On October 4, 2016 Hurricane Matthew made landfall in Haiti as the strongest storm to hit the island in the last half-century and the third strongest on record. The storm devastated much of southern Haiti, washing away homes, crops, roads, and taking many lives.
While most of the work of Haiti Orphan Foundation is around central Haiti (Port-au-Prince & Croix-des-Bouquets), we are connected to southern Haiti through the ministry of Pastor Lesly Bertrand. Pastor Lesly oversees nineteen churches across Haiti. (He personally started five of them, and the others have come to him for leadership and support). Two of his churches are located in Saint-Jean, a town near the larger seaport city of Les Cayes, an area that was severely affected by the direct hit of Hurricane Matthew. On our recent trip to Haiti Tripp Atkinson and Bruce Cope made the difficult five-hour trip from Croix-des-Bouquets to Saint-Jean with Pastor Lesly to survey the damage and deliver aid to the community.
The further south we drove, the more devastation we saw. Nearly two months since the hurricane, there were still downed power lines everywhere, washed out bridges, downed trees, and destroyed
homes. When we arrived in Saint-Jean, we met Pastor Mario who had his church destroyed and the roof blown off of his home in the storm. Pastor Lesly made it a top priority to put a tin roof on Mario’s house, as he and his wife are caring for a new baby. Rebuilding the church building for this 160-member congregation will require a much greater effort and resources.
Up the rough terrain a few miles from Pastor Mario’s church we met Pastor Ovner, who ministers to a beautiful hilltop community of a few hundred people. Pastor Ovner not only lost his current church building in the hurricane but also the partial construction of their new larger church building. His congregation has constructed a make-shift hut under which about 120 gather on Sundays to worship.
While the loss of church buildings is certainly heart-breaking, they are certainly not the most difficult tragedies from the storm. Pastors Mario and Ovner lost six church members in Hurricane Matthew. Most of them drowned when the storm surge covered their houses. While mourning the loss of loved ones, this community is struggling to survive. The storm washed away their crops, which not only fed their families, but also were a source of income at the local market. The many coconut trees that were blown over will take as long as ten years to replace. Other crops will take several months. Very little aid has reached this community, and starvation is a reality to the people. Pastor Lesly informed us that 127 people in the region have died of starvation since the hurricane.
While we want to do so much more, it was such a blessing to deliver a monetary gift from Sugar Hill Church to Pastors Mario and Ovner. I’m told that the gift will ensure at least one meal a day for the next two months for those in these churches who are starving. That will allow some time for crops to be planted in the area. Pastor Lesly delivered a bag of seed that the people hope to get in the ground soon.
While we were there, Dr. Bruce offered a medical clinic for those in the area that needed to see a doctor. Among those seen was a baby that survived being born during the hurricane. Nearly all the medicine that was bought or donated to us was given out that day to this hurting community.
Going forward, we want to do more to help this hurting community. A big immediate need is for seed to plant new crops. Only limited seed can be purchased there, and Pastor Lesly has requested okra, watermelon, red pepper, green pepper, and yellow pepper seeds. These can be used to feed the community and will sell well in the market in Les Cayes.
In Pastor Mario’s destroyed church we found a Bible lying among the ruins, opened to Psalm 138 which reads, “As soon as I pray, you answer me; you encourage me by giving me strength.” Thank you to those who have sent strength & encouragement to those hurting in Haiti! Please continue to remember these pastors and this sweet community in prayer as they rely on God’s strength in these tough days.