. At a women’s ministry event at the church a month later, another 82 people came to Christ.

In rural areas of Haiti such as many of the communities NWHCM serves, churches also represent a place to find community and fresh opportunities. Remy, who helps lead worship at the Citadel Church, said her women’s ministry has grown. Pétion, who was studying to be a nurse before the quake, has not only found a home at the church but is also helping NWHCM’s staff nurses at the mission’s maternity center across the street.

“Many people who had left the church have come back,” Remy said. “It’s not the same anymore after the quake. People now want to be active in the church, forming singing groups and participating more.”

Other NWHCM staff have reported groups of Haitian evangelists marching through towns, stopping at churches to pray with worshippers there.

NWHCM Executive Director Janeil Owen said that despite the tragedy of the quake, it has served to break down social barriers in churches between poor Haitians and privileged Haitians.

“Before the earthquake, we were all fighting each other amongst our classes, and (one person) was lording authority over you. Since the earthquake, we are all citizens together now, heavenly citizens,” Owen said.

“Church is packed out now,” he said. “Revival has come to Haiti.”