Mission trip to Haiti about more than construction projects

January 22, 2004|LIZ MAPLES

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - The brightly painted Haitian covered truck, called a tap-tap, stops abruptly in the middle of the road in front of the distribution warehouse, Societe Biblique Haitienne. Horns honk and people stare, but it doesn't faze Johnny Joseph, a Haitian who works for Crusades for Christ. He leaves the tap-tap there and heads inside.

The entrance stairwell to the warehouse is nearly masked by sidewalk vendors. On one side, a woman has set up a table with dozens of greasy, faded boxes of hair relaxer lined up the wall. On the other, a woman sits on a concrete step folding cast-off clothes to sell.

Up the stairs is the manager of the Bible house, Ms. Victor. She met with nine members of the Crusades for Christ team on Tuesday to negotiate the price of the Bibles. This is one of the group's most important purchases of the week.


Victor entertains the group in her air-conditioned office, which is a luxurious space by Haitian standards. She has white paneling, orange creamsiscle curtains, circa 1970s, and a paper wedding bell hung in the center of a white wall.

Victor tells the men that she knocked 10 percent off the price. They want 1,500 Bibles in Creole and 1,500 in French. Victor offers a receipt to the Rev. Rick Hillard of Evansville, Ind., who is in charge of the check. He writes it for $15,357.

One of the preachers said there is one Bible for every 200,000 Haitians. In America, there are 4.3 Bibles per household.

Victor said she sells 150,000 Bibles to be distributed in Haiti every year. The books are printed in Korea, and then sent to the country.

With the deal done, Joseph goes downstairs to hire five Haitians for about $2 a piece to help them load the books on a bus. It will be a good gig for them. They start to carry the 25-pound boxes stacked two-at-a-time on their shoulders. The missionaries try to keep up in the noon-hour heat.

The journey downtown took 15 minutes, and the route passed by a breathtaking presidential palace, and squalor. Bank branches are in tin shacks the size of outhouses. Stores and homes, made of re-bar and cinder blocks, are the size of a small American bedroom and painted with bright murals. Sacks of garbage and rotting produce sit across from fruit for sale, set up in bowls on city sidewalks. Drivers constantly honk their horns; at intersections, the biggest vehicle wins.

The drive leaves the Bible-buying team a bit in shock. They stare out the window and make light conversation.

When Joseph parks, a small boy walks up to the back of the truck. He is wearing a green shirt with flowers embroidered on the front; he is oblivious to its obvious feminine tone. His arms are the size of golf clubs. He cocks his head to one side, rubs his belly to pantomime hunger and looks longingly at the group. They cannot give anything away. To do so could create a riot in the street as others try to get a handout. Instead they have to look at the boy and shake their heads. It is heart-breaking.

When the boxes are all loaded on the bus, they start the journey back. As soon as it pulls up in the drive, those still at the guest house rush to unload them. Two folding tables in the dining room are set up as an assembly line to stamp the Bibles, marking them as a gift from the mission. The clack of the stamp plays second string to the thump of boxes and Bibles on the table. It takes the group one hour to stamp 3,000 books.

As the group splits up into teams and heads out to guest preach at local churches, each will bring a box of a dozen Bibles to be handed out.

This is why the group is here, above construction projects, schools and orphanages, to preach and share the word of God.

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