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The other day I had the chance to visit a massive tent camp on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.
The camp had been set up out in the middle of nowhere by international aid organizations with great intentions: get people out of the collapsing city, centralize the tents to make it easier to bring in clean water and food, dig deep latrines in the empty farmland… In short: bring relief.
But now that many aid organizations have pulled out of Haiti, conditions in the tent village have deteriorated. Poverty is rampant, unemployment is pervasive and I heard many disturbing things about the living conditions there, including the fact that women have begun selling their bodies for as little as $0.63 to buy a meal or two for their families.
What happened? What went wrong? Why did an initiative with such a well-intentioned beginning end up in such tragedy?
Well, in interacting with Nehemiah Vision Ministries in Haiti, I’ve begun to find some answers to these questions…
The dust has settled
As Americans, we like numbers. We like to see the return on our investment. So when the earthquake shook Haiti, we all jumped at the opportunity to help out in ways that would produce clear, measurable results.
We distributed lots of food, we built lots of shelters and we provided lots of free medical care. We came back home with success stories of using X amount of dollars to help X amount of people with X amount of volunteers.
It was all good. America, along with the international community, rose up as one to bring relief to Haiti.
But now that the dust has (literally and metaphorically) settled, a difficult truth has emerged. Yes, Haiti needs relief. And lots of it. But until we begin to focus on development, the country will remain perched on the edge of crisis.
Unfortunately, development is not very attractive to Americans like me. It’s not simple. It’s not easy. And it takes a long time to establish measurable results.
This, frankly, is why organizations like Nehemiah Vision Ministries are so important. They have a completely different perspective on the issues at hand. And now, seeing what the Western, relief-oriented perspective has done to a community of Haitian IDPs, I’m beginning to sit up and listen.
The Long Haul
Pastor Pierre, director of Nehemiah Vision Ministries, his staff and his volunteers are not motivated by the short-term outcomes that come from relief work. Instead, they are driven by a relentless pursuit of development.
This is not to say that relief work is not important. Yes, they distribute food as they are able. Yes, they provide urgent medical care to earthquake victims who need it. But NVM is not flailing around randomly, trying to bring relief to all of Haiti.
Instead, they are laser focused on continuing the mission they began over four years ago: to transform the life of their community, to bring hope to the people of Chambrun and to steadily pull an entire village out of poverty.
But what about the IDP camps? What about the people living in tents? Shouldn’t Nehemiah Vision Ministries change its focus now that the earthquake has taken its toll?
Well, I recently sat in on a meeting between Pastor Pierre and some of his volunteer staff (including several long-term American volunteers) where he addressed some of these concerns. In the meeting, he encouraged the team to stay focused on the big-picture vision of NVM.
He reminded the team of the biblical story of David, who spent years caring for sheep before ever living in to his ultimate purpose as king of Israel. If NVM stays faithful “in the dusty clinic…” he said, “we too will someday fulfill our ultimate purpose: to help transform the life of this community.”
“It’s a hard thing for me. I like to move,” he said. “But I want to be a living sacrifice that stays put.”
Listening to Pastor Pierre talk, I got a sense of just how unique his perspective is. Esperandieu carries within his heart a profound vision for the restoration of Haiti. He envisions his country alive and thriving, beating back generations of poverty and emerging into a new era of life and hope…
By staying faithful to the vision God has given them, he believes, NVM will become more and more of a model for other organizations in Haiti to replicate, creating a cycle of development that will sweep across the nation. This movement will help IDPs as well as the millions of Haitians who have been living on the brink of destitution for years.
But for Pastor Pierre, this grand vision begins not with helicopters and tents. It begins not in the office of the president or on the stage of a massive rally. It begins in the dust of Chambrun.
As I left the meeting that day, I was reminded yet again how important it is to invest in the work being done by indigenous leaders around the world. Sure they may not all have our specialized training or our resources or our obsessive drive to constantly grown and expand, but they do have something that Americans like me often lack: patience.
When I walk among the IDP camps of Port-au-Prince, my gut reaction is to do something. I want to fix it… to change the situation now.
But leaders like Pastor Pierre recognize that even if they were to distribute 10,000 meals today, there would be 10,000 hungry people to feed tomorrow. And the next day. And the next…
They understand that for long-term, sustainable development, their focus must be much more holistic.
That’s why Nehemiah Vision Ministries is located in Chambrun. They don’t just help with a single issue… they help with all of them: providing a school for children in the village, running a well-stocked medical clinic, drilling wells for clean drinking water, teaching agriculture techniques, running a children’s home for orphans and other kids in need, building new homes and providing wheelchairs for disabled villagers…
And lest I forget, on Sundays NVM is a church for over 700 people. Beyond material needs, they are helping to empower villagers with the hope, life and joy that come through the kingdom of God!
As I left the meeting with Pastor Pierre and his team, I was filled with a sense of hope. And not just for the people of Chambrun. I was filled with hope for Haiti.
Nehemiah Vision Ministries is having a profound effect on the thousands of people in their community, including many of the IDPs who now live nearby. Their elementary school is about to re-open and construction has begun on a new, fully functioning hospital.
And with such incredible stories of growth emerging from Chambrun, other national organizations have begun to notice. Within the next few years, I would not be surprised to see other local and international organizations modeled on the work of NVM springing up all across the country.
Communities being pulled back from the brink… Poverty beginning to decline… IDPs finding jobs and homes and healthcare…
It may not look very glamorous on a not-for-profit fund-raising proposal, but the tireless development work of the “long-haulers” like Pastor Pierre will be what finally brings relief to Haiti.
- Are you interested in seeing the new construction going on at Nehemiah Vision Ministries? Check out our brief walking tour of the campus.
- Follow Pastor Pierre on Twitter!
- Nehemiah Vision Ministries needs your help to accomplish their mission. Would you consider contributing your time, energy and money to their cause? Click here for more information…
- NVM has a fantastic child sponsorship program. For just $40 a month, you can invest in the future of a Haitian child in need. Check it out!
About the Author: Barry is the founder and director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.