By Truman Smith
On June 18, 1975 Brother Bob Vezinat and I made a trip to Haiti. Though we went prepared to do some teaching, the main purpose of the trip was to look into the situation to see what had been done, if anything, toward spreading the gospel in the land. Being supported for the most part by the church in Cleveland, Texas, where Bob Vezinat preaches, and the church in Greens Bayou, Houston, where I preach, we spent several days there and it was an experience we shill never forget.
As you may know, Haiti is located on the eastern side of the island Hispaniola in the Greater Antilles or West Indies. The country of Haiti occupies about one-third of the Island, while the Dominican Republic holds the other two-thirds. It is very beautiful in Haiti. When Columbus discovered the island in 1492, the mountains, trees and climate reminded him so much of his home land, Spain, that he called it “Hispaniola.” It is characterized by great mountains, hills, beautiful trees and a very warm climate. In the winter the temperature stays somewhere in the 60’s, and in the summer it hovers around the 80’s and 90’s. Though Haiti is considered the poorest country in Central Atherica, and the poverty there is almost unbelievable, the scenery, favorable climate, along with help of travel agencies, are fast making Haiti a tourist attraction. The city of Port au Prince serves as the Capital of the country. Their native tongue is Creol French; yet you will find many Haitians speaking Spanish and some broken English. Religiously, it is predominately Catholic and Voodoo. We also found some Seventh-Day Adventists, Baptists, and two varieties of the Church of God denomination.
By the time we were checked in at our hotel in Port au Prince, Bob had gotten some practice using his Louisiana French and was able to communicate very well with them in their brand of “French.” After freshening up a bit, we decided to go to God in prayer. This we did, asking Him to be with us, open our eyes to the many opportunities about us, and to give us the courage and zeal we needed to take advantage of them. Walking outside the hotel just to look the area over, we met a young man by the name of Johnny Audate. Johnny was a very friendly man about 19 or 20 years of age. He had finished his schooling, he told us, and had studied English and Spanish. He had left Voodooism to become a member of the Baptist Church. He agreed to go out with us the next day and show us around. Although he had no job and was broke, Johnny offered his services free of charge. We asked him why he would not charge us, and he said: “It is `Christian work.'”
The next morning Johnny directed us to the American Embassy where we registered and got other needed information. He had thought there was a church of Christ meeting in Port au Prince, but we were unable to locate their building. After inquiring through several sources, we finally resigned ourselves to the idea that there was no church in Port au Prince. Johnny suggested that we might go out to Leogane, a small town of about 5;000 population located some 25 miles south of Port au Prince, and find a place to teach the truth. It takes about two hours to travel there by camionet (A camionet is a small pick-up, usually a Toyota, converted into a bus). We arrived in Leogane around 2:00 p.m. Soon we found a place where a crowd could meet, which we rented for the night, ran an ad in the local newspaper, and also had a large poster or sign printed which a Haitian carried around and showed all over town. Then we went out on the streets and personally invited people to come to the Bible study being offered that night. About 150 people were present that first night. We had brought along the Visualized Filmstrips (for cottage meetings) series by Jule Miller, arid Bob was able to translate this into French and explain it to the audience. It was evident by their interest and good attention that they were starved for the truth. They also very eagerly accepted tracts which we had brought with us translated into French. Since this had proven to be such an overwhelming success, we announced that we would plan. to return the next night and continue the series. The next night about 200 came, and they all seemed very receptive. More tracts were handed out. The next night was Saturday night, and though few carne due to this being a night for worldly pleasures, Bob continued the series.
Bob and I met in our room for a brief period of worship and broke bread on Sunday morning. That afternoon we were invited by a man from the States, who was staying at our hotel, to accompany him to a village about 50 miles northeast of Port au Prince near St. Mare. Since he spoke only a little French, he needed Bob to interpret for him. He and his business associates had established a school there last year and he wanted to see how they were progressing with the school. It was while on this journey, as we were passing through a village called Pont-Matheux, Bob saw a sign which read, “Eglese du Christe.” We stopped and finally found a young man by the name of Petit Frore Rolart. This young man was the preacher for the church of Christ in this village. The members of that congregation called him “the pastor.” We mentioned the possibility of our coming back to this place and conduct our studies with them, and the preacher suggested that he ride back to Port au Prince with us. He said he would need to ask the “head pastor” about our coming to work with them! He said this “head pastor” preaches for the church in Port au Prince. This was when we first learned that there was an “Eglese du Christe” in Port au Prince. We were eager to learn more about this brand of “Church of Christ” in Port au Prince. Thus, as we returned to Port au Prince Brother Rolart directed us to the building there. The preacher’s name in Port au Prince is a Brother Sylvester. The liberal brethren in the States had sent him to Alabama Christian College for a couple of years, and he was able to speak very good English. He somewhat reluctantly agreed it would be alright with him for us to go to Pont-Matheux for the study series. The Port au Prince church consists of about 345 members, and Brother Sylvester was anxious to show us their plant, which consisted of an auditorium on the ground floor, then a second story still under construction for a second auditorium. There were also several Bible class rooms; then we were led on around and through the building where more class rooms were. Brother Sylvester said this was their “college” (Art School). Then he showed us their “medical clinic,” “dental clinic” and “pharmacy” which were all built into the operation. He told us that all these things were being supported by some churches in the States; but we were never able to get him to name these supporting congregations. He told us that Haitians who were not members of the church were charged 2 gorde (404) for these medical services, but that members received such free of charge! He said that they were baptizing people this way! Brother Sylvester said he supports himself by working as a secret policeman for the Haitian Government. We noted that their sign said, “Eglese du Christe du Haiti.” Also, a large picture of Jean Claud Devalier hangs in the foyer of their building. As you may know, Devalier is the president (dictator) of Haiti. Needless to say, we decided not to conduct the film study at Pont-Matheux, for we did not wish to be a part of the liberal element and help them to promote their ultra-liberal cause!
It had been our original plan to remain in Haiti for two weeks, but with this development of finding such rank liberalism, we decided that it might be unwise to remain that long spending more money than necessary. Thus, on Monday we took Johnny with us to the Airlines office and made arrangements to depart from Haiti and go back home the following Thursday (June 26). We wanted to spend the remaining few days continuing to teach at Leogane. I suffered a kidney stone attack that night and had to stay at the hotel all day Tuesday, but Bob and Johnny traveled by rented car to Leogane that day and got out advertizing for the study series to continue. We found about 100 people gathered that night. As the lesson neared its conclusion several Haitians made it known that they desired to obey the gospel! But because there was no water nearby, and it was getting late in the night, they asked us if we could come back the next afternoon and take them to the Atlantic Ocean and baptize them. Thus, we took them out into the ocean, and a total of 13 were baptized into Christ for remission of their sins. Johnny was among that number.
We had worked with Johnny constantly while we were with him, and he agreed to try to preach to the people at Leogane after we left. We learned that same afternoon, when these people were baptized, that the Baptist Church in Leogane was abandoning their building to go to Africa, and that they would no longer be using it; thus there was the possibility these brethren might be able to secure this building for themselves. All those baptized were young men ranging in age from 15 to 35. Three or four of them were brick and rock masons, and they were already talking of plans to build a building. Wednesday night concluded the lesson series, and we said good-by to these precious souls.
Brethren, there is hope for this group to survive if someone is willing to go there and work with them. They need a building in which to meet. Perhaps if Johnny Audate could come to the States and be properly trained he could return to Haiti and accomplish untold good. We would not recommend a preacher with a family moving there, but if there is a preacher not married, and can speak French, who might consider moving, we would be most happy to talk with him about the work and possibilities. Any church wishing to know more about the work in Haiti may call on either Brother Bob Vezinat or myself and one of us will be happy to come and show color slides and explain about the cause of the Lord there. That is, Truman Smith, address above, phone 713-453-2502, or Bob Vezinat, 807 S. Fenner, Cleveland, Texas 77327, phone 713-592-5676.
Truth Magazine XIX: 47, pp. 745-746
October 9, 1975