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Conference churches ramp up work with Haiti, covenant

Conference churches ramp up work with Haiti, covenant

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference churches ramp up work with Haiti, covenant

By Jenna De Marco | July 31, 2009 {1058}

Through the bond established by the Haiti/Florida Covenant, United Methodist churches in Florida are finding new ways to strengthen their ties with the people of Haiti.

Patience Nave visits with a teacher from the school in October 2008. File photo courtesy of Patience Nave. Photo #09-1083. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0961, 1/12/09.

The covenant is a partnership established in 2006 between the Florida Conference and The Methodist Church of Haiti. It’s designed to facilitate sharing resources and building relationships.

Patience Nave, secretary for the Haiti/Florida Covenant planning team, led 12 people on a volunteer mission trip to the Caribbean nation earlier this year. The group helped Carrenage Methodist Church with renovations to its school and spent time getting to know the people and their culture. Carrenage is a remote mountain area outside the city of Petit-Goâve, the location of the Methodist guest house where the team stayed.

Nave said the trip bolstered the faithfulness of team members from First United Methodist Church in Homosassa, Fla., where she serves as director of Christian education.

“One thing we know happened is that we established deeper and much more lasting relationships with the people,” Nave said. “And we know now that we belong to them and they belong to us and … our church is absolutely committed to Carrenage.”

The Rev. Montreuil Milord, chairman of the Haiti/Florida Covenant team and pastor at South Dade Haitian United Methodist Mission in Leisure City, was also a member of the mission trip.

“It was well coordinated … and we went there, first of all, by the leading of the Holy Spirit to help … the lives of the less fortunate ones and in what ways we could (to) improve their lives,” Milord said.

Source: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook

Haiti is one of the least developed countries in the Western Hemisphere, according to the U.S. State Department. Despite that and the effects of multiple storms that hit the country during the 2008 hurricane season, “things have begun to improve now,” Milord said.

Milord is encouraged by the recent appointment of President Bill Clinton as the United Nations special envoy to Haiti.

“As special envoy … Clinton will help jump-start social and economic recovery efforts in Haiti,” according to a U.N. press release issued in May. “He will focus attention on the importance of new partnerships and efforts among the private sector, civil society and donors, as well as strengthen local capacity and create a more stable and prosperous future for Haiti.”

Church makes sister-church relationship priority

Nave said one of the most profound moments for her during the mission trip occurred when she was given the opportunity to see how the Carrenage church is using a generator funded by her home church. The generator was chained to the altar and provides light for the building, making it visible in the evenings on the pitch-dark mountain, Nave said.

Church members told Nave people from the surrounding community came to the church during its first night service using the generator because they saw the light from the church.

“People came to Christ because of our generator,” Nave said.

Although the team arrived in Carrenage hoping to complete a variety of planned tasks, some of the goals were delayed due to logistical difficulties, including transportation. God had “something else in mind,” Nave said.

“For one thing, we began the work on the new latrine, and now we have the money to complete the work that was going on there,” she said. “We painted four classrooms and three dormitory rooms and the principal’s office. … We took (supplies) down for them to use — the kinds of things teachers like to have in their classrooms.”

While visiting Carrenage in October 2008, team members were able to spend time getting to know area schoolchildren. File photo courtesy of Patience Nave. Photo #09-1082. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0961, 1/12/09.

The school makes an education possible for 160 children unable to travel to another school because they lack transportation from their isolated community, Nave said. Students’ average standardized test scores measure in the 95th percentile when compared to other schoolchildren in Haiti, Nave noted, and they are creative in their play.

“They are the cutest (kids),” Nave said. “They are so full of music and laughter and joy.”

Providing meals twice a week for the children was a priority, Nave said. The team brought $1,400 to cover lunches through the end of the school year.

Another focus of the trip was basic medical care for the schoolchildren. Dr. Tim Jones from Georgia traveled with the team; he had expressed an interest in Haiti when Nave met him previously at a leadership event.

“The doctor said he found the children amazingly healthy, considering the fact that they have the poorest of water,” Nave said. “They said their stomachs hurt, and he said clean water will make the greatest difference in the world.”

A well is on site, but needs repairs and is incomplete. Nave hopes to recruit someone with engineering experience to make the well functional. A related hope is to teach the community basic sanitary practices, she said.

“There’s going to be an education dimension … some things about hygiene and being careful,” she said.

Another highlight of the trip, Nave said, was a worship service at Olivier Methodist Church. The Rev. Mark Whittaker, pastor of the Homosassa church, preached at the service, which he said was very similar to United Methodist worship services in the United States.

Nurse Aja Simon, a member of First United Methodist Church, Lakeland, Fla., sits with an elderly woman who visited the clinic where Simon was volunteering after it had closed. Simon was part of a 13-member medical mission team that traveled to Haiti in March 2008 as part of the work of the Haiti/Florida Covenant. File photo courtesy of the mission team. Photo #08-0940. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0886, 7/22/08.

“It did go for a long time … and nobody got bored, even though they could not speak the language,” Whittaker said. “We had enough translation to be able to figure it out.”

The church’s involvement with a sister church overseas was a long-term goal in the church’s Natural Church Development plan, Whittaker said. Natural Church Development is a process that helps churches improve and maintain their health, based on eight characteristics of healthy churches.

Whittaker says God has used the relationship as an opportunity for the congregation to see what is going on outside their own church and community.

“They have a better sense of the enormous discrepancy between what (the Haitian people) have and what we have,” he said. “And that works both ways. (The Haitian people) have something to teach us about faith and about commitment. It’s inspiring to see people who have no other way to get to the church but to walk. They are willing to do whatever they have to to get there.”

Nave estimates her congregation has spent about $20,000 this year toward ministry in Carrenage. That amount includes the cost of the team’s trip, as well as meal assistance for the children and construction expenses. First United Methodist Church of Coral Gables also provided financial and food assistance, Milord said.

Florida Conference churches gave nearly $106,000 in 2008 for General Board of Global Ministries projects in Haiti — more than $94,000 for the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s Haiti Emergency fund to assist with recovery efforts from storms, more than $6,000 for the Hot Lunch Program, nearly $2,000 for the La Gonâve Development Fund, $1,700 for Grace Children's Hospital and Pediatric Clinic and more than $1,300 for other Advance Specials.

More trips planned

Tedd Weiser, a lay member of Whittaker’s church, traveled with the group this year and will lead another team to Carrenage in February 2010. Weiser will travel there in the fall to gather information about what services would be of greatest benefit to the community.

“It really brings tears to my eyes, and I cannot wait to pull up to the school,” Weiser said. “My wife and I are going in October. I can’t wait to see them, and I just want to see their reaction so they really do know that they are not alone.”

Children at a school in Cite Soleil, near Port-au-Prince, Haiti, eat meals provided by Stop Hunger Now, which is funded by the United Methodist Committee on Relief and was founded by the Rev. Ray Buchanan, a United Methodist minister from Virginia, in 1998. Since then the food ministry has provided more than $44 million in direct aid to more than 60 countries, including more than 5 million meals for the poor. A UMNS photo by John Gordon. Photo #09-1271.

He anticipates a medical mission in February possibly focusing on children’s immunizations.

“And we still have some construction projects we would like to finish — an outdoor kitchen and (making) a cover for the cistern in the schoolyard,” he said. “There’s a roof on the dormitory that’s in very, very bad shape.”

Weiser’s other hope is to expand the school’s capacity for self-sufficiency by helping establish sustainable projects, like small farming spaces. But the needs of the community will guide the decisions, he said.

“I’m really excited to go back, and the best thing we can do is just be there with them,” Weiser said.

Efforts expand covenant reach

Ed and Sally Ritter also traveled to Haiti this year. Ed is director of congregational development at North Naples United Methodist Church.

Their goal was to establish contact with a Methodist church called Citi de Bourgoisie, located on the island of La Gonâve, and prepare for a larger team visit later.

Sally Ritter describes the school building at Citi de Bourgoisie Methodist Church as “very Spartan, but operational.” Photo courtesy of Ed Ritter. Photo #09-1272.

In her report on the trip, Sally wrote: “We first visited with our future sister church … not far from the compound. A lot of work needs to be done. They have a full school building, very Spartan, but operational. Chalkboards here take the place of books and materials. The church is not complete, as there is no roof. It is still under construction, as is the house of the young couple who pastor here. …”

Helping the Methodist Church of Haiti has become one of the Ritters’ passions.

“Previously, about two years ago, God touched my heart with the Haiti/Florida Covenant,” Ed said.

Ritter has developed a working outline that includes conference-wide goals related to the covenant that are under consideration by the Haiti/Florida Covenant team. One suggestion is having a representative from each district who will present information about the covenant to the churches in the district. Another is looking for ways to select projects that foster local sustainability in Haiti.

In preparing for work in Haiti, the information and support provided by the covenant is a key to success, Weiser said.

“Without the Haiti/Florida Covenant, this would not be possible,” Weiser said. “The people involved are just so energetic and so optimistic and doing great things and … if there wasn’t that direct line, unfortunately, I don’t think we’d be able to do the things we are doing. It is the lifeline for supporting Haiti.”

Milord hopes interest in the covenant continues to grow across the Florida Conference and The Methodist Church of Haiti. In August, Milord will travel to Haiti with about a half-dozen covenant supporters for the installation of the Rev. Gesner Paul as president-elect of The Methodist Church of Haiti. Nave will also attend.

“I want him to know that he has our support, but I also want the people with whom he is working to know that he has our support and that his being in office is significant,” Nave said.

Currently, the most pressing needs within The Methodist Church of Haiti are construction of schools, chapels, parsonages and apartments; training for preachers and teachers; Sunday school curriculum; teachers’ salaries; scholarships for tuition; and vehicles for clergy, according to Paul, who communicated with e-Review via e-mail.

(Left to right) Louidie Derival, the Rev. Montreuil Milord, and Ed and Sally Ritter stand in front of Grann Source Methodist Church in La Gonâve. Derival is a member of South Dade Haitian United Methodist Mission in Leisure City, Fla., which helped build Grann Source. Photo courtesy of Ed Ritter. Photo #09-1273.

“It would be great if each circuit of The Methodist Church of Haiti would, in a not so long a time, share even just one project in partnership with (the) Florida Conference,” Paul said. “Projects can be in the area of construction, economic development, spirituality, education, exchange of resource person, etc. We hope the Florida Conference can become one of our key partners in mission in Haiti.”

Individuals who would like to support the Haiti/Florida Covenant may do so by sending checks made payable to Florida Conference Treasurer and designated Haiti/Florida Covenant in the memo line to Florida Conference Center, 1140 McDonald Street, Lakeland, FL 33801.

Churches and individuals may also contribute to the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s Hot Lunch Program, Special Advance #418790. Donations may be made via the Internet, telephone or mail. A list of Advance projects in Haiti is available at, and more information is available at

Individuals who would like more information about the Haiti/Florida Covenant may contact Milord at or the Rev. Dr. Larry Rankin, conference staff liaison for the Haiti/Florida Covenant, at

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

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