Christianity, missionaries in Haiti
A view from the road to Kenscoff, a community in the hills above Port-au-Prince
There is a Haitian joke: Haiti is 80 percent Catholic and 100 percent Voudoo. Whether true or not, Haitians are extremely religious in both talk and practice, and virtually everyone is a Christian or “Christian” of one flavor or another.
Missionaries have been in Haiti for decades. Wallace Turnbull came to the island country in 1946 and founded Baptist Haiti Mission, which still sits in the hills above Port-au-Prince on the way to Kenscoff, an affluent mountain neighborhood where a good many well-off Haitians live. The community, and Haiti generally, was much different back then—infrastructure was much less-developed; the Catholic church was more influential and powerful; most Haitian communities probably hadn’t been exposed to evangelical missionaries.
Nowadays, it seems a little comical that so many missionaries choose Haiti as a destination country, either for week-long trips or to come to live long-term, perhaps with similar expectations and motivations as Turnbull had half-a-century ago:
The area was considered sociologically the most primitive, backward part of Haiti as the mountain people lived isolated, without basic health or educational exposure, and often due to their superstition and pagan practices were feared by other levels of society.
With little communication, no electricity, no convenient utilities, and limited funds, the Turnbulls worked hard to show and tell of God’s grace and love. The mountain people readily received them with trust and hope.
The other day I was walking through the Pétion-Ville market searching for a few things. A young Haitian guy walked up and started talking to me in English. I was responding and humoring him but mostly continuing to walk along and focus on finding some cheap flip-flops.
"I have an important message for you," he said.
"Really? What’s that?"
"Do you know about Jesus Christ?"
I laughed. “Yes, I do. I grew up going to church in the States.”
"Have you been baptized?" he said.
"Yes, as a little kid."
"Are you saved?"
This went on for a couple more blocks, as I tried to explain to the guy that he could chill out because I grew up in the Bible Belt, had heard the Good News ad infinitum, etc.
Luckily, by the time he got downright annoying I had made it to the corner where a moto driver friend of mine hangs out. I hailed him and headed home and wondered what Haitians think about American missionaries who come here to preach the gospel.