Pastor Carl Harris and First Baptist Church in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania sponsored the MAF airstrip, but their investment went beyond the monetary. This body of believers has established deep relationships and linked arms with the Haitian people in a way that reflects the beauty of God’s Church today.
Pastor Harris says their story starts in 2010 following the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti. He was watching the news and felt prompted to get his passport and shots and go to Haiti. He ended up on La Gonave — a place with several remote villages that are, in many ways, forgotten.
“There is no running water [and] no electricity. In fact, most of the island doesn’t have water or electricity. It’s only in Anse-a-Galets they have some intermittent water lines and electricity. But the rest of the island is pretty much in the dark.”
Seeing the plight of the Haitian people on La Gonave moved Harris’s heart. Since then, he has been to Haiti 15 times, often bringing people from First Baptist Church and other local Gettysburg congregations with him. Two families at First Baptist Church are from Haiti themselves and have traveled with the church teams.
Over the years, they brought construction groups, teachers, and medical teams to Haiti. In January, their doctor treated nearly 600 patients. Some of the more remote villages on La Gonave haven’t had a doctor visit in several years.
The healthcare disparity was evidenced in one of Harris’s interactions with a Haitian couple.
“I asked the wife, ‘Where is your husband today?’ She said, ‘Well, he has had a toothache for about two weeks. He finally decided today that he was going to go to the town and find the guy who owns a pair of pliers and they were going to extract the tooth.’”
Harris says, “This is just life in these villages. They don’t have a lot of medical attention or help and it’s very hard.”
To get to the far side of the island takes around four hours by truck over difficult terrain. World Vision established a pharmacy-clinic in the remote area, but it wasn’t being used. The building was on 25 acres owned by a local woman named Albertha.
“A buddy on my team said, ‘Wouldn’t that be great if there was an airstrip here? People could be life flighted [or] medevaced off this part of the island. Nurses and doctors and dentists would come to the region.”
That’s when they got an idea. Harris met with Albertha and she agreed to allow an airstrip on her land.
Harris had already been in contact with MAF, an aviation ministry that partners with organizations to reach remote and isolated people. MAF makes flights into Anse-a-Galets, the only airstrip on La Gonave at the time. Together, they were enthusiastic about establishing an airstrip in La Source, the far side of the island.
The next step was to get to work. “When we come to these areas, we like to hire Haitians,” Harris explains. “We work with a foreman and we hire laborers. We give them a fair day’s wage, which is often a welcomed thing on the island. We’ve heard reports that like 80 percent are unemployed.”
In November 2016, Harris and a Haitian man from his church named Clotaire went to Haiti to start the airstrip. They hired 150 Haitian workers and began preparing the land with digger bars, sledgehammers, axes, and machetes.
Leveling the land was a monstrous task that required breaking down rocks the size of cars and moving them by hand. Then they brought in and spread topsoil. It was a two-years-long process requiring six trips for the project.
Finally, the La Source airstrip was ready and waiting for approval from the government. “When we were there in January, the Haitian government had not approved it.
“But a day before we left, which was January 23rd,…I got a text message [from MAF] saying, ‘We’re going to come and fly you guys off the airstrip!’ It had been approved for humanitarian flights!”
Harris gets choked up as he says, “That was just a great highlight for me. Hundreds of Haitians had worked on this all by hand. No trucks or tractors or anything like that. It was all digger bars and crowbars and just a labor of love.”
The labor of love also came in the form of financial support from First Baptist Church. The body of believers there gave their own time and money, held yard sales, and sold food — everything from ribs and chicken to ham sandwiches and pizza — all to raise money for the airstrip.
“We just love the Haitian people and we feel their love and we know that we’re just an encouragement to them. That’s the main thing to me. These things kind of come and go, but it’s the relationships to say, ‘You know what? You guys aren’t alone.’”
Harris says the dear friendships they have made along the way have been the most rewarding aspect of this project.
“To be in this relationship with La Gonave Island and these half dozen pastors and these four villages has just been a beautiful blessing to me and to many of my people in other churches that have gotten involved.
“The Haitians, they have very little and life is hard, but there is a joy of the Lord. There is a peace about them. I know they are having some rough times right now in Port-au-Prince, but there are some really precious people who love the Lord, who love each other, and to see God at work is a really invaluable opportunity and it accelerates your growth.”
There are many things you can do to support the Body of Christ and ministry work in Haiti. First, pray for Haiti.
Harris says one thing the country could really use is wise and just leadership. “My prayer would be that God would raise up some men and women of integrity, honesty, [and] that have a love for the people but also have a love for doing what’s right.”
Then, as you pray, ask God if He would have you get involved in a more tangible way in Haiti. Harris says this often simply looks like supporting the work of ministries and churches already on the ground.
“I’m sure there is a lot of opportunity for new ministries, but I think there are a lot of churches that are established on the ground. They are doing good work, they have great pastors, they have great congregations, and they just need somebody to come along and say, ‘Is there a little something we can do?’… Let them say, ‘Here is a little something you can do.’ Hire some of their foremen [and] their members and get dirty with them! Labor with them. Let them know you love them. Then go back and build on that relationship.”
The journey that connected First Baptist Church with La Gonave Island and led to this new airstrip was not an easy one — but it was beautiful and enriching. Harris offers this final challenge to Christians willing to be tools in God’s hands:
“I think there are things God calls us to do that maybe get us out of our comfort zone and cause us maybe to take a risk. We do that in His strength. The risk is really trusting Him more than our routine and our own comforts. In doing that, we find…new possibilities, new victories, [and] new realities that you can’t fabricate in any other kind of way.”
Header photo courtesy of MAF.