Building a Firm Foundation
August 01, 2013
“Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock” (Luke 6:47-48, NKJV).
Pierre´s ministry oversees 11 schools and conducts Vacation Bible School classes to introduce children to God´s Word.
Benjamin Pierre witnessed some of the worst human suffering imaginable when a 7.0-magnitude earthquake shook his beloved island nation to the core three years ago. Life has never been an easy ride for Haitians anyway, and the disaster only magnified their misery and seemingly insurmountable poverty.
But that´s not what this stalwart servant of God wants to focus on. He prefers to talk about the positive changes he has observed in his country. Without fuss or fanfare, he is quietly leading a revival to build a new Haiti—one whose foundation is firmly rooted in Jesus Christ.
“The country was very shaken. Most people lost their homes. There were dead people lying in the streets,” said Pierre. “But after the earthquake we saw something else, something remarkable.”
In more than 30 years of children´s ministry and church planting, Pierre had never seen such a change of heart in his people. He estimates some 89,000 Haitians have accepted Christ since 2010.
“More people than ever before gave their lives to Christ. Churches are growing. When they hear the Word of God, a lot of people who practice voodoo are turning to Jesus,” he said.
A Greater Sense of Urgency
Forty seconds of sheer terror. That´s how long the ground shook, but it was only the beginning of the nightmare for Pierre and 3.5 million Haitians directly affected by the late afternoon quake on Jan. 12, 2010.
Pierre was riding in a taxi through the streets of Delmas outside the capital city when the violent shaking began. He watched helplessly as buildings collapsed—practically on top of him. The car in front of the taxi was crushed by tumbling concrete. So was the car behind him. There was no route of escape.
When the worst of the shaking ceased, Pierre managed to get out of the taxi and crawled on his hands and knees through the tangle of debris and lifeless bodies. His clothes became stained with blood from the injured and deceased people he brushed up against. Frantic to find his wife and children, he prayed for their safety and kept going until he made it to their house.
What he saw was reassuring. The house was damaged, but still standing.
His wife, Adeline, was not inside, however, and hours would pass before he learned she had escaped injury at another location in the city. Their children were safe too. The devastating news came later as the Pierres learned they lost 30 members of their extended family.
One of their churches was also destroyed in the tumult, but no one was inside during the late afternoon hour. With more pressing needs than ever, Pierre´s vision to reach his nation with the gospel took on a heightened sense of urgency.
Christian Aid Mission heard about his ministry, Evangelical Tabernacle of Praise, and began partnering with him to send emergency relief to Haiti. Donors responded generously by sending support for food and clothing that were distributed to a tent city in Port-au-Prince.
As part of recovery efforts, Christian Aid also helped rebuild the church and supplied a vehicle to provide transportation for ministry in the mountains.
With the worst of the disaster behind them, Pierre has returned to his focus on Christian education as a means to bring new life and hope to the people of Haiti. Preparing future leaders—in commerce, government, as well as ministry—starts in the hearts and minds of the nation´s youngest citizens.
Giving Roots and Wings to the Next Generation
A meal of rice and beans
Long before the earthquake, the sight of neglected and destitute children wandering the streets was commonplace. Pierre and his wife worried that these youngsters were not getting an education and would have no chance to escape poverty as adults.
They sought the Lord´s help and felt led to open a primary school in the town of Petit-goave, located 42 miles from Port-au-Prince. That was in 1982. Over 30 years later, those first students now serve their communities as teachers, police officers, doctors, and lawyers. One of them is a pastor at a church in Petit-goave.
Since then they have established ten more schools currently attended by 1,114 children.
The school buildings are far from impressive. In one mountain village the structure is a primitive assembly of wood slats that beckons a few rays of light and a slight breeze. At first glance it looks more like a barn than a classroom.
None of the 11 schools, including the ones in the urban districts, has running water. The rural schools lack electricity. Not surprising, the teachers receive little or no salary. They stay anyway because they consider their work with the children an important investment for the future of the nation.
Pierre asks for an annual tuition fee of $5 (U.S.) per student. Sadly, the parents typically pay one or two dollars or sometimes nothing at all.
To cover the expenses, Pierre supplements his income by teaching English and Spanish classes at secondary schools.
Sometimes it is the youngest victims of a disaster that can be overlooked, and Pierre is determined to make sure this does not happen to Haiti´s children. For several years he and his wife operated a village orphanage for about 50 boys and girls. That number increased to 81 after the earthquake.
Due to insufficient space, an organization helped him build a four-room shelter to house 32 of the children.
Despite meager resources that often come out of his own pocket, Pierre also runs a weekend feeding program for children whose families are still trying to recover financially and emotionally after the quake. On Saturdays their meal consists of rice and beans with some meat and juice. The children eat sandwiches, cookies, and juice on Sundays. They receive spiritual nourishment, too, as the children hear Bible stories and sing worship songs.
“Our ministry starts with children, giving them an understanding of who Jesus is and how much He loves them. Because of this, we are seeing more young people than adults come to Christ,” said Pierre.
Training Christian Leaders
When the first group of schoolchildren learned about Jesus in 1982, they eagerly shared the gospel message with their parents. Some of those parents eventually received Christ and began gathering for prayer and Bible study. Their informal fellowship turned into a full-fledged church.
Pierre has now planted 12 churches. In addition, he oversees 19 others that are under his jurisdiction because he has official registration with the government. Four of these churches started after the earthquake when many people rejected voodoo and committed their lives to Christ.
Pastors are needed to lead these churches, but seminary training is not readily available and even less affordable. New converts need discipleship, too. To address these needs, during the past five years Pierre has opened three Bible schools in various regions of the country.
This semester there are 12 trainees in the Port-au-Prince location, 22 in Petit-goave, and 42 in Pignon in the north.
Preparing for baptism at a Haitian beach
Ten courses are offered during the 30-month program. Tuition is $5 per course ($50 U.S.). Pierre receives the curriculum and class materials for free from a Bible training center in the United States. He and three other instructors teach the classes.
Some of the pastor trainees are graduates of Pierre´s primary schools. The Bible students travel twice a week to a church where the classes are held. During that time they sleep in the church or at Pierre´s house. Since the facility is small, Pierre would like to purchase land and build a more suitable training center.
Future plans for the ministry include a vocational training school for teens and adults that would offer courses in mechanics, carpentry, and handicrafts, and a clinic to meet basic medical needs of rural villagers.
Currently Pierre operates a “mobile clinic” with the vehicle donated by Christian Aid Mission. He takes a volunteer doctor along on rotating visits to his churches, providing for practical needs as part of his outreach to the community.