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Haiti: World Factbook, 2009
27,750 sq km
9,035,536 (July 2009)
French (official), Creole (official)
Roman Catholic 80%, Protestant 16% (Baptist 10%, Pentecostal 4%, Adventist 1%, other 1%), none 1%, other 3%
black 95%, mulatto and white 5%
Groups Associated with MWC
Membership in MWC Affiliated Churches
Haiti is a country in the Caribbean with a population of 9,035,536 (July 2009 estimate). It is located on the Island of Hispaniola, and is bordered on the east by the Dominican Republic. In 2006 there were four organized Anabaptist-related groups officially associated with Mennonite World Conference (MWC) with 3,827 total members.
Click the following link to learn more about other Anabaptist-related groups in the Caribbean, Central and South America.
Origins of Anabaptist-Mennonite groups in Haiti
The Mennonite presence in Haiti began in 1948 when four Canadian Mennonites came with the West Indies Mission. Ten years later, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) became the first Mennonite organization in Haiti. They began by assisting in an agricultural program in Petit Goave and sending medical personnel to Hospital Albert Schweitzer. MCC’s involvement grew as they worked with the Haitian government to open a hospital in Grande Riviere du Nord in 1959, assisted in schools, and began agricultural and community development programs. MCC focused on service, making the decision to work with churches already in place rather than planting new churches. In 1963, Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) came to Haiti in the aftermath of a devastating hurricane season, and in addition to material aid they were the first witness for Mennonite church development. MDS would bring a group to Haiti, and upon their return these individuals would talk to their home churches about the need in Haiti, and the church would send representatives to start a church. Consequently there were many separate small groups of Mennonites established in Haiti, but there was not a strong group identity among the churches.
Anabaptist Identity in Haiti
Although there are indigenous Haitian churches such as those in Grace Assembly Network, there is still a strong missionary presence in Haiti. Some of these mission groups focus on relief, and others focus on evangelizing and church planting. The Church of God in Christ Mennonite (Holdeman) was one of the first organizations in Haiti, and according to Hunsberger, has done the most for church development. In her thesis, Sharon Wyse Miller writes that they have strict rules regarding dress and simplicity of lifestyle that they expect the Haitian members to follow. The identity of these more conservative Mennonites is very connected to the ideals of the Holdemans. Miller differentiates between Mennonites who go to “save souls” and those who go “in the name of Christ”It is a concern of the Hunsbergers that many Mennonites in Haiti focus on evangelism and baptism without communicating sufficiently, if at all, the Anabaptist ethic of unconditional love, peace and nonresistance. They worry that they are more concerned with calling people Christians than sharing the holistic gospel of the Anabaptist faith.
There are many separate groups of Mennonite missionaries who have planted churches in Haiti. Miller identifies these groups, which range from the more conservative Plain Mennonites who emphasize separation from the world and a peace ethic lived out by being the quiet of the land, to the more liberal Mennonites who cry out against injustice and actively work to promote peace. However, Miller says, if these groups would talk to each other they would realize that they are “following a similar love ethic which, active or passive, could help Haitian Christians spread a gospel of peace in their world” (28). There is a lot of the peace work going on today, but it is of the “quiet variety”and is often not even labeled by the people who express it. While the way they live out their Anabaptist identity varies, the Mennonite groups in Haiti have shared many commonalities throughout their history, and continue to share them today.
Timeline of Mennonite action in Haiti
1948 - The first Mennonites travel to Haiti with West Indies Mission.
1957 - Willian T. Snyder and Edgar Stoesz visit Haiti to determine whether there is need for an MCC unit to be sent. They found the need “in every human experience to be almost beyond compare” (MCC annual report, 1957). They began making arrangements to send medical personnel and agricultural workers to Haiti, as they felt this was the best way to initiate their contribution.
1958 - First MCC workers sent to Haiti to assist at Hospital Albert Schweitzer and Petit Goave.
1959 - MCC works with the government to open hospital in Grande Riviere du Norde.
1963 - Hurricane Flora devastates Haiti, prompting the flow of MDS workers into the area, directed by Arlin Hunsberger. The influx of MDS began the explosion of Mennonite church plants all over Haiti.
1969 - Goshen College begins Study Service Trimester in, sending students to Haiti for education and periods of service. The program continued until 1986.
1979 - Pastor Lesly Bertrand, after feeling called to return to his home country after living in Maimi, starts a Mennonite church in Haiti, Assemblée de la Grâce, which has become the mother church of a series of church plants Pastor Lesly has initiated.
1988 - CPT meets with former aid workers from Haiti to try and determine a response to recurring violence.
1990 - Pastor Lesly Bertand forms Grace Assembly Network, a series of church plants all over Haiti, of which Assemblée de la Grâce is the founding church. GAN today consists of twenty-four congregations, one orphanage, and seven schools.
1993 - U.S promises to help Aristide regain his presidency, but does not follow through. The time surrounding Aristide’s expected return was fraught with danger and injustice for people all over Haiti as coup supporters inflicted violence on those with different opinions, and viewed “most professions that bettered the lives of the poor as a threat to their hegemony.”
1993 - Cry For Justice starts a project to provide a “violence-deterring/human rights-monitoring presence” for those who are suffering due to the political instability caused by the coup.
1994 - CPT sends a team to Haiti, which stays until 1995, during which time they are a witness for peace and justice, staging demonstrations (to varying degrees of success) and documenting human rights abuses.
2005 - Grace Assembly Network becomes partners in mission with Souderton, Rockhill and Hopewell congregations of Franconia Mennonite Conference in the U.S. The purpose of the partnership is for both parties to support each other and to find renewal each through the other.
2006 - Armed assassins enter Assemblée de la Grâce on February 19, shooting several people and killing the deacon. Their intention was to kill Pastor Lesly Bertrand because he would not support a certain political candidate, but they did not succeed.
In 2006 there were four Anabaptist-related groups officially associated with MWC in Haiti, as well as other independent or unaffiliated groups:
- Assemblée de la Grâce
- Chapelle Evangélique de Lumière
- L'Eglise de Dieu en Christ Mennonite
- SLM Ministries
Hunsberger, Arlin and Naomi. Personal Interview. 26 Nov. 2008.
Kern, Kathleen. In Harm's Way: A History of Christian Peacemaker Teams. Eugene, Or: Cascade Books, 2009.
Miller, Sharon Wyse. The Anabaptist Witness in Haiti: Proclaiming the Gospel of Peace: a Thesis. Thesis (M.A.R.)--Eastern Mennonite Seminary, 1999, 1999.
Haiti on Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.
- "Haiti," CIA World Factbook. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ha.html (accessed 7 August 2009).
- "2006 Mennonite and Brethren in Christ World Membership," Mennonite World Conference. http://www.mwc-cmm.org/en15/PDF-PPT/2006mbictotal.pdf (accessed 5 August 2009).
- Miller, p. 22
- Miller, p. 28
- Kern, p. 24
- Kern, p.23
Alison Brookins compiled much of the information presented here in a student research paper for a spring 2009 Anabaptist History Class at Goshen College.