Pastor Maslin Joseph and his family survive on the equivalent of five U.S. dollars per month. A dirt-floor shack is their share of the grim poverty endured by most citizens of Haiti. Though the pastor can't afford Bible study books for himself, much less for his congregation, he does have something most Haitians lack.
"Christians have hope—specifically the hope of Christ." says Rob Dunn, pastor of local and global missions at Millcreek Community Church in Erie, Pennsylvania. "That is one distinct difference between Christians and non-Christians living in the same physical condition."
Rob is a former missionary to Haiti's neighbor, the Dominican Republic, and now heads up two mission trips per year to Haiti. His church has partnered with Philadelphia Church in Cap Haitian, a congregation of about 400 believers.
This June, his mission team took extra cargo along: Creole-language resources. The two cases of John Piper's Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die were provided through "Packing Hope", a project of The Gospel Coalition-International Outreach (TGC-IO). Though French has long been the language of Haitian literature, Creole is gaining in popularity. (Many Haitians speak, but do not read both languages).
Rob said their team first showed the books to several Haitian pastors who helped with interpreting. "They were very excited about the resource and immediately began talking together about how they could break the book down and teach it to their people over a year period, as a weekly class in their churches."
One missionary who teaches English in Haiti realized she could incorporate the book in her lessons, and spread the Gospel to non-Christians.
"So God used the two cases of books to encourage pastors of three churches and a missionary, supply countless numbers of Haitians with material to grow them spiritually, and confront others with the truth of the Gospel!" Rob says.
A heartbreaking heritage
Haiti's stunning poverty and hopelessness has a long history. Once known as Saint-Domingue, the nation was born out of a slave revolution in the late 1700s that led to a declaration of independence from France in 1804. Since then, Haiti has struggled through two centuries of wars, coups d'etat, invasions, rebellions, despotic rule and natural disasters.
Most recently, Haiti suffered from devastating natural disasters. First, Tropical Storm Jeanne came in 2004, killing more than 3,000 people. Four years later, a series of hurricanes claimed more than 300 lives, and left countless thousands homeless and injured.
The greatest destruction arrived in 2010, on the heels of a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. Its toll is still debated, with estimated numbers of deaths ranging from 50,000 to 300,000.
Billions of dollars' worth of aid has poured into Haiti due to the tragedies. But poverty prevails.
Most Haitians in this land of 10 million people claim Catholicism as their religion, although some combine it with voodoo. About 15 percent of the population identify as Protestants.
Regardless of their faith, most Haitians live on less than $2 a day and face extreme challenges.Rob says, "Living conditions are deplorable, health issues are widespread, and hunger is constant."
But the pastor says these circumstances have created a church that depends on Christ and one another. "Christ really is the focal point of the Christian community. They have truly learned how to treasure Christ above all things temporal."
Haitian believers also treasure gospel resources—if they can get them.
"We have received these books with joy"
Brett Louis, pastor of Christ Redeemer Church in Woodbury, Minnesota, found out about Packing Hope at a pastors conference in Minneapolis in January, 2013. A few weeks later his fellow church member, Ken Schlorf, and eight other members flew to Fermathe, Haiti, to visit Baptist Haiti Mission (BHM). They carried 50 pounds of precious gospel-centered books in French: John Piper's The Dangerous Duty of Delight and Fifty Reasons Jesus Came to Die, and Tullian Tchividjian's Jesus + Nothing = Everything.
Their team distributed many of the books at BHM's 55th Annual National Church Conference, a four-day training program attended by more than 350 Haitian pastors. (More books were distributed at the mission's Summer Bible Institute).
Back at home, Ken Schlorf heard from Pastor Edrice Romelus, superintendent of evangelism for BHM, about the impact the books have had on Haiti's Christian community.
"We have received these books with joy," Pastor Edrice said. "They have had a good impact in churches. For example, I had a week of revival ... and every speaker spoke on three reasons each [from Fifty Reasons]."
Another believer, a Canadian visiting Haiti while studying for her Master of Theology Degree, wrote to say that the books are "having an amazing impact on the preaching in this country."
Pastor Maslin Joseph knows that life is very difficult in Haiti. But he says God always provides, and that as a pastor he must keep on, because he loves his people and because God has called him to do this.
Gospel-centered books encourage Maslin and hundreds of other Haitian pastors and their congregations in a deeper walk with Christ. With the help of God and His people, TGC-IO will continue providing materials that bring hope and revival.
Dennis Roberts is a former religion writer for The Modesto Bee newspaper and has contributed to a variety of Christian and secular publications. He produces Pursuing Christ, the radio ministry of Elk Grove (CA) Bible Church. He and his wife, Elizabeth, live in Valley Springs, California.
Photography by Bill Walsh.