Main Menu

Conference takes next steps in putting Haiti/Florida Covenant into action

Conference takes next steps in putting Haiti/Florida Covenant into action

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference takes next steps in putting Haiti/Florida Covenant into action

July 13, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0517}

NOTE: This is one of a series of articles related to news from the “Witness With Power” 2006 Florida Annual Conference Event June 1-3 in Lakeland.

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — The Rev. Mullens Constant has fond memories of his Haitian homeland.

Constant, who is serving at Hallandale Haitian Mission in Hallandale Beach, came to the United States from Haiti seven years ago. He said he has deep feelings for his beloved and beleaguered country and is optimistic Florida Conference United Methodists may experience Haiti for themselves, now that the Haiti/Florida Covenant has been signed.

The next step is developing the framework to put that covenant into action.

LAKELAND — Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker and the Rev. Raphael Dessieu, president of the Methodist Church of Haiti, signed the Haiti/Florida covenant June 2 at the Florida Conference’s annual meeting. Photo by Greg Moore, Photo #06-397.

Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker and the Rev. Raphael Dessieu, president of the Methodist Church of Haiti, signed the covenant last month at the Florida Conference’s annual meeting in Lakeland after lay and clergy members voted to approve it. Dessieu has invited Whitaker and a conference team to visit Haiti during the Haiti Annual Conference Jan. 14-22.

The covenant creates a formal relationship between the Methodist Church of Haiti and the Florida Conference. Through it, leaders of both churches hope to strengthen connections between the two and encourage sharing experiences and resources. They also hope the covenant will foster an equal exchange of ideas and a better understanding among Florida United Methodists about the plight of Haitians.

Now that the covenant is official, teams are being established to determine specifics about how the covenant will work and monitor its progress, according to the Rev. Dr. Larry Rankin, director of the conference’s Global Mission and Justice Ministries and dean of Healthy Church Academy. The teams will include people from Florida and Haiti.

LAKELAND — The Rev. Raphael Dessieu, president of the Methodist Church of Haiti, spoke to laity and clergy after signing the covenant. Photo by Caryl Kelley, Photo #06-398.

Rankin cautioned people not to expect the covenant to function in the same way the Cuba/Florida Covenant does, with its sister-church and -district relationships between United Methodists in Cuba and Florida and caravans (teams) from Florida visiting Cuba. Specifics about the Haiti/Florida Covenant and how the work of the two churches will be structured are still being defined. Rankin said conference churches may eventually establish partnerships with churches in Haiti, but for now those mechanisms are not in place. Local churches are encouraged to send mission teams to Haiti through United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM), Rankin said, adding there are missionaries in Haiti who help coordinate the teams.

Constant, a native of Cap-Haitien, located in the northern part of Haiti, said he is thinks the covenant is a good venture for both countries. “I think it will bring some ideas to the country (Haiti). I think it will help a lot.”

Haiti is about the size of the state of Maryland. It is two-thirds mountainous, with the remainder of the country speckled with valleys, plateaus and small plains. Its beauty is rivaled only by its continuous civil and political upheavals.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, according to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). UMCOR’s Hot Lunch Program provides a hot meal for nearly 17,000 school children every day. For many the meal of rice, beans and local produce is the only food they eat each day.

While UMCOR has worked for years within the country, last year’s Tropical Storm Jeanne and its resulting floods prompted the organization to establish an official presence in Haiti. This is the first time UMCOR has undertaken the legal process of registering as a non-governmental organization there.

It is hoped the covenant will help meet some of the country’s needs — issues Pat and Walt Ebert already know quite a lot about from first-hand experience.

The Eberts are General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) Volunteers in Mission (VIM) stationed in Petion-Ville, Haiti. They said medical teams, which normally work in the country four to 10 days and include doctors, dentists, optometrists and nurse practitioners, are crucial because many rural areas do not have full-time doctors. Work teams to repair and build new churches, clinics and schools are also needed, as well as everyday items that are scarce, such as children’s vitamins.

HAITI — This Haitian child, shown in a 2003 file photo, benefits from the Haiti Hot Lunch Program, sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries for children at Methodist schools. The hot lunch is often the only meal the children receive all day. A UMNS photo by the Rev. David Morton, Photo #06-399.

“Right now the big need is for cisterns on the island of La Gonave,” said the Eberts in a recent e-mail. “There are not many wells on this island so the need for cisterns is great. With the cistern, the people will be able to catch the rainwater and fill 30- to 50-thousand gallon concrete tanks. Then, when rainy season is over, there will still be water for the people to use. … for drinking, as well as common everyday tasks.”

The Eberts said a wide variety of projects, ranging in size and complexity, need to be done. Some teams have “adopted” a project and worked continuously on it for three or four years.

“We have a district in Michigan now that has signed on to help build a church and just started on the foundation,” the Eberts said. “They would love for other churches to also take on this project with a pledge to help until it is finished. One team alone will take five or more years to get it done. If a few churches or districts take the same project, it will be finished sooner.”

If a church or a mission group decides it wants to work in Haiti or has a specific project or work area in mind, the Eberts said they can help navigate through the many choices and arrangements.

“If you can think of a project, we can probably find it for you,” they said.

The Eberts said help is also needed with Vacation Bible Schools. While assisting with that, teams can work on a small community project, such as painting. Creole speaking interpreters are available for $20 a day to assist with translations. The Eberts said they will help make sure interpreters are approved by the church.

A church or mission team may focus on any combination of projects — medical, construction work, Vacation Bible School. The only requirement is that team members be at least 15 years old. Past teams have included members in their 70s and 80s, according to the Eberts.

“The cost for the trips depends on where you stay and what you do,” they said. “You have to bring enough money for your project — at least the part you are doing on this trip and to pay for your living expenses.

The Eberts said there are guest houses associated with The United Methodist Church where people can stay, ranging from $30 to $45 a day, including meals. “The price difference has to do with the transportation costs of goods, such as (the) food and fuel they need to keep you comfortable. ...”

Gas is more than $5 dollars a gallon in Haiti, and many gas stations charge more, according to the Eberts.

Whatever the costs, the Eberts said it is well worth the money to help people who have so little and once Florida United Methodists meet the people of Haiti “they will want to come back again and again.”

“The people here are hard working and will help you all they can. They do not look for a handout, but for a hand up. When the team from Michigan was working on the church at Croix de Missions, the team had six members and the church had 30 people there helping them and asking for no pay. It is their church, and they want it built. They know the sacrifices the teams make to come and help, and they appreciate it very much.”

Churches can learn about ways to partner with churches or projects in Haiti by e-mailing


This article relates to the 2006 Florida Annual Conference Event and Missions.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.