The blind are seeing -- Chapter 2

ebook: The Kingdom strikes back -- Signs of the Messiah at work

Blindness. It tends to make men dependent. It sometimes reduces them to beggars. In Jesus' day, blind people were common in Palestine. They still are. Why? Well, blame the glaring sun, large amounts of dust in the air, flies, and such diseases as smallpox, malaria, and ocular ophthalmia.

Was it by chance that Jesus referred to blindness in His response to John's disciples? I don't think so. Opening blind eyes was one definite sign of Messiahship. As Old Testament prophets spoke of the end times and the coming new age, they talked of blind eyes that would be opened. Had Jesus not brought sight to the blind, He would not have been the long-awaited Savior.

Jesus healed many people whose lack of physical eyesight kept them in darkness. Blindness was, in fact, the affliction Jesus healed most often. A good example is blind Bartimaeus, whom Jesus met on the Jericho road. That day, Jesus gave him sight (Mark 10:46-52).

Did Jesus limit himself to healing only physical blindness? Look again at the Gospels, and you'll see that Jesus also dealt with spiritual blindness. He warned that "if the blind lead the blind, both will fall" (Matthew 15:14). He didn't mean physical blindness but religious leaders whose lack of spiritual insight and even sinful pride blinded them.

So, as Jesus spoke to John's disciples, He doubtless thought of Old Testament passages such as Isaiah 29:18: "Out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see." Viewed in context, such Old Testament verses refer to spiritual, intellectual, and moral blindness more than they do to actual physical blindness. As God's kingdom continues to strike back today, sight in both senses — physical and spiritual — is being restored.

A blind beggar touched by Jesus struggled to explain what had happened to him. He finally blurted out: "One thing I do know. I was blind, but now I see!"" (John 9:25). To many Haitians touched by the Kingdom today, that explains what happened to them. Once they were blind. Now they can see. The Messiah has come. He is opening blinded eyes. The Kingdom is striking back.

Used Glasses, Anyone?

Some time ago, my mother sent her 100th pair of used eyeglasses to Dr. Paul Gamertsfelder. One hundred pairs? No, my mother didn't discard eyeglasses that fast. Instead, she collected them from friends all over central Oklahoma. Then she boxes them up to mail to Dr. Gamertsfelder, a Nazarene optometrist in Ohio.

When those glasses arrive from my mother and others like her, Dr. Gamertsfelder and his staff check and label them. Dr. Gamertsfelder and his colleague, Dr. Paul Mason, spend their annual vacations in Haiti each year. There, they use their skills and training and donated used eyeglasses to restore clear vision to Haitians with sight problems.

Out in rural villages, with an eye chart thumbtacked to a coconut tree, these optometrists see as many as 200 people in a day. Many go home proudly wearing used glasses collected by people like my mother. For sight-impaired Haitians, the gift of clear vision received from Dr. Gamertsfelder is a real miracle of the Kingdom.

There are, to be sure, documented cases of God intervening dramatically in Haiti to restore full sight to blinded eyes. During Jesus' earthly ministry, healing sometimes came that way. He simply spoke. His words were enough to make men whole. Other times Jesus chose to touch the diseased or non-functioning body part. He put His hand on a leper. He stuck His fingers in the ears of a deaf man. He touched the eyes of a blind man.

Today, God still works both ways to heal physical blindness. Sometimes He intervenes dramatically. At other times He uses the dedicated hands of men like Paul Gamertsfelder. In either case, whether by His word alone or through the touch of a Kingdom envoy, it's time for praise and adoration.

"The blind people that have eyes"

Physical blindness can handicap a person. Other kinds of blindness, however, wreak greater havoc. The confusion -- even terror -- reigning across the globe today is evidence of a spiritually blind world. Zephaniah foretold of sinners who would "walk like blind men," vainly groping and stumbling along (1:17).

In 1955, a young Haitian army officer walked into a service at the Avenue Dessalines Church of the Nazarene. Duroc Placide responded to what he saw, heard, and felt in the church. Captivated by the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in that church, he soon gave his heart to the Lord.

Within a short time, Duroc began showing some leadership gifts. He played a role in planting a new church on the other side of Port-au-Prince in a suburb called Martissant. He began praying about a call to preach. By 1960 Duroc was sure of God's call to the ministry, so he enrolled in Haiti's Nazarene Bible Institute in the foothills above Port-au-Prince.

Upon graduation, a church called him as pastor. From the start, he was a dynamic leader. So three years later, when the Avenue Dessalines Church where he was converted, was looking for a new pastor, they turned to Duroc Placide.

After some fruitful pastorates, he felt led to spend a couple of years in full-time evangelism. Then he helped found the church at Cap Haitien, a major city and Haiti's old colonial capital on the north coast. In 1977 the Haiti North District capped Duroc Placide's ministerial career by electing him as district superintendent.

Duroc Placide led the North District to redouble its church planting and outreach efforts. By 1984, it needed to be divided into three separate districts. Rev. Placide became superintendent of one of those new districts. That year, he also spearheaded a drive for simultaneous baptismal services in Nazarene churches across Haiti. His fervor and urging led Haitian Nazarene pastors to baptize 2,749 people on the last Sunday of September 1984.

Sounds like a terrific, successful life, doesn't it? It is. There's just one sour note in it. Like the apostle Paul, Rev. Placide had his "thorn in my flesh" (2 Corinthians 12:7). Through years of successful evangelism, church planting, and district leadership Rev. Placide was slowly going blind. Finally, at the apex of his career, total darkness closed in on him.

Duroc's sight problems began while he was in the Haitian military. One day a horse threw him. When his head hit the ground, the blow damaged the sight center of his brain. His eyesight started slowly deteriorating. Doctors tried unsuccessfully to halt the degeneration. The general church even provided air transportation for him to see an eye specialist in Florida. It was too late. Irreparable damage had been done. Furthermore, nothing could be done to stop its continued deterioration. Nazarenes began sending concerts of prayer heavenward on his behalf. Still, the darkness continued closing in. Finally, Duroc Placide became totally blind.

Paul of Tarsus had an impairment of some kind too. We don't know for sure what it was. He simply called it a "thorn in the flesh." Though he prayed intensely for the removal of that thorn, God did not take it away. Instead, He told Paul that the problem (whatever it was) would remain. Its presence would reveal the strength of the risen Christ. In a similar way, Rev. Placide's defective vision has shown how human weakness can pave the way for God's grace and power.

I've watched that blind preacher carefully make his way up and down rocky mountain trails visiting churches. At his elbow was always a young pastor. That young pastor became his eyes on those trails, helping him over boulders and around tree roots. Age caught up with Duroc Placide and he finally had to retire. Physical healing never came to his eyes. With the passing years, however, his spiritual vision became clearer and clearer. When Duroc Placide stepped into the pulpit or met around a table with church leaders, all uncertainty and tentativeness disappeared. What a powerful spiritual leader he was.

He still holds revival meetings, helping those whose spiritual and moral blindness is more tragic than his physical blindness. They are "those who have eyes but are blind" of which Isaiah spoke (43:8).

I've rejoiced as I've listened to young pastors testify to Rev. Placide's key role in their decision to become preachers. Today, men influenced by Rev. Duroc Placide fill the pulpits of several Nazarene churches in Haiti. Through this one blind man, the Kingdom has brought sight to many. The blind are seeing. The Messiah has come!

The blindness of illiteracy

Few nations have lower literacy rates than Haiti. Even the most optimistic reports say that no more than 20 percent of Haitians over age 15 can read and write. There are historical, religious, and economic reasons for this.

When the French colonists brought thousands of Africans in chains to Haiti, the only interest they had in those slaves was their muscle power. They did nothing to educate them. Slave owners even tried to prohibit their slaves from learning to read and write. Then the unthinkable happened. In 1791, a slave revolt broke out in northern Haiti. Napoleon's armies could not quell it. Ten years of bloody struggle followed. Finally, the slaves forced their French masters to withdraw, climaxing the first successful slave rebellion in history. They were, however, a nation of illiterates.

While the Haitians won their political independence, they remained culturally tied to France. Only a tiny minority of Haitians ever mastered the French language. Still, the French language and culture were placed on a pedestal. If you craved social status, you had to speak French. Haitians who spoke only Creole, an oral language, were looked down upon. Such cultural and linguistic snobbery created a tiny elite who knew French. The masses who spoke only Creole remained illiterate. Until the middle of this century, no one had bothered to put Creole in written form. Only when a Methodist missionary turned oral Creole into a written language did the literacy door finally begin to creak open for Haiti.

Almost every one of Haiti's constitutions has decreed compulsory education. Unfortunately, the government has never found the money to carry out that mandate. In addition, Haiti's chief religion, voodoo, has no sacred book. Thus it does not provide a stimulus either to learn to read or to produce printed material in Haitian's heart language. How different from Christianity, whose converts hunger to learn to read from God's Book!

Not being able to read gives you a kind of blindness. You may have eyes, but your brain cannot interpret what you see on the printed page. As far as comprehending, you may as well be blind. Unless you can read, you are walled off from technological advances, important health and medical advice, and agricultural breakthroughs. Even God's written Word has no power for you unless someone reads it aloud to you.

When these scales of illiteracy drop from your eyes, that's a miracle! In Haiti today, miracle-working literacy programs are restoring sight. The Kingdom is striking back. God is using the efforts of Nazarenes to open new horizons of the printed word to thousands of people. Nazarenes in Haiti fight the blindness of illiteracy on two fronts: with adults and with children. The largest and most consistent effort is that of our programs for helping children learn to read and write.

The little children and Jesus

On several occasions, Jesus used children to illustrate a message about the Kingdom. Perhaps the best-known is Matthew 19:14. There, Jesus says, "Let the children come to me; do not try to stop them; for the kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these" (NEB).

Children are special to the ministry of the Church of the Nazarene in Haiti. Almost everywhere the church has gone in that Caribbean nation, a school has been started. One school is even named the Phineas F. Bresee Elementary School. This concern for educating children stands in stark contrast to voodooism. That religion sponsors no elementary schools. Each of the 250 Nazarene elementary schools is a sign that the Kingdom is invading Haiti with power. There's also one Nazarene-sponsored high school in Port-au-Prince. About 25,000 Haitian children study in these schools. That's more than we have in any other country.

Few of these schools have decent buildings. Most have only dirt floors. The students sit on simple wooden benches. Flimsy pieces of Masonite hardboard serve as chalkboards. Unfortunately, the demand for schools has far outstripped the number of trained teachers. In isolated mountain villages, any adult who can read may wind up as a schoolteacher.

That's not ideal. It's bad educational philosophy. It's bad pedagogy. Even in less-than-ideal conditions, however, the blind are beginning to see. Rural Haitians, whose high rates of illiteracy blinded them, now begin to see. Dawn is breaking in on darkened understandings.

Even though these schools face enormous problems, we are making progress in improving their quality. We now have a university-trained specialist helping elevate the schools educationally. He organizes in-service training opportunities for teachers. He also is the Nazarene spokesperson in government education offices.

One of the things we're doing to help our schools is that of providing hot lunches. The majority of parents cannot pay more than a minimal tuition to send their children to school. Sometimes, even $1 per month is a prohibitive amount in a country with a per capita annual income of about $350. Little government support is available. There are, however, several groups working in Haiti to help schools and particularly to subsidize hot lunch programs. Several of these are helping Nazarene schools. These include Compassion International, CARE, Church World Service, and a Dutch group called Word and Action.

Nazarene Compassionate Ministries has a Nazarene Child Sponsorship program in which Nazarenes around the world are invited to sponsor school hot lunch programs in Haiti. In return, they get a photo of the children in that school and a description of what their help is doing. At present about 100 Nazarene schools have hot lunch sponsors.

As I reflect on my childhood, I remember my mother drilling into me the importance of proper nourishment. Eating right would help me do well in school, she said. So people sponsoring hot lunches for Haitian Nazarene schoolchildren invest in both nutrition and education.

The Kingdom is striking back. The blind are beginning to see -- and they're getting a good lunch too!

A rustling in the treetops

Remember the Philistines? They were real troublemakers. David had just been anointed king when those Philistines "went up in full force to search for him" (2 Sam. 5:17). Having the Philistines bother them was nothing new for Israel. From the time Joshua crossed the Jordan River, these "Sea People" had been a constant menace. Now, by occupying the Rephaim Valley between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, they challenged David directly.

After a seesaw standoff, King David sought the Lord's guidance. The Lord told him to have his soldiers take up attack positions. Then they were to wait for "a rustling sound" (NEB) "in the tops of the balsam trees" (2 Sam. 5:24). That noise would mean the Lord and His heavenly hosts were leading the way into battle. When that sound came, "Move quickly," the Lord told David. It would signal that the victory belonged to God's people.

That's what happened. In that battle, Israel shattered the Philistine forces. Never again did they seriously threaten Israel. As promised, those rustling sounds in the treetops foretold complete victory for God's people.

I've heard rustling sounds in Haiti's spiritual battlefields. Those sounds tell me that God still leads the way into battle. For me, they are sure signs that God's army continues to win victories. One such rustling sound I hear comes from pages turning in Bibles and New Testaments. It's a sound I've often heard in churches all across Haiti.

As noted earlier, even the most encouraging literacy figures say 80 percent of Haitians over age 15 cannot read or write. Contrasting with that dismal figure is the fact that, in many Haitian Churches of the Nazarene, more than half of the members are literate. That's a literacy rate nearly three times that of the general population. Motivating Christians to learn to read is, of course, the ability to read the Bible. For most Haitian believers, a Bible or New Testament becomes one of their most prized possessions.

Once, I sat in our Petionville church in the foothills above Port-au-Prince. There, each week Sunday School closes with a statistical report. Among the figures they give is the number of Bibles and New Testaments brought to church that day. On this particular Sunday -- a very ordinary Sunday -- 216 people came to Sunday School. Number of Bible and New Testaments? One hundred and forty-nine! That day 7 of every 10 people had brought a Bible or New Testament to church. Later in the worship service, the pastor announced his Scripture reading. I listened to that beautiful rustling of pages softly echoing off the corrugated tin roofing.

As I listened to those rustling pages, I wanted to jump up on the pew and shout, "Hallelujah!" Visitors to Haiti today watch it reeling from political, economic, and ecological ills. To a country like that, the Lord's coming in power and strength is good news. That rustling in church told me that God was leading His people to battle. The blindness of illiteracy gives way to people reading God's Word for themselves.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us: "The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword" (Hebrews 4:12). Not long ago, the Lord made it possible for us to put 30,000 of these weapons in Haitian hands. One year a Florida group gave us about 6,000 Creole New Testaments. Then, Bible Literature International helped us buy 10,000 more New Testaments to give away. Two years later, the same group helped us again with a grant to buy 15,000 Creole New Testaments.

Distributing these New Testaments has given me real joy and contentment. Again and again, I have watched faces light up as people eagerly begin to leaf through a New Testament. At times like that, I wish every person who had given money for the printing and shipping of these New Testaments could stand beside me. It's a unique thrill to watch someone hold a New Testament for the first time in his life.

La Gonave is a large island in the bay of Port-au-Prince. On that island, we have a strong district of about 50 churches. Of the Nazarene pastors on La Gonave Island, 18 of them recently completed an extension study program that gave them the education needed for ordination. During the four years of their studies, they met twice a month in a central mountain village for two days of classes.

On a trip out to La Gonave to check the progress of that study group, I took several boxes of New Testaments. Getting to the village of Grand Source is never easy. First, you drive about an hour and a half up the coast from Port-au-Prince. There you have to wade out from a rocky beach and board an old wooden, leaky sailboat. Then you settle down for a two-hour ride to Anse-a-Galets on the coast of La Gonave.

In that fishing village, you'll find an ancient, battered Land Rover sitting under the shade of a lonely tree. You'll have to prayerfully coax the engine into starting, then nurse it along for about 45 minutes up a rocky mountain trail to Grand Source.

That particular afternoon when we arrived in Grand Source, the extension class was already under way. The pastors sat poring over their books. Eventually, darkness forced the teacher to shut his notebook until morning. Along with the pastors, I walked up the hill in front of the church. There, ladies from the church were cooking supper for us. While we sat around waiting to eat, I got the boxes from the back of the Land Rover and divided the New Testaments among the pastors.

As I finished giving them out, the cooks showed up with plates piled high with rice and beans. I had about five or six New Testaments left over. I didn't know whether those ladies could read or not. I gave each of them a copy anyway. Thanking me profusely, they went back to work.

After the meal, we sat around talking and drinking strong, black Haitian coffee. Then the pastors drifted off into the darkness to their sleeping places. I had a small room in the little house where we had just eaten the evening meal. My room had an adequate bed. I knew it was perhaps the best bed in the whole village.

I felt drained that night. It had been a long, hard trip. Yet I had a hard time going to sleep. As I pulled the sheet over me, two of the cooks sat down at a small table not far from my window. One was a teenager. The other looked old enough to be her grandmother. Lighting a kerosene lamp, they brought out their new treasures, those Creole New Testaments.

The teenager was the more literate of the two. In the dim yellow light of that flickering oil lamp, she began to read aloud. She stumbled along, the old woman watching her haltingly recognize the words one by one. The girl's voice was stuttering, uneven. Yet I detected a sense of awe as words from that New Testament leaped off the page at her.

Mixed emotions overcame me. A lump rose in my throat as I listened to those two reading aloud just outside my window. It was exciting. Yet I was also very tired. I yearned for sleep, but those voices outside my window kept me awake. Finally, I drifted off to sleep listening to them read. Once those ladies had been blind. Now they were seeing. The Messiah had come. His kingdom was striking back.

One Sunday morning, I heard rustling sounds in a village called Marlique. Not long after we arrived in Haiti, missionary John Burge gave out several boxes of New Testaments at Marlique. Our church there perches on a mountainside above Port-au-Prince, about a 20- to 30-minute drive from our Bible college campus. One Sunday, I preached there. As I sat on the platform, looking over the crowd, I noticed people carrying New Testaments. They had received them in that earlier distribution effort.

Some of the covers of those paperback New Testaments had come off. A few of the copies even had a page or two of Matthew missing. The last chapter or so of Revelation was gone from some of them. Nonetheless, those books were God's Word. His people had carried them to church to read together that morning.

As the service leader announced the Bible readings, I listened to that beautiful rustling sound of turning pages. The Lord had come. He was present in power and strength. He was marching with His troops against the enemy.

Sold out

The first Protestant missionaries landed in Haiti over 100 years ago. Haitian Creole was not then a written language. The culturally prejudiced elite Haitians snootily regarded Creole as simply corrupted French. They thought teaching everyone to speak French properly would make Creole disappear. They were wrong. French and Creole certainly share a lot of vocabulary roots. Creole grammar, however, has little in common with French grammar. They are two different languages.

For many years the only Bible available in Haiti was in French. That's a language that, even today, only about 1 Haitian in 10 can readily understand. Even fluent French speakers use it as their second language. Their mother tongue is Creole. For even the most bilingual of Haitians, Creole remains the language of the heart and emotions.

By encouraging people to belittle Creole as merely badly spoken French, Satan kept a whole nation from having God's Word in their heart language. As long as people thought of Creole as just ineptly spoken French, it remained only an oral language. The devil was not to be successful, however. In the middle of this century, Protestant missionaries came up with a written form of Haitian Creole. Right away, they set to work on Bible translation. In 1960 the first Haitian Creole version of the New Testament appeared.

A translating team went to work on the Old Testament. Satan was furious. The project met one fiendish obstacle after another. Once, a computer glitch erased the entire text.

Kingdom business can only be held back for so long, however. In early January 1986, news came that the first shipment of Creole Bibles was on its way from Asian printing plants. The day those Bibles arrived in Port-au-Prince's harbor, the city was abuzz with the news. Pastors and lay people flooded bookstores, trying to buy copies. Within four days, the first printing of 55,000 sold out.

The Kingdom had struck back. Satan thought he could keep a nation in the dark. He was wrong. All across Haiti, people are reading the Bible in their heart language. Praise the Lord!

As you pray for Haiti, thank the Lord that a promise is being fulfilled. That promise says: "Then the eyes of those who see will no longer be closed" (Isaiah 32:3). Those who have been in physical darkness, spiritual darkness, and intellectual darkness are having their eyes opened. Truly the Messiah has come. We have seen the signs. . . . [ continue reading ]

Chapter:   ← Prev  |   Foreword  |  < a href="">1. The Kingdom strikes back  |  2. The blind are seeing   |  3. The lepers are being cured   |  4. The crippled are walking  |  5. The deaf are hearing  |  6. The poor are hearing the Good News   |  7. Conclusion  |  Next →

    -- Howard Culbertson

The blind are seeing

arrow pointing rightThe response of Jesus to John's followers finds an echo today in a Caribbean island. Those who have been in physical darkness, spiritual darkness, and intellectual darkness are having their eyes opened. . . [ more ]

This ebook is on global missions outreach. It shows how the words of Jesus about Kingdom signs resonate with what is happening in the Caribbean island of Haiti. These 6 chapters plus a foreword and conclusion demonstrate that the Kingdom is indeed in our midst.

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