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#3638: Faith, antibiotics & good intentions (fwd)
From: Rosann Clements <email@example.com>
SPECIAL SECTION: The News-Sentinel presents this report to share the vision,
dedication and self-sacrifice of the students with their community.
Faith, antibiotics & good intentions
On a medical mission trip to Haiti, a group of Huntington College students
put their faith and belief in humanity to the test.
Photos by ELLIE BOGUE
Story by ASHRAF KHALIL of The News-Sentinel
They were so few, and they came to a land that needs so much -- bearing
little more than faith, antibiotics and good intentions.
"Sometimes I think, 'How dare we come down here for three weeks and think
we're going to fix these people,' " said Heidi Martz, one of the 21
Huntington College students who traveled to Haiti in January for 20 days of
medical clinics and soul-searching.
Huntington physician Dr. Bill Webb, who has been to Haiti more than 10 times
in the past 14 years, led the students on their journey.
"He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High ... will say to the Lord, 'My
refuge and my fortress."' -- Psalms 91:1-2
Visitors to the Church of God-run orphanage in St. Ard -- one hour north of
the capital, Port-au-Prince -- find a walled-in courtyard with tin-roofed
buildings: a large supply warehouse, a pair of low-slung dorms and a
two-story main lodge with a red front door bearing the sign "Haiti Hilton."
Vehicles clutter the rocky yard -- including a large school bus, the rear of
a semi-trailer, and the dismembered carcass of a white pickup with "U.N."
still visible on the detached door. There's also a gleaming new white
garbage truck bought by the Chinese for use in St. Ard and neighboring
villages. The mayor asked if he could temporarily park it there, and it has
sat unused and out of gas for a month.
The orphanage is well-supported and funded. Missionary groups visit
regularly -- a group from Danville, Ill., left two days before Bill Webb's
group arrived. The shelves bulge with medicines, vitamins, canned fruit and
meat, Kool-Aid, Saran Wrap, Tupperware and bulk crates of ramen noodles.
Solar panels on the roof provide electricity, and the complex has indoor
plumbing and five flush toilets -- almost unheard-of in rural Haiti.
For the 40 children ages 3 to 13 who live there, life in the orphanage is
often better than for children living on the outside with their families.
The orphans receive nutritious food, clothing, education and attention; in a
way, they're the lucky ones.
"I came in expecting to be all brokenhearted seeing the orphans here," Brad
Theard said. "My perception is that they have it the best on the island."
The presiding matriarch of the orphanage is Phyllis Newby, a serene but
forceful Jamaican missionary who has spent the last 25 years in Haiti.
Phyllis is the Church of God's official representative in Haiti -- helping
to coordinate about 100 churches and 40 church-run schools around the
She is lean, strong-willed, dry-witted and tirelessly devoted to her work.
At age 55-plus -- the true number is a "state secret" -- she can out-hike
some of the students on the way to rural mountain clinics. By the end of the
first week, the students viewed Phyllis with a mixture of awe, affection and
"I look at her, and I question my own faith and devotion," said Aaron
Andersen. "I think about the sacrifice she's made -- giving up her life to
commit it to others. She's a wonderful role model, but I don't know if I
could give that much up."
"Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands: sing forth the honor of His
name." -- Psalms 66:1
Shouts and devotions bounced off the walls and tin roof of the Eglise De
Dieu Reformee De Saint Ard. About 100 congregation members were gathered in
their Sunday finery. The men wore collared shirts, slacks and ties. The
women wore floral dresses and head scarves. Young girls with hair bows
fidgeted in frilly dresses.
The congregation sang "How Great Thou Art" in Creole -- a modified French
dialect -- while the students, seated at the front like honored guests,
followed along in English. Pastor Jean-Marie Louis exhorted them from the
pulpit, raising his hands and smiling widely.
Bill and the students introduced themselves at the podium -- with Phyllis
"We're here to serve and work and worship and praise God with you," he said.
When it came time for individual prayers, Bill and the students bowed their
heads and silently moved their lips. The congregation members, however, said
their prayers out loud and all at once.
The students stood and sang several songs -- including an up-tempo,
hand-clapping version of "Lord I Lift Your Name On High." Mark Vincenti, the
lanky, rubber-limbed comedian of the group, stepped to the podium to deliver
a brief sermon.
"For the past year or so, I've felt I had a covering over my heart. I want
to be a man of God," he told the congregation. "When I set foot in Haiti, I
felt that covering lift. Maybe God now can make me a man."
But even in this house of Christian faith, Haiti's voodoo-believing majority
made its presence felt. For the second straight Sunday, the local
non-Christians staged a noisy, festive parade past the church -- leading a
bull for sacrifice. Their celebrations will get more intense as they build
toward a carnival-type voodoo celebration that immediately follows Mardi
Gras each year. The Christians believe these parades are timed specifically
to disrupt church services.
Later, as the students were taking the back route to the orphanage through
the village, some of them came across the parade on its way back. Drummers
laid down a tribal rhythm while men waved flags and danced ecstatically at
the front. Some of the dancing men tried to spook the students by jumping
out at them.
"Spiritual warfare at its best," commented two-time Haiti visitor Carolyn
"Make no mention of the name of other gods." -- Exodus 23:13
On Friday night, there was a voodoo "rara" celebration in full swing less
than 150 feet from the orphanage gate. The drums, cymbals and rhythmic
chanting carried clearly over the compound walls -- a very different sort of
joyful noise than the students are used to.
Some of the students were clearly repulsed and fearful. For Christian
children raised in a Christian culture and educated in a Christian college,
the presence of something so pagan just past the compound walls was
genuinely threatening. They harbored visions of animal and human
sacrifice -- augmented by Phyllis, who told an embellished story of a
student from Goshen who went to a rara and was found dead with some of her
Other students were fascinated and talked of a desire to go see -- but
worried what Bill, Phyllis or their peers might think. Devotionals that
night had to be held inside to keep from being drowned out by the drumming.
The students held hands in a circle and prayed aloud. Then they turned
around and faced outward, still holding hands, and simultaneously praised
God aloud. Their individual prayers and praises overlapped in a buzzing hum
of devotion as they tried to project their faith out against the forces
arrayed outside the walls.
The drums and chanting continued long into the night, and the students
sought their own sort of spiritual prophylactic. After devotionals, they
gathered and sang until almost midnight, running through every hymn they
* * *
On the other side of the walls, the faith and devotion were equally intense.
About 100 sweating, chanting Haitians of all ages gathered in the dirt
courtyard of a large house belonging to the son of the local houngan, or
medicine man. Most were crammed onto a porch covered by a woven banana-leaf
roof laughing, talking, singing in Creole and passing around bottles of
clarin -- a raw white rum.
Several men, including one in a Drug Abuse Resistance Education T-shirt,
played conga drums in a steady, pulsing rhythm; another hammered on a piece
of tin in his hand. Several men and women danced with abandon in the center
of the mob. The dance was somewhere between drunken stumbling and ecstatic
frenzy, the dance equivalent of speaking in tongues. The intensity level
rose. One woman started pulling up her blouse and lifting her skirt. Another
fell to the floor and began thrashing around on her back.
It is believed that in the midst of the rara, the gods can "ride" believers
like a horse -- entering their bodies, acting and speaking through them in a
manner that most Christians would consider demonic possession. Bill and the
students talk constantly of developing a personal relationship with God, but
the voodoo believers see the Christian God as distant and untouchable
compared to their own hands-on deities.
"Christians believe in Jesus, but they never see Jesus. I see my gods. I
feel them inside me," said Benjamin, a man in his 20s attending the rara.
"My gods give me power. They protect me."
* * *
The students wanted no part of Benjamin's beliefs. They, along with Bill and
Phyllis, dismiss voodoo as pure Satan worship and black magic -- something
to be overcome rather than understood. On their first night in the country,
Aaron voiced a desire to "claim the authority of Jesus Christ in the midst
of all this voodoo."
Trying to spread Christ while totally ignoring voodoo seems akin to teaching
English while refusing to learn a word of Creole, but they seemed determined
to remain separate from the dominant culture.
In truth, dark magic and zombies are a part of voodoo belief, but they're
not a legitimate expression of the faith any more than Satan worship is a
legitimate part of Christianity. Haiti has been described as 80 percent
Christian and 110 percent voodoo. Many aspects of Christianity, particularly
Catholic icons like the Virgin Mary, have simply been absorbed and
co-opted -- forming a Christian-voodoo hybrid that Bill considers a
"Many of the voodooists have adopted Christian imagery and turned it to
Satan worship," he said. "When people are desperate, they'll try anything.
In fact, a lot of them do try everything. Some people go to church and
Jesus Christ, for many Haitians, has simply become one more powerful
presence in the pantheon -- alongside the lustful Papa Guede, guardian of
the cemeteries Baron Samedi, and the snake goddess Aida-Ouedo.
Phyllis' orphanage exists as an island of Christian faith amid a sea of
voodoo-influenced culture. On many nights, the students sleep to the sound
of the drums and wake to the voices of orphanage children singing "Kum Ba
Yah" in Creole.