In spite of being far from home, Rapid Response Team chaplains Jim and Sandy Giannestras consider Easter 2010 the best they have ever experienced. The joy and worship of the Haitian people—in the aftermath of tragedy—blessed the couple beyond measure.
As they sat quietly in their Port-au-Prince apartment this Easter Sunday, dining on tuna from a pouch, Jim and Sandy Giannestras were hit with a tiny wave of loneliness.
The two Rapid Response Team chaplains, who call San Diego home, hoped to spend time with some of their new-found friends from Baptist Haiti Mission. But most had their own families to visit and celebrations to attend.
“Nonetheless,” Jim shared in a phone interview from Haiti, “this is the best Easter we have ever celebrated in our lives.”
Thousands of churchgoers emerged before sunrise from tent cities and skeletons of homes to attend Easter services across Port-au-Prince. With unseasonably pleasant weather, Resurrection Day provided the perfect opportunity for pastors to talk about rebirth and renewal almost three months after the nation crumbled beneath a killer earthquake.
For Jim and Sandy, Easter morning service was particularly poignant. “The church sits adjacent to Baptist Haiti Mission Hospital,” Jim explained. “Many who came to worship still had relatives in the hospital with major injuries–and we were worshiping literally 20 feet from their beds. These people are fully aware of the reality of life, so they hold even stronger to celebrating their faith.”
And celebrate they did. Jim described the scene: “Every square inch of the church was packed with people dressed in their finest, the best that they could possibly put together. Almost everyone walks here from miles around or they take tap-taps. It was amazing that so many came dressed in beautiful white clothes–they are still living in rock houses with dirt floors.”
And the singing! Jim emphasized the beautiful worship: “There were no hymnals. The few hymnals they have are personally owned, like we would own a Bible, but almost nobody uses them because they all know all the music. There was a lot of a cappella singing. The church has a corrugated metal roof and you could almost feel it vibrating. It was just a joy.”
Although the four-hour service was in Creole, the pastor mentioned in English that he was preaching from Luke 24:13, so Jim and Sandy could follow along. The people did a lot of responsive reading, Jim added. “It was just a blessing to watch all this and all the kids smiling.”
After the service and that glorious tuna dinner, Jim and Sandy headed to the mission, which is where we talked. I could hear children laughing and playing in the background over the phone. “Yes, we are down here with about 30 families from the mission,” Jim reported. “Some are from Holland; they started a foundation for raising money. Others are missionaries who have come here over the years.”
Baptist Haiti Mission is very involved in education and mentoring young men.
“All these folks gathered here,” said Jim, “most are yearly visitors who came in and gave months of their time to expand the ministry in Haiti even before the earthquake; their mood is really good.”
The tragedy affected the missionaries too, Jim added, “but they see the blessing in being able to walk up to someone’s tent to share Christ. It’s an amazing time to be able to reach thousands of people that otherwise might be secluded on other parts of the island, but now are concentrated in the Port-au-Prince area.”
Since Jim and Sandy arrived on March 12, they’ve been busy with evangelistic outreaches in four different tent cities. Jim finds it “a real encouragement to get right in the middle of where people are living.”
Last week, it started raining so the chaplains moved their outreach into a large tent. “Literally we were standing between their mattresses, sharing the Gospel. People had to walk right between the mattresses to come forward,” said Jim.
In the three weeks they’ve been ministering, he added, “we’ve seen about 170-180 [people come to Christ. This truly is grassroots evangelism, and it’s a blessed thing to be a part of.”
Jim shared a few specific requests for anyone who would like to support the Rapid Response Team ministry in Haiti:
Eventually, in spite of the long term commitment of the BGEA and Samaritan’s Purse, we’ll go home. Begin to pray now for churches to rise up. In a couple of days, we will begin to train pastors and church leaders. These are the first of a series of trainings. And Samaritan’s Purse is building thousands of temporary homes. But churches need to be the rock here. We see the seeds of that growing, a real association between the seminary and some key pastors and key church organizations that will make the difference for Haiti in the future. Pray for church growth here.
Also, in May it rains almost every single day in Haiti. That will make for very difficult living in the tent cities. Pray for the individual families, that they can weather the season and that ministry can continue.
Finally, pray for volunteers and workers who are coming in and out of Haiti. Pray for travel safety.