HIStory: Team finds a village on a hill in need of help
By Gary Fallesen
Founding president, Climbing For Christ
In my mind, in my memory, I hear Pastor Meristaine Tresin speaking to me in English. But he does not speak English. He is a Haitian pastor who speaks Creole. I do not speak Creole. Yet I can hear clearly the words that passed from his lips to my heart.
“I have prayed for two years for God to send help.”
He was shaking my hand earnestly, having just met me after we reached his hill village of Gentilhomme on Sunday, June 26, 2005. He was looking me in the eyes, looking deeply within me. Perhaps he was looking for what my pastor and friend, Larry Stokjovic, had prayed in the days before our mission team left for the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Pastor Larry's prayer had been that my son, Jesse, and I would “see Haiti through Jesus' eyes.”
Now, as I was introduced to Pastor Tresin, maybe this man was searching for the eyes of Christ. I certainly felt the Lord's presence, knowing that this was why we were sent to Haiti — to help Pastor Tresin and his flock of about 100 Christians in a village located about 2,000 vertical feet above a dry river valley in a remote southeastern part of a dirt-poor country.
Haiti is sometimes referred to as “Fourth World.” It is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. A place where an annual salary of $450 U.S. is considered middle class. A place darkened by the presence of voodoo, a practice so ingrained in the culture of Haiti that even Christians use it.
The history of Haiti is also one of political turmoil. Despite the exile of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide after a February 2004 rebellion, his supporters remained active and, coupled with police corruption, murder and kidnaping were commonplace. More than 700 had been killed since Aristide's ousting in late 2004. The ugliness increased as an election, planned for late 2005 or early 2006, drew nearer. It was against this backdrop in June 2005 that the Peace Corps pulled out of Haiti. The U.S. State Department already had ordered all non-essential personnel out of the country and U.S. entry visas were only being offered for students and medical emergencies.
But we had been called to Haiti. “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” it says in 1 Peter 4:13. Matthew 10:16 says, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
We crossed the border from the Dominican Republic into Haiti — three Climbing For Christ members (Johnathan Esper, then 22, of Long Lake, N.Y., my then-15-year-old son, Jesse, and me) accompanied by Miguel Rubén Guante, our Haitian contact, and his friends, Silvio Heniison Montero, 25, and Estenio Gustove, 22. We rode motorcycles for two hours from Jimani, DR, to Soliette, Haiti. It was arduous and windy, climbing over and through the mountain range. There were times on the so-called road — often just a rocky, dried-up riverbed — when we needed to dismount the motorcycles to continue.
From Soliette, we began our climb by foot, up a mountain we could not yet see. A mountain we knew very little about. No one goes to Haiti to climb mountains. The information we had was limited.
But we set out to make what we thought was a one-day ascent of Pic la Selle, a mountain that stands 8,793 feet (2,680 meters). It is the highpoint of Haiti.
In my journal, I wrote: “The going is steep and the humidity pulls every ounce of moisture out of me. Very quickly, I am physically exhausted. Up we go. We crest a hill overlooking a village, and behind it is Peak de la Selle. It towers over the village, standing in the clouds. It is huge.
“We meet someone who will guide us from here, but first he wants us to meet the pastor. Everyone comes out to see us. We give out Creole bibles and talk to the pastor.”
This is where my memory tells me Pastor Tresin spoke words I could understand. Not words that Miguel translated for me. I hear the pastor. Loud and clear. As he speaks, I feel the God bumps on the back of my neck.
“I have prayed for two years for God to send help.”
In our mission vision, we quote Isaiah 6:8, which says: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?' And I said, 'Here am I. Send me!'” He sent us to Haiti. He gave us a mission.
Jeantilhome, a village on a hill, needs a church built. Pastor Tresin leads worship inside three thatch walls with no roof. When it rains, there is no worship.
There is also no school or medical facilities in Jeantilhome. The people eat what they grow and raise. As our friend, singer/song writer Randall Goodgame, says: “The years it doesn't rain, they just stay hungry for a while.”
We learned as we climbed about Jeantilhome and the people living there. We learned, too, that Peak de la Selle is not a dayhike, but at least a two-day ascent. We did not have enough food — only enough for three of us for one day, and that was given to the children in the village — and we were not prepared for what lay ahead. God had something bigger in store for us than the highest peak in Haiti.
From my journal:
“This is what Climbing For Christ is about: a village unreached by missionaries in a mountainous area. These are Haitian hill people, tending to cattle on steep slopes. I pledge to help the pastor and his flock. We have a new mission: send a team to build a church.”
Help was on its way.
This story originally appeared in Climbing For Christ's quarterly magazine, The Climbing Way (Volume 2, Winter 2005/2006).
The original church (below), photographed by Gary Fallesen in June 2005, and work that began on the new church in February 2006. From the making of cement blocks to the laying of the foundation, a new church was formed. See the completed building on the Gentilhomme Church page. The church worships (bottom two photos — before and after construction — photographed by Haitian missionary Miguel Rubén Guante) up to 200 people from the mountain village of Gentilhomme and the surrounding hillsides.