The Cumberland Presbyterian Church in
A Country in Turmoil/
Six Beacons of Hope
A Summary of Haiti’s History and Current Political Situation
Haiti is the western portion of the Caribbean island Hispaniola that she shares with her eastern neighbor the Dominican Republic. Haiti has a long history of being controlled by outsiders, from the Spanish and French in the days of early exploration and colonialization, to the presence of the United States military from 1915-1934 and again from 1994-1997. Technically an independent nation since January 1, 1804 when an extended revolution by the large slave population overthrew French occupation, Haiti has struggled due to internal political and military conflicts as well as ongoing outside influence. Following the U.S. presence that ended in 1934 there was a series of “so-called” elections that led to short lived presidencies and/or military control. After the despotic rule of Francios “Papa Doc” Duvalier and then his son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier from 1957 to 1986, Haiti has been attempting to move to a true democratic system. Persistent corruption among elected leaders and continued outside influence from other countries has hampered progress and the current situation is one of tremendous unrest.
The most recent elections (2016) resulted in Jovenal Moise being elected president. His presidency has been wrought with charges of corruption. The government is currently unable to function effectively because of discord within the main body of elected representatives, Parliament, which has been unable to meet to ratify the latest nominee for Prime Minister due to violent actions by some members. In January of 2020 the terms of over half of the members of Parliament expired and the government is now being run by decree of the current president. Many within the current government and from past governments have been accused of embezzlement and misappropriation of billions of dollars from a fund designated to improve the infrastructure of member countries and to subsidize the import of gasoline. This has led to an inability to meet payment obligations to the Venezuelan oil company supplying gasoline which has created a crippling gasoline shortage. The gasoline shortage has hampered the ability to deliver food and in turn has caused rapid inflation (19% for 2019). These events have further compounded ongoing efforts to recover from a major earthquake in 2010 and a major hurricane (Matthew – category 4) in 2016. In response to all this there has been an ongoing popular demand for the resignation of President Moises. Non-violent and violent protests have been happening regularly in Port-au-Prince and other major cities including roadblocks of major highways. Almost all humanitarian organizations suspended operations for several months at the end of 2019 due to the violence and inability to travel within the country. The situation has improved enough in recent weeks to allow small groups to again enter the country.
A Brief Description of Haiti’s Economic Situation
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and the 27th poorest country in the world. Almost 60% of the population lives under the poverty level and in 2020, 4.6 million people in Haiti, 40% of the total population, will need humanitarian assistance. Among them are 1.6 million women, 962,000 men, 1.1 million girls, 1 million boys, and 101,000 people living with disabilities. The number of people in need increased by 79% compared to 2019 (2.6 million). The average daily wage (in US currency) is $2.00. The official unemployment rate in 2018 was 13.53%. This figure is somewhat misleading because it only takes into consideration those who are actively able to seek employment and in many areas there simply isn’t any type of formal employment available. The real statistic is that 40% of the population is without any type of formal job with two fifths of the population depending on subsistence farming just to survive. Years of poor farming methods and large-scale deforestation due to the harvesting of trees as the primary fuel source has depleted the land and severely hampered agriculture. In 2018 the rate of inflation was 13.7% and so far in 2019 it has risen to 19.1%.
- Historical information and economic statistics are taken from: www.historyworld.net; www.faculty.webster.edu; CIA World Factbook; Encyclopedia Britannica Online; and the online news service, Haitilibre.com.
A Brief History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Haiti
The Cumberland Presbyterian Church became involved in ministry in Haiti beginning with the efforts of Rev. John Lovelace through his association with Rev. John Perkins who was the founder of Voice of Calvary Ministries in Jackson, MS. Voice of Calvary Ministries was begun to further Perkins’ vision to combine evangelism and community development as a way of transforming society. A young native Haitian who had moved to the United States to pursue his education, Jean Thomas, was working with Voice of Calvary Ministries. He met, Joy Treharne, a young lady from Oregon who was working with Voice of Calvary Ministries as well. They married in 1981 and soon decided to return to Haiti and implement the model developed by Rev. Perkins for holistic Christian community development.
John and Joy moved to Fond-des-Blanc Haiti and established the Haiti Christian Development Fund. This non-profit organization was begun in 1982 with the goal of improving the country they loved through evangelism, education, community development, and leadership development. A key element of this plan is L’Exode school that was begun in the 1980’s and has become a prominent and sought-after place of education. Mission teams from the United States have been very involved in helping with the construction of the facilities at L’Exode which now include 7 campuses and over 1500 students. Rev. Lovelace became involved in this mission work and soon enlisted others to join him. One of those was Rev. Pat Driskell. Pat is currently the pastor of First Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Rogersville, Alabama. He has led numerous mission teams to Haiti and has involved many other Cumberland Presbyterian Churches in this ministry as well as churches from other denominations and non-denominational churches.
Another element of the HCDF plan was leadership development. The “Caleb Project” was introduced, and six promising young Haitian men were selected as the first students to enter the program. These six men would go through an intensive, three-year program preparing them to go out and begin six new communities implementing the same model. Through the work at L’Exode school Pat became well acquainted with these young men. Also, several other pastors from the same Presbytery (Hope Presbytery in Alabama) that Pat was a member of had become involved in this mission work as well. When these young men completed the “Caleb Project” they chose areas where there were no current schools, few or no churches, and no community development to begin their ministries. Part of their responsibility was fund raising to meet the financial need for such a ministry. Since Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and the areas that they were establishing their ministries are some of the poorest of the country they are dependent upon outside sources.
Through the relationships already developed with Pat and several other Cumberland Presbyterian ministers in Hope Presbytery a conversation was started about the possibility of these six churches/schools becoming Cumberland Presbyterian under the oversight of Hope Presbytery. This became official in 2016 and the six churches/schools were organized as a Council. The process began to move toward establishing these six churches/schools as a Presbytery. The six pastors have completed the necessary training and education and have been ordained. Elder training has been conducted with the pastors and members from each of the six congregations and continues through the leadership of the pastors. The process of being legally recognized by the Haitian government is underway but is hampered by the political and social turmoil currently taking place. The goal is to have all six of these congregations officially established as Cumberland Presbyterian Churches by the end of 2020.
There has also been tremendous support from the Cumberland Presbyterian Ministry Council through the Missions Ministry Team. Rev. Lynn Thomas, Director of Global Cross-Culture Missions, has made several trips to Haiti to meet with the pastors there and has worked with Hope Presbytery in the process of establishing these congregations as Cumberland Presbyterian Churches. In 2018 the denominational-wide loves and fishes offering was designated to establish a hot lunch program for all six congregations. Financial support has come from throughout the denomination through the Missions Ministry Team of the Ministry Council to assist in the ongoing development of the congregations in Haiti and the communities they serve.
It is important to note that there are many others who are very involved in the support of these six churches/schools. Each of the six Haitian pastors have developed relationships with individuals and churches in the United States and Canada that provide financial support and send mission teams to assist in the ministry in these six communities. There are other Cumberland Presbyterian churches and Presbyteries that provide support. There is a non-profit organization out of Iowa, Rural Haiti Development that provides substantial support for these six community ministries. Additionally, Covenant World Relief has provided funds for wells for safe drinking water in each community as well as the “Pathway to a Better Life” program which drastically improves the lives of single mothers in these communities. While these six ministries will officially be Cumberland Presbyterian churches, there is a true ecumenical nature to them.
Haitian Pastors and Congregations
- Eddy Edouard – St. Jules Cumberland Presbyterian Church
- Sheslaire Georges – Nan Akou Cumberland Presbyterian Church
- Kemson Lundy – Gris-gris Cumberland Presbyterian Church
- Fauvelt Smith – Lexi Cumberland Presbyterian Church
- Jean Joab St. Louis – Dufour Cumberland Presbyterian Church
- Evetual Theissant – Marche Cabrit Cumberland Presbyterian Church
- Information about John Perkins and Voice of Calvary Ministries came from www.mississippiencyclopedia.org. Information about Haiti Christian Development Fund and Jean and Joy Thomas came from www.hcdf.org. Information about the involvement of Cumberland Presbyterians came from those involved in the ministry in Haiti and through the personal involvement of the author of this article.
-Page last updated: February 18th, 2020