Rob Ringuette remembers his boss asking him to stay late after work to meet with him.

Ringuette, a member of Trinity CRC in Goderich, Ont., figured this meeting might be related to the fact that he had recently asked for a week off from his relatively new job so he could travel to Haiti. He was right, but not for the reasons he expected.

“I walked into the office to find out the staff wanted to surprise me with $1,200 they had raised for this trip,” recalled Ringuette with emotion in his voice that showed he was still incredibly moved by his coworkers’ generosity.

“It not only felt like God wanted me to go [to Haiti], but he was also involving all these other people, calling all of them through me.”

As a new Christian, Ringuette said he wasn’t sure why God was calling him to this trip, but getting time off work and receiving this generous collection taken by his coworkers were just a few of the many ways that God affirmed his decision to “see what he had to offer in Haiti.” From last-minute vaccination needs to political unrest in Haiti, several things could have prevented the six team members from going, but everyone landed in Port-au-Prince on schedule.

“As things fell into place, my faith grew,” added Ringuette.

Hurt and Hope

Service and learning teams like the one that Ringuette participated in fuel the ongoing relationship between the Christian Reformed Church and the people of Haiti. All three of the denomination’s international missions — Back to God Ministries International, Christian Reformed World Missions, and World Renew— have a presence in Haiti and are known collectively there under the name Sous Espwa, which means “source of hope.”

“Our volunteers show great engagement in the way they give their time and strength to help us,” said Jacky Chery, who serves as Back to God Ministries’ French ministry coordinator in Haiti.
Upon arriving in Haiti, the team from Trinity CRC learned about the hurt, hope, and heart of the mission field they would be serving.

First the team learned about the many hurts and obstacles Haitians have faced, including the major earthquake in 2010, lost sugar cane crops, and even political issues that were affecting Haiti right as they arrived to serve.

“The planned presidential elections in Haiti did not take place because of allegations of fraud,” explained Zachary Segaar-King, who serves with World Missions in Haiti. “We were thankful for the flexibility of the teams who were able to manage despite this constantly evolving situation.”

Next, the team from Trinity learned about hope in Haiti. They learned how God is working through ministries like those of the CRC to bring physical and spiritual change within Haiti. In addition, they learned how they would play a role in that change through the construction of a second floor to the Sous Espwa office.

Heart of Haiti

Finally, they got an introduction to the heart of the Haitian people.

“We learned about the camaraderie between the people,” recalled Ringuette. “People have a sense of community that makes them strong, both as a country and in church communities as well.”

As the week progressed, this lesson would become much more real for Ringuette and other members of the team. As they began construction on the office building, they did so with the help of local construction workers, most of whom were recruited from the nearby churches. While many of these workers had decades of experience in construction, Ringuette was able to share some of the methods of construction not typically used in Haiti.

“We had the opportunity to work with six Haitian men,” says Ringuette. “Throughout the week, as I worked with a man named LeLe, I felt like God was putting me there to help him learn a new skill, and I wanted him to be able to use that skill in the future.”

As Ringuette shared some of his construction knowledge while using his French language skills, LeLe and other Haitians shared their custom of singing and doing a Bible study during their lunch break. “Those were powerful moments,” said Ringuette.

An equally powerful moment came when the North American volunteers had the opportunity to worship in Jaquet church, a church that Trinity has partnered with for many years, whose opening dedication service was attended by several members of Trinity CRC.

“I was able to hear God in another language, and that’s an incredible experience,” reflected Ringuette. “Knowing all that they have been through, I could see how real their faith in God was, and that they start teaching that faith at a very young age.”

Lasting Results

In the summer of 2016, Sous Espwa staff celebrated the addition of a second floor to their office with a dedication ceremony. The second story would enable Back to God Ministries International staff in Haiti to join the office space that CRWM and World Renew staff have been using.

“The goal was to increase collaboration and make natural connections between the work of our agencies,” said Zach Segaar-King. “This decision [to add the second story] was made by faith, since at that time we did not have resources to enlarge the office building.”

Teams including Trinity CRC in Goedrich helped meet this need for resources and provided about 75 percent of the funds for this project. They  also helped train local people in some specialized building methods such as using earthquake-resistant steel beams.

The shared office space has already had a lasting effect, as Sous Espwa responded to Hurricane Matthew.

When the devastating tropical storm hit in October 2016, all three agencies were able to share their resources and respond. Back to God broadcasted a special message about preventing cholera and other training in sanitation. At the same time, Segaar-King joined relief staff from World Renew in delivering relief supplies to Vila-de-Woz, a community that was hit especially hard by the storm.

“When I arrived in Vila-de-Woz, I didn’t even recognize it,” said Segaar-King. “I estimated that 9 out of every 10 homes were uninhabitable. 

Still, one of the only remaining buildings he found intact was Christian Reformed church building —a church built with storm-resistant materials in partnership with the CRCNA agencies.

L’Union Fait la Force

At the center of the Haitian flag are four small words: l’union fait la force, meaning “unity makes strength.” Although this refers to the unity among citizens of Haiti, the phrase also rings true for the unity among Christian Reformed Church members in North America and in Haiti. 

Through Sous Espwa’s holistic ministry,  CRCNA members are able to share long-lasting resources, train leaders, and provide messages that have an impact through media.

“We partner with local people and encourage them in their gifts and skills,” said Wilma Hiemstra, another member of the Trinity CRC team. “This will them make a difference themselves in their own country.”

In turn, the members of the Christian Reformed Church in Haiti  who received these resources help strengthen the faith of long-time members of the CRCNA as well as new believers like Rob Ringuette.

“I think God is constantly spreading his love and his Word everywhere, and if we have faith, God will always provide,” said Ringuette. “This was my first time seeing that out of North American culture.”

Serve in Haiti

  1. From March 4-12 2017, join a reforestation project in Pignon, Haiti. Reforestation helps lessen the impact of natural disasters and the likelihood of mudslides that commonly occur on the country’s bare hillsides.
  2. Design a website for Sous Espwa or their partners: If you have gifts in web design, Sous Espwa wants your help in designing a new site and training local staff to maintain it.
  3. Join a construction team similar to the one featured in this article. There are still weeks available for your team to serve this winter or early spring.

Visit worldrenew.net/volunteer or crwm.org/volunteer to find out more or to apply.

About the Author

Christian Reformed World Missions

Nancy Vander Meer is a staff writer with Back to God Ministries International in Grand Rapids, Mich.