As we celebrate Pentecost, we believe that God’s Spirit is powerfully at work in our lives, our communities, and our world, continuing the work of redemption and restoration begun by Christ on the cross. When we view the world through eschatology-tinted lenses, we see a vision of shalom in which healing comes to the nations. If there is a nation that needs such a theologically rich hope in the power of God to heal a broken world, it is Haiti.
My friend Jonathan Chan has spent the last few years working for Haiti Partners, an organization which contributes to the work of Haitian educational and economic development. The emotional and spiritual reality of Haiti’s story is perhaps best captured through Kent Annan’s Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle and After Shock. Below, Jonathan Chan shares his impressions of what it means to be part of God’s plan for “one of the least” of the nations.
Jay Bilsborrow: How do you understand your work with Haiti Partners as being part of God’s mission in the world? Why is that important?
Jonathan Chan: It seems like many in the evangelical world are recapturing this sense of how we play a role in God’s cosmic mission of redemption and restoration, not only of our own sinful lives, but in every sphere of this broken world. And so I’d say that we see our work to help Haitians change Haiti by empowering schools and churches to transform their communities as part of God’s restoring and reconciling mission that’s talked about in 2 Corinthians 5 and Colossians 1.
But it’s not just about our motivation and goals, it also has to be about the way that we work. All too often we see foreigners with good intentions doing their work in a way that actually only increases the brokenness in Haiti. We look at these poor people, and subconsciously, we think that they need us to fix these problems for them. So we work in ways that aren’t culturally appropriate, create unhealthy dependencies, and don’t address long-term problems. Not only is that something that doesn’t work in the empirical sense, as so many experts and practitioners in development will tell you, that’s not the way that God tells us he accomplishes his restoring work in the world. Paul says in I Corinthians 1:26-29:
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.
For us, we strive to make that one of the primary guiding principles of our work. It’s Haitians that are going to change Haiti, not those of us coming from the outside. So in the mission of God for Haiti, we see our role as being facilitators and supporters, creating the space, inviting participation, finding resources, supporting this work of restoration that begins and ends with God, and that’s been primarily entrusted to our Haitian colleagues. And that’s not an altogether natural thing for us as Americans, and for me in particular. There’s always this impulse within me to be the one in control, the one leading the charge, the one who gets the glory. But that’s not the way Christ would have it, that’s not the way that he worked and still works today. So I’m blessed that our staff culture is one marked by humility and respect, one that dignifies and empowers everyone, regardless of skill set and background.
Jay: What specifically is the work that Haiti Partners does in order to contribute to the work of restoration in Haiti?
Jonathan: As our name implies, our model is based on one of partnership and collaboration. We partner with Haitian-owned and operated schools to support operating budgets, provide teacher training, facilitate a more open, democratic leadership structure, and start social businesses that will enable them to be financially self-sufficient. This network of partner schools, along with a Children’s Academy and teacher training center that we’re building, is an incubator for new ideas and practices that we believe could shift the paradigm of education in Haiti to one that emphasizes student-centered learning, democratic leadership, and financial self-sufficiency. We’re working with churches to distribute 10,000 Bibles in Haitian Creole every year, and providing resources and training to pastors and lay leaders in group Bible Study, prayer, theological discussion, and community development. This past September, we just added an initiative called Micah Scholars, to impact the next generation of church leaders in Haiti. We’re providing 15 full scholarships every year for church leaders to go to a Haitian seminary, and then they’re getting involved in the work we do with churches, providing a holistic training for ministry of the Word, of compassion, and of justice.
Jay: It sounds like evangelism is not the exclusive focus of Haiti Partners, but that your work is much larger than that. Some Christians who subscribe to a 2-chapter Gospel might not see the educational work that you are doing as being valuable in itself. How do you understand the work of Haiti Partners as fitting into the larger Biblical metanarrative of Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration?
Jonathan: The 4-chapter Gospel is really the only way to see the full story of Haiti. We have to start with creation, with the imago dei, and with a God who makes a beautiful and bountiful Earth, because that’s what we see in Haiti. The soil there was so rich, Haiti produced more sugar and coffee than the rest of the world combined for most of the 1700s. But then Haiti becomes a bit of ground zero for the Fall. The French create an economy built on the backs of 800,000 slaves, a total affront to the imago dei. There’s environmental degradation on a catastrophic scale from deforestation and over-farming. The long history of oppression and authoritarian rule, first and foremost by foreign powers, but also by Haitian leaders, really exacerbates distrust, antagonism, and injustice in Haitian society. Poverty and oppression break down people’s internal sense of their God-given dignity, empowerment, and respect. These effects of the Fall, they don’t exist apart from our broken relationship with God, they’re intertwined with it. And so we have to approach this holistically, because we believe in a holistic creation, and a holistic restoration.
Jay: As Christians, we believe that beginning with Christ’s death and resurrection and through the Holy Spirit’s continued work in the world since Pentecost, God is slowly redeeming and restoring the world. When we look at Haiti though, it can be hard to imagine that redemption and restoration is actually possible. What gives you reason to believe that it is possible?
Jonathan: First and foremost, it’s Christ. Incarnated into our world, showing us the perfect way to live, crucified for our sins, and resurrected to bring us into new life. Sin and death have already been conquered. And so we know that the arc of the universe bends towards justice, because Christ sits on the throne of the universe and he bends it that way. And also, the common grace that I see so many Haitians demonstrate, caring for each other, showing hospitality, pressing on in the face of challenges and hardship.
Jay: Haiti can seem like such a dark place. In what ways do you find yourself pushing back against the darkness?
Jonathan: Really, it’s not me pushing back against the darkness. This goes back to the previous question, I find hope for restoration because our Haitian colleagues are pushing back the darkness. I think of our colleague Enel, who directs our work with churches and seminaries. He’s such an example of perseverance and hope despite the challenges. He was injured in the earthquake, on the 3rd story of a 6 story building that collapsed. He was back in action within weeks (you can read more of this story in After Shock), and he always tells me “Don’t be discouraged in your work, for the work that we do in the Lord is not in vain”, quoting I Corinthians 15:58. There are so many others, Benaja, Abelard, Frantzie, Madame Do, our co-directors Kent and John, I can’t list them all, but they’re pushing back the darkness, making a difference. Then there’s our administrative staff, working overtime to get the job done, volunteers who are faithful to the work, supporters who are faithful in giving what they can, I could go on. So no, it’s not really me pushing back against the darkness at all. It’s the light that I see, in Christ, manifested in so many others, that’s doing that.
Jonathan Chan is Partnership Coordinator of Haiti Partners.