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Haiti is the face of resilience despite incredible challenges

Haiti is the face of resilience despite incredible challenges

Missions and Outreach

The Republic of Haiti sits over two major earthquake fault lines on the island of Hispaniola. It seems to be the bullseye for any hurricane barreling off the coast of Africa into the Caribbean Sea.

Haiti also is beset by chronic poverty, government corruption, and gangs that control large areas of the country. There are widespread human rights violations and food shortages, and the United Nations estimates that at least 800,000 Haitians have been infected with cholera since 2010.

That was the year a 7.0 earthquake killed an estimated 300,000 Haitians instantly. For perspective, about 58,000 Americans died during the nation's eight-year active military involvement during the war in Vietnam. Another powerful quake in 2021 destroyed an estimated 53,000 homes.

"Haiti never gets a break. It's always something," David Draeger said.

He is the mission volunteer coordinator for the Methodist Church in Haiti.

And yet, he also says this.

"I feel like God called me to Haiti and confirmed it a couple of times in different ways that this is where I'm supposed to be," he said. "There is no place else I'd rather be." 
Road damage from the 2021 earthquake. Photo provided by David Draeger.

That's because where others may only see despair, Draeger sees hope. Where others focus on Haiti's instability, Draeger sees gratitude from those who trust that he has their best interests at heart.

That's what happens when someone is willing to look beyond the headlines about Haiti and instead focus on the people who live there.

"I would describe Haiti as an absolutely beautiful country with people who have been through more than we can ever imagine," said Molly McEntire, the Mission Training and Volunteer Coordinator for The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church.

"They've had to overcome so many challenges from natural disasters or political unrest, but the people are resilient and have remained faithful."

A long history

The Florida-Haiti Covenant was formalized in 2006 by delegates to the Annual Conference. Among other things, it established for Florida United Methodist churches to assist in building schools and community health centers, which, in turn, helped improve the stagnant Haitian economy.

The Covenant also was designed to earn the trust of the Haitian people. Many had grown suspicious about the efforts from other nations, including the United States. In 1995, for instance, President Bill Clinton forced Haiti to drop its tariffs on imported rice from the United States from 50% to 3%.

Clinton said the idea was that rich countries like the U.S. should sell food to poorer nations so they could move from agriculture-based into a more industrialized economy. It had the opposite effect, however. Until then, Haiti was a leader in rice exports, but that collapsed.

Clinton later admitted his plan was a mistake, and critics noted that it primarily benefitted his home state of Arkansas, which is a major rice producer. Rice farms were wiped out, and with it, Haiti's ability to be self-sufficient. Starvation became a routine part of Haitian life.

The United Methodist Church's efforts have been important in rebuilding a positive relationship between Haiti and the United States.

"It's been a combination of international interference right from the get-go. The church is one of the organizations they trust the most," said Rev. Tom Vencuss, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) Disaster Response Trainer in the Mountains of Hope for Haiti.

"An organization like the United Methodist Church can help greatly because we are a connectional system. We have locations in so many areas."

However, working with UMCOR and other agencies is a balancing act. Haiti needs immediate help in many ways, but it only goes so far. For instance, a recent $200,000 grant from UMCOR for food sounds like a lot, but after purchasing meals for about 20,000 people, the food was gone in less than a week.

That underscored the need for Haitians to become more self-reliant, 

"It's affecting me with a constant reminder that empowerment is so important for everything we do," McEntire said. "We want to empower people because that's how the world will change."

But that's complicated by a damaged economy and the political and civil unrest, along with the disasters of earthquakes and hurricanes.

"Right now, because they have had no elections as of a few weeks ago, the term limits for all of their elected officials have ended. They have no elected officials in power," Vencuss said.

"The country is being overrun by gangs, and gangs are controlling so much of the economic system. They control the fuel supply. They shut down roads. They control the transportation of goods. It's a struggle to get from one day to the next for most of the people there."

And yet, as his wife Wendy said, the Haitian people keep going.

"They have an amazing resiliency to respond," she said.

Travel warnings

The unrest prompted the U.S. State Department to issue a Level 4 warning for anyone thinking of going to Haiti, flatly stating that U.S. citizens should not go there. It also advised U.S. residents living in Haiti to leave.

That, of course, further hampered efforts in Haiti and fractured its vital tourism industry.

Originally from Indiana, Draeger went to Haiti on a mission trip about 30 years ago and got hooked, regularly returning. When his wife was nearing the end of her life a few years ago, she told him to move there permanently after she passed.

He did.

"I ignored the State Department," he said. "Because of that, they told me they couldn't help me in any way. They won't even help get my body out if I'm killed."

That might be no small matter. One recent night, Draeger said he heard gunfire throughout the evening about 100 feet outside his home. On another occasion, someone tried to break into his car while it was stopped in traffic.

"I popped him in the nose," Draeger said. "I thought I broke my hand; I hope I broke his nose."

His driver later asked if he had seen the assailant's gun.

"It was a big one," Draeger said.
Food delivery in Port au Prince. Photo provided by David Draeger.
To him, though, the work is more important than the danger. A lifelong United Methodist, he recently transferred his membership to the Methodist Church of Haiti.

"This is where I'm supposed to be," he said. "If I die, I die. But if I die, I live in Christ."

So without in-person visits, how can people in the U.S. and other countries help?

"If you have a personal relationship with someone you know or met on a mission trip, stay in contact with them," he said. "When times are difficult, people need reassurance from other people.

"The laity are also in need of support. Lay pastors, doctors, nurses, and teachers need the knowledge that someone in the world cares for them. The lay pastors preach every Sunday and are never compensated."

Donations are always welcome, given the shortages of food, water, and diesel fuel pastors use to make the rounds to more than 50 churches that depend on them.

"Donor fatigue has set in, and I understand it. We get one house built, and the next hurricane knocks down two. But Jesus never said to give to the poor until it's not a problem. He just said to give it to the poor," Draeger said.

"The good news is that, despite the hardships, despite the difficulties, the Church of Haiti is alive and well. There are weddings, births and baptisms, and regular weekly Bible studies. There is active worship on Sunday mornings and funerals for the saints departed. Generally speaking, sanctuaries are full every Sunday. People risk their lives to travel through violent gang-infested neighborhoods to worship God."

Joe Henderson is the News Content Editor for

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