E-book: Mr. Missionary, I Have a Question (Part 5)

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4. Mangoes, Malnutrition, and Modernization -- Some answers by Howard Culbertson

In this electronic book (e-book), Howard Culbertson answers questions that were asked in church services across the United States during a home assignment year. Originally published in 1987 for the Nazarene Missions International reading book series, this Nazarene Publishing House publication carried ISBN number 083-411-1519

Why is Haiti so poor?
     To discover the reasons for Haiti's poverty, one needs to study the troubled history of this little country An Afro-American Episcopal bishop serving in Haiti during the 1800's called it "the Mary Magdalene of the nations, troubled by seven devils." Indeed, the Haitians have been victims of revolutions, international discrimination, intervention and neglect, drought, hurricanes, epidemics, illiteracy, and superstition.
     When it began life as an independent nation, Haiti was little more than half a million unorganized, illiterate people who had been forcibly transplanted from different parts of Africa to the western end of a Caribbean island. To be sure, the slave revolt was successful. However, for much of the 19th century, the rest of the world, including the United States, refused to recognize Haiti. Governments feared that recognizing Haiti as an independent nation would spark uprisings among their own slave populations. So, the industrial revolution that brought prosperity to much of Europe and North America bypassed Haiti. For decades after its independence, the black government in Haiti was a pariah on the international scene.
     At times governments in Haiti have risen and fallen with dizzying quickness. Such instability makes it difficult to carry out long-range programs in education and health services.
     Poor farming practices on mountainous land have also eroded the once rich topsoil, turning most Haitian farmers into subsistence farmers able to produce barely enough food for their own families.
     All this economic deprivation has contributed to a population mobility that has made the Haitians the wanderers of the Caribbean. On the other hand, while there is much poverty in Haiti, there is little violent crime, mugging, or vandalism. Employers have low absentee rates, and today there is little racial prejudice.
What are we doing as a church to help the needy in Haiti?
     Our most important contribution to the development of Haiti is our aggressive evangelistic and church planting strategy. Situations can only be permanently changed as men are changed permanently. You must begin with the sinful heart of man to effect meaningful change in society.
     Development experts are even studying the phenomenal church growth taking place in Haiti. They are hoping that an understanding of the anthropological mechanism by which the Haitian masses are becoming receptive to the gospel message of conversion will provide clues as to how other kinds of social change may be advocated successfully.
     In addition to our evangelism and discipleship ministries, our church is involved in a whole range of development projects. We have medical and nutritional work. We have been involved in well-drilling projects to provide water for entire villages. We conduct vocational schools. We have worked in agriculture and have helped several groups of Nazarenes begin cooperative ventures. A large percentage of our churches run elementary schools, and we have run adult literacy programs almost from the beginning of our work in Haiti.
     Changes, of course, never come as quickly as we would like. The needs are often overwhelming in the face of our available resources. Some things are even beyond our ability to contribute a solution. In a few short years, for example, the population of the capital city has swelled from 300,000 to over 1 million. Basic services such as housing, water, and sanitation have not kept pace with the population growth. What may strike some visitor to our island as a totally hopeless situation is, unfortunately, a way of life for many, many Haitians.
What causes malnutrition in Haiti? Is there just not enough food?
     Haiti has two kinds of malnutrition problems: One is chronic malnutrition, and the other is more sporadic and results from drought and crop failure.
     Malnutrition is not always just a lack of food. Sometimes it is caused by eating the wrong kinds of food. It is the variety, not the quantity of food, that is often the problem. Some of this is caused by ignorance or even cultural taboos. For instance, in some rural areas peasants believe that citrus fruit is harmful to nursing mothers. This deprives these mothers of some very important vitamins. At other times, people will gorge themselves on whatever tropical fruit is in season, neglecting to balance their diet.
     Many Haitians are also malnourished because they do not eat enough calories each day. The average Haitian villager consumes about 1,400 calories daily. Medical science says that a person should eat nearly twice that as a minimum each day. Americans, on the other hand, exceed the minimum daily caloric requirement by at least 500 calories, eating an average of 3,100 calories each day.
     Malnutrition does more than weaken the body's defenses against crippling diseases. It does more than keep a person's energy level very low. Severe malnutrition in young children can cause permanent brain damage. That's why our church conducts nutrition centers for expectant and nursing mothers. That is why we continue to seek ways to provide children in our elementary schools with at least one balanced meal per day.
     There is one bright note in all of this. The Haitian Nazarenes can teach us that inner peace (or shalom) does not depend on caloric intake.
Can't we teach them to grow more food?
      God supplied Haiti with all that man could desire in the way of wood, water, and fertile soil. The sum of accumulated evils and abuses from the beginning (with the arrival of the European explorers), however, has destroyed all of that. Once the most agriculturally productive land in the world, Haiti's rich, volcanic soil has been destroyed through terrible farming practices. The lush forests were stripped away, and much of the topsoil has washed into the sea. Damage to the environment in Haiti has been so great that some experts say the country has passed the point of no return.
     As Christians we do not believe the situation is totally hopeless. Many of the solutions that Americans would offer, however, are not workable in Haiti. First of all, much of the American agricultural expertise requires large capital investments. Money is something the Haitian farmer does not have. A shovel, for example, can cost him at least two full days' wages. If we were to try to apply mechanization and advanced technology, things could be worse and not better.
     People under severe deprivation are also not free to experiment and try new methods. In all creative achievement there is a certain recklessness. In a society that exists on the margin of survival, such recklessness is an unaffordable luxury. It is unrealistic to assume that subsistence farmers will expose themselves to the risk of crop failure just to try somebody's latest idea. Low risk-not high yield- is the name of the game in subsistence agriculture.
     Food production must be increased in Haiti. The secret lies in finding appropriate methods at very little cost, if any, that subsistence farmers will readily accept.
     Climate is the second problem in trying to transfer American agricultural know-how to Haiti. Most of North America's farm belt is in the Temperate Zone. Haiti, on the other hand, is a tropical country. What works in one climate may fail miserably in the other. A few years ago, for instance, someone brought some new hybrid seed corn to Haiti. Instead of the promised abundant harvest, the "miracle" corn refused to grow in Haiti's tropical weather.
     Some things being done successfully in Haiti to boost food production include terracing the mountainsides, rebuilding the soil with composted organic matter, and the use of wells with hand pumps to provide irrigation water during droughts.
I've read that the beliefs of pagan religions in India contribute to the hunger problem, especially due to sacred animals that must be fed and cannot be killed. Is there something like that in Haiti?
     Voodoo does not believe in reincarnation, nor does it have any other reason for regarding certain animals as sacred. It does not in this way contribute to the malnutrition problem. It should be noted, however, that the major reason land changes hands in rural Haiti is to pay the voodoo priest for certain ceremonies. There is, as well, some animal sacrifice in voodoo, but it does not seem significant enough to affect Haiti's food supply.
What kinds of crops do the Haitians grow? What do they eat?
     Haiti's two major cash crops are sugarcane and coffee. Sugarcane grows in the lowland plains, and coffee .grows in the mountainous interior. Rice fields abound in a fertile river valley in the central part of the country. Banana trees grow everywhere, and corn and beans grow fairly well on the rocky mountainsides. Sisal used to be a good cash crop; however, with the introduction of nylon for ropes, the market for sisal has all but disappeared.
     There are lots of tropical fruit trees. Mangoes, papayas, breadfruit, avocados, coconuts, oranges, grapefruits, and limes are sold in the markets.
     Animals raised for food include chickens, goats, and a few cows. Pigs used to be common, but an outbreak of disease caused the government to order every pig in the country to be slaughtered. Now the country is in the process of trying to rebuild the swine population with healthy stock.
     Today, Haiti exports very little food. In fact, it has become a net importer of foodstuffs-due primarily to inadequate production. Some of this may also be due to the increasingly sophisticated tastes of the growing number of affluent families in the capital city. Lots of prepackaged foods from the United States wind up on the tables of these middle- and upper-class Haitians.
Do the Haitians eat much seafood?
     Haiti is an island nation and for its size has an extremely long coastline. Haitians, however, are not oriented toward the sea like the Italians. The Haitians eat very little seafood as compared to the Italians. One possible explanation may be that much of the population lives in the interior of the country, away from the sea. They are isolated from the coast without efficient transportation, and there is little refrigeration available to keep food fresh.
What is the Church of the Nazarene doing agriculturally in Haiti?
     In times past, our church has had agronomists as part of the Haiti Nazarene missionary staff. Elvin DeVore and Charles Morrow served the church as agricultural missionaries in the 1960s and 1970s. These men worked in all types of programs to increase food production. They attempted to upgrade animal breeding stock. They experimented with irrigation systems and cultivation and harvesting techniques. The Nazarene printing press printed simple agricultural booklets in Haitian Creole. They worked at helping to establish some agricultural cooperatives.
     Currently we do not have an agricultural missionary assigned to Haiti. We are, however, actively working with local churches in starting agricultural cooperatives.
     As missionaries, we are also doing what we can with the land near our Bible school. When Dr. Paul Orjala purchased a barren hill near Port-au-Prince in the 1950s, he began construction of a Bible school, five missionary homes, and a headquarters building. In addition to building construction, he also began to plant trees. Through the years the missionaries have cared for those trees and planted others. That once barren hilltop is now covered with hundreds of trees ranging from mahogany to mango and including orange and avocado fruit trees. Agricultural specialists working in Haiti have even come to our property to collect seeds and suckers from the wide variety of trees. The Bible college has a large vegetable garden area where future Nazarene pastors can practice good gardening techniques.
Can't the U.S. government do something to solve Haiti's food problem? We always seem to have farm surpluses in America.
     The Agency for International Development (AID), a United States government-sponsored program, has several projects in Haiti. In the past three decades, for example, the U.S. government has given over $300 million aid to Haiti. In times of famine, the U.S. government has intervened with emergency food from surplus stocks.
     There are, however, no easy answers to this complex problem. In recent reviews of the American foreign aid program, U.S. government officials reluctantly came to the conclusion that money alone will not solve the world's hunger problem. Imported free food can actually depress food prices in a small third world country. This can make life even more difficult for the farmers, and as a result, their production may even drop further.
     There is surplus food in the world today. The lack of wage-earning jobs means people do not have enough money to buy food. So the surplus food often stays in the warehouses, and people starve. Giving away that food without providing jobs just moves hunger from one agenda to another. There are no easy solutions.
Lots of organizations are clamoring for money to finance feeding programs in Haiti. Are these groups doing anything there?
     Haiti's problems have attracted many who want to help. There are literally hundreds of secular and religious organizations working in what is often called "compassionate ministries." There are so many of these groups in Haiti that the government issues a special car license plate for nonprofit organizations working in the area of "development."
     Some of these groups are doing significant work. Some, unfortunately, are just wasting their donors' money. The reasons for this range from ineptness to downright fraud, both in Haiti and in the organization's U.S. headquarters. Unfortunately there are always those who use pictures of starving children to raise funds and then take a large percentage of those funds to buy luxury cars and find homes for themselves.
     I wish I could convince every Nazarene that the best place to give to hunger needs is through the Nazarene Hunger and Disaster Fund. We have our faults and make mistakes, but I've not seen a better program in terms of results attained for dollars given and spent.
Are all the feeding programs in Haiti making a difference there?
     Haiti has serious food supply problems. The Haitian coins even carry the motto "Let's Increase Food Production." Poverty is such a persistent reality in Haiti that not long ago an international commission concluded that Haiti was a hopeless basket case. They suggested that the outside resources being sent to Haiti were like so many ineffectual drugs against a cancer. This panel argued that the international community should concentrate its resources in those countries that had a real chance of development.
     As part of the people of God, we strongly disagree with that panel of experts. All things are possible with God. The Church of the Nazarene, along with other reputable organizations, is making a significant difference in the lives of many Haitians. People are alive today who would have starved to death had it not been for the Church of the Nazarene. There is, certainly, a long way to go in bringing the average Haitian to an acceptable standard of living. But we believe that what we and others are doing will have a cumulative effect for good.
     Missionaries who have worked in Haiti for a long time tell me that they can see positive changes taking place over the years. We praise the Lord for that progress.
If I give to the Nazarene Hunger and Disaster Fund, will my money actually get to the hungry people?
     The World Mission Division of our church administers the Nazarene Hunger and Disaster Fund. Funds contributed, while not part of the denomination's Nazarene World Evangelism Fund, are given credit in the denomination's 10 Percent program. Contributions can be sent to the fund and designated for "hunger needs" or to a specific country to help supply food demands.
     Your gifts to the Nazarene Hunger and Disaster Fund will get to those who are suffering. The funds are strictly monitored to assure donors that the moneys all go to those who are in need and are the most deserving. I know of no better method for funds to reach those who are hungry and in great need.
How many grades do the Nazarene schools have in Haiti?
     Almost all of the Haitian Nazarene schools are elementary schools. Most of the students in these schools are in the first few grades. Only one Nazarene church-the Bel-Air congregation in Port-au-Prince-conducts a high school. It may be possible for a few more Nazarene churches to be able to begin high schools in the near future.
     Probably the weakest link in the education program is the lack of a coordinated effort to combat adult illiteracy. Some local churches have occasionally begun programs to help adults learn to read and write. The result is that a higher percentage of Nazarenes can read and write than is true of the general population. Still, there are many Haitian Nazarenes who are illiterate.
What can Haitian young people do who wish to go to high school and perhaps even college?
     Only three or four cities and towns have high schools. In addition, a university as well as several technical-vocational schools are located in the capital city.
Where do you get teachers for your elementary schools?
     From the very beginning, the Nazarene schools program has been Haitian. All of the teachers in Nazarene schools are Haitian. They vary considerably in their teaching qualifications. In rural areas, the only credentials some teachers possess is an ability to read and write and a willingness to try to teach others.
     Each local church sponsoring a school works independently. When possible, Work and Witness teams have provided buildings. Many of the schools, however, meet under brush arbors. The services of Compassionate Ministries in the World Mission Division have helped to locate funding for school lunches in the primary schools. There is no organized Nazarene school system in Haiti. All of these schools are the ministry of local Haitian churches trying to meet local needs in their communities.
Is there much industry in Haiti?
     Haiti is not an industrial nation. It is primarily an agricultural country. During the last 20 years, foreign investment in Haiti has been accelerated. Several multinational companies now have factories on the island. Ninety percent of the baseballs used in the United States, for example, are manufactured in Haiti. Some electronics subassembly plants are operating, as well as some furniture factories. Many of the grocery store coupons redeemed in the United States are now being sorted in Haiti.
What does Haiti export?
     Haiti exports textiles, sporting goods, electronic items assembled in Haiti from foreign components, and such agricultural products as coffee, cocoa, and vegetable oils. Due to its small manufacturing base, Haiti unfortunately is importing twice as much as it exports.
Could Christian businessmen build factories in Haiti to help Haitians with job opportunities?
     I believe that such foreign investment would be welcomed. Anyone working in development areas-such as the Church of the Nazarene-would like to see that happen. Realistically, however, a factory has to be a profitable operation to succeed. The factory has to be producing something in demand at a competitive price. Some crash programs that seemed promising have crashed rather abruptly.
It seems to me that our church is doing a lot of things in Haiti in addition to evangelism and church planting. Are we a unique organization?
     We do have an aggressive evangelistic outreach in our churches. We are trying to develop an authentically Haitian Church of the Nazarene. A part of all of this has to do with the compassion and love that holiness always brings to bear upon a sin-ravaged world. Our church is not necessarily unique in what we are doing. Some groups are perhaps doing even more than we are in development. Some are doing less. I believe that if you want to help Haitians, there is no better place to invest your money than through the Church of the Nazarene.
Why don't we hear more about what our church is doing in development in Haiti and elsewhere around the world?
     It should be remembered that our church's program is not geared to massive fund-raising from a central headquarters. Our church relies upon local churches paying their Nazarene World Evangelism Fund and giving to world mission special offerings. Thus we do not center our attention on flashy advertising as some groups may do. Our mission organization focuses on action, not on fund-raising. As a result, it may appear that our story is less impressive than others.
     We are also concerned that our primary goal of holiness evangelism not be obscured by our compassionate ministries. We do feed the hungry and clothe the naked; but we do not try to raise our mission funds with pictures of starving children.
     Probably we could do a better job of informing you of what is happening, but we want to do it honestly and fairly. . . . [ read more ]


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Rice Christians, Churches, and Caravan

Next chapterDo we still have our print shop in Haiti? . . . Isn't Caravan a big thing in Haiti? . . . Are we just now starting our Bible school in Haiti? . . . . [ read more ]

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