Four years later, pastor still rebuilding Haiti

Jan. 14, 2014 @ 04:58 PM

On Jan. 12, 2010, a Magnitude 7 earthquake struck Haiti. 

The epicenter was in a small town about 16 miles away from the capital, Port-au-Prince. The death toll varies depending on the source and it is widely believed that the numbers from the Haitian government have been inflated. The numbers vary between 100,000 people and more than 300,000 people. 

The World Bank estimates that the earthquake killed up to 230,000 people and caused around $8 million in damages, which is 120 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world. 

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The lead pastor at Southbrook Church was interested in helping the people of Haiti and reached out to Geoffrey Janes, the missions pastor at Southbrook. 

Janes went with his first missions group in 2011, about a year after the earthquake. He has been back for 13 or 14 trips and plans to take another team to the island nation in February. 

He has seen the area change since 2011. 

“When we first started going there, there would be rubble from collapsed buildings,” he said. He said the roads were “horrendous” and there were tent cities everywhere. 

However, in October, he said all of the rubble was cleaned up, the roads were starting to improve and most of the tent cities were gone. 

“There’s a lot of work going on in Haiti,” Janes said. 

The group works with Pastor Rene Joseph, a local minister who is playing an active role in rebuilding his community and the country. 

What often happens with major disasters, is there is an outpouring of help, then it wanes. Usually when another disaster strikes. Janes said he has seen that in Haiti. He said Pastor Rene used to be “booked solid” with churches and groups coming to help and now he has about three churches that come down a few times a year. 

Janes, however, said he is there to help for the long-haul. 

“For me, dealing wit missions and with helping people whether it’s local or international,...I don’t want to be trying to fix a symptom, we need to find out what the root problem is,” he said. 

“What I try to do with any area of a mission is establish a long-term relationship,” Janes said. 

He said he does not want to throw money at a problem or be a one-day volunteer. 

“Let’s be in it in the long-term,” he said. “We stick with them long-term and we can see progress and we can see things changing.” 

The groups have embarked on various projects. They have helped with medical clinics, helped with construction for the church and for an orphanage that opened recently. They have given out clothing and shoes and started a children’s ministry. 

In February, the group will go to the orphanage to play with the children and in the fall of this year, they will host a conference in Haiti for spiritual instruction and leadership. 

Janes feels that the economy is one of the long-term problems that must be addressed. He noted that while is not equipped to address that directly he believes that by providing hope in Christ and giving people a sense of purpose and giving them a sense of self-esteem will help people, he said. 

He added that helping people learn how to read and take care of themselves are also things that could help the economy over time. 

Many of the adults are illiterate, Janes said. For children, though, there are more schools opening all the time and kids are being more exposed to teaching and learning. He hopes that over the next generation, that exposure will help to change Haiti’s future. 

Janes joked that by now he is practically a local in Port-au-Prince. He said people know hum by name and respect him as though he was one of their own pastors. 

It did not start that way, though. He said people are skeptical at first. 

“They’ve had Americans coming there for many, many years for many different reasons,” he said. He added that once you earn their trust though they are “very loving, very kind (and) very receptive.” 

For Janes, the experience is rewarding for both groups. 

“Seeing the faces of the people there when we’re able to offer what little we can,” Janes said when asked what the most rewarding part of the trips were. “That’s always rewarding.” 

“Also, knowing and experiencing the heart change of the people I take,” he added. 

He said that when he takes someone who maybe grew up in Weddington to Haiti, seeing the different culture and that level of culture often changes their outlook on life and they return different. 

Janes and a group with Southbrook will return to Port-au-Prince in February. 

The United Nations Development Programme has been working in Haiti since 2010. They reported that since then they have relocated 11,000 displaced families and closed 50 camps. They have also removed 97 percent of the 10 million cubic meters of debris and recycled 20 percent along with making several riverbank structure to protect against flooding.

Recovery and relief work is ongoing in the impoverished nation.