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

6: The poor are hearing the Good News

Once-lame men were walking. Blind men were seeing. The deaf started hearing. Even the dead were coming back to life. Such miracles left little doubt that Jesus was Master over the forces of the universe. As Jesus noted these miracles to John's disciples, He was building to a climax. There was a final and supreme proof that God's kingdom had broken in upon the affairs of men. That final, special sign was that the poor were having the gospel preached to them. This, says John Wesley, "was the greatest miracle of all."

To us today it may not seem like much of a miracle. We expect to find the poor in and around the church. Two thousand years ago, however, things were different. The great teachers of Rome, Greece, Egypt, and even of the Orient snubbed the poor. Old Testament teaching on God's special care for the downtrodden was clear. Still, the rabbis of Israel seemed repulsed by the poor. In places, the Talmud, a collection of Jewish civil and canonical laws, seems contemptuous of the poor.

Jesus was different. Flying in the face of religious tradition, Jesus centered His ministry on the poor. He even went so far as to point out that privileged status for the poor was a sure sign of the Messiah.

Our Lord's words to John's followers did not end with an exclamation of how the high and mighty were falling at His feet. He didn't whip out a list of impressive endorsements from important people and send that to John. Rather He said, "Tell John I'm preaching to the poor" -- Matthew 11:5. He seemed certain this would convince John of His Messiahship.

Most of Jesus' followers during His earthly ministry were Galilean peasants. Only a handful of those responding to His message had political, religious, or economic clout. This remained true right to the end of the New Testament. The Church grew rapidly in its first decades. Still, to the Caesars, Neros, and Herods of its day, it was a pitiful minority. The Church of Jesus Christ looked like a passel of helpless people of no account. Most new converts were the off-scouring and the disinherited of the Roman Empire. From a worldly point of view, the good news of the Kingdom had come to those who had no right to it: the poor.

Caesar, Nero and Herod were wrong, of course. Jesus was the promised Messiah. Today Christianity is the only truly global religion. It can be argued that it has influenced humanity more than any other religion. Yet even today the Church is most vigorous and alive where it targets the disenfranchised rather than the movers and shakers of society. How do we know the Messiah has come? It's because the gospel is being preached to the poor.

I grew up in a Nazarene parsonage in the 1950s. Back then we Nazarenes were "the church across the tracks." Our churches were located in the poor section of town. Some people looked at us with disdain. Some openly ridiculed us. We bristled at that kind of treatment. We craved some status for our motley collections of day laborers, widows, and short-order cooks.

That's the way the Church of the Nazarene began at the turn of the century, of course. Phineas F. Bresee's burden was a ministry to the poor. That burden led him to found the Church of the Nazarene in Los Angeles.

It's different now. "Redemption lift" has raised the economic and social levels of many Nazarene congregations. Unfortunately, our desire for respect in the religious world has sometimes obscured the dangers of wealth and status. From time to time the Holy Spirit has had to call us back to our roots.

Actually, the Nazarenes in most countries still come from the lower economic levels. Don't let that embarrass you. It's a sure sign of the Kingdom in our midst!

The biggest response to Nazarene missionary efforts has come in one of the poorest countries of the world: Haiti. That's significant. It proves that the Kingdom is at work. It confirms that our message and goals still coincide with what the Holy Spirit had in mind when He raised us up at the beginning of this century.

Spontaneous combustion

One day I was down on Haiti's southern peninsula with District Superintendent Evens Grammont. We were headed to Pestel for a zone rally. Coming down a steep gravel mountain road, we rounded a corner. There, nailed to a tree, was a crude, hand-lettered sign reading "Church of the Nazarene." An arrow pointed down a footpath.

Eyebrows raised, Rev. Grammont turned to me. "I didn't know we had a church there," he said in a rather matter-of-fact tone. We continued down the mountain to the seacoast for the rally. After the service, we stood around talking with some of the pastors. We discovered there were two more new churches waiting for the district superintendent to come and formally organize them.

Unusual? Not in Haiti. Such spontaneous combustion is exactly how the Church of the Nazarene has grown there. On Haiti's parched mountainsides where little else seems to grow, Nazarene churches have sprouted and flourished. Big churches. Little churches. Medium-sized churches. City churches. Village churches. Country churches. Churches with nice buildings. Churches that for 25 years have had only a brush arbor Nazarene churches: more than 450 of them in all.

Coupled with this explosive church planting is an aggressive evangelistic program involving all churches, both old and new. In fact, a few years ago, Nazarene pastors all across Haiti baptized a total of nearly 3,000 people on one Sunday. That's a story reminiscent of the Day of Pentecost.

What ignites these fires of evangelism and church planting? Why is the Church of the Nazarene spreading so explosively in Haiti? How has it been able to sustain such growth over a prolonged period?

While a missionary to Haiti, I asked myself those questions. I've come up with some tentative answers. First, churches are planted in Haiti at the grassroots level. That is, new churches are not planted by missionaries. They're not planted by Haitian district leaders. Rather, most new Nazarene churches in Haiti are planted through initiatives taken by local congregations.

Many Haitian Nazarene churches resemble a mother hen with several little baby chicks. That is, most Nazarene churches in Haiti will supervise one or more "stations" or preaching points. These are places in outlying neighborhoods or other villages where at least one service is held each week. Some of these groups will develop into fully organized churches. Others will remain evangelistic outposts, funneling new converts into the mother church.

Haitian Nazarene pastors seem to echo John Wesley when he said: "The world is my parish." That is, they don't see their ministry goal as being to pastor one specific local church. Rather, they often see God's call as one to plant churches (with an emphasis on the plural).

The number that Haitian Nazarene pastors point to with the most pride is not their average Sunday School attendance. Nor is it new buildings built or the amount of money raised. It isn't even the number of new converts. The most important statistic to many Haitian pastors is the number of stations they have. A church-planting mindset grips these pastors.

Another feature of our explosive growth in Haiti is heavy lay involvement. Most stations have lay leaders supervised by the pastor. Laymen even do the preaching in the stations on a rotating basis.

Those new groups we stumbled onto out on the southern peninsula resulted from a layman's work. The Haitian government had sent a Nazarene public school teacher to that area for some practice teaching. There was no Nazarene church in the area. So, during the several months he was there, he started five churches. The gospel was being preached to the poor, and it was being done by a layman. The Messiah has come!

Haitian Nazarenes love evangelizing. Most churches sponsor at least one preaching mission per year. This will be a week-long foray into another village. Sometimes, it will be where there is already a Nazarene church. Sometimes, it will be in an unreached area. The people will sleep in makeshift quarters, cooking over open fires and going door-to-door witnessing. In the evenings they hold open-air meetings. The results of these missions include churches being revived, new churches being planted, and new preaching points being started.

After one district assembly, for example, the Port-de-Paix church sent a group up the mountain to a village called Gashinet. During that preaching mission, 19 people found the Lord. These 19 became a core group for a preaching point. By the next district assembly that group of 19 had grown to 60 Christians clamoring for recognition as a fully organized church. Astoundingly, this was not the fruit of a professional evangelist or the district superintendent. It wasn't even the fruit of a veteran pastor. All the work had been done by laymen!

In the mother church itself, a layman will often fill the pulpit. This is particularly true of revival meetings. For instance, the ladies' group may have total responsibility for organizing one week-long revival. Everything in the next revival (including the preaching) may be cared for by the young adult group. Our churches occasionally organize 40-day revival meetings with services both morning and evening. The pastor himself may preach in a few of the services. Neighboring pastors may come to preach on a night or two. In most of the services during that nearly six-week period, however, laymen do the preaching.

Many Haitian Nazarene pastors expect that most of their members will be soul winners. There's no small corps of highly trained personal evangelists. Everyone is a personal evangelist! For instance, not long ago I was worshiping with our Petionville church. Pastor Remy Cherenfant welcomed several first-time visitors to the service. During his warm greeting, he told visitors they could talk to anyone about becoming a Christian or joining the church. Any member of the church, he said, stressing any, would help them find Christ or be able to answer questions about membership in the Church of the Nazarene.

What Remy Cherenfant said was not unique to the Petionville Nazarenes. Rather, this every-member-an-evangelist quality is common to Nazarene churches all over Haiti. The poor are having the gospel preached to them. Such preaching is being done, not by a select few, but by the mass of people called Nazarenes.

Much is said about our high-tech age. Ardent fans of technology trumpet its possibilities for accelerating church growth.

Against this background of high hopes for technology, rapid church growth in Haiti has been strictly a low-tech phenomenon. Very little sophisticated mass communications media has been used. Most areas of the country do not have electricity. Travel is often by foot. Even where motor vehicles are available, the roads may be very poor. It can take hours to travel only a few miles. Very few telephones exist outside of Port-au-Prince. The postal system is almost nonexistent.

Haitian Nazarenes do not use these and other tools thought vital for effective outreach in the final decade of the 20th century. Yet they're seeing explosive growth. Without a doubt, one of the reasons for this is the mobilization of every member in evangelistic outreach.

Most church planting in Haiti does not involve large investments of money. Usually, no thought is given to providing a permanent building until a preaching point or "station" develops into a fully organized church. Up until then, meetings will be held under a brush arbor or in a house. Thus, if a station fails to develop and dies, we've not squandered money in a fruitless effort.

Sometimes new Bible school graduates start a church in a new town. In these cases, World Evangelism Fund money rents a building and pays some initial salary support. Even in these cases, however, the church planting effort is linked with a new elementary school or a pharmacy/clinic, which will help the pastor become self-supporting.

Actually, most of our Hsaitian churches are self-supporting. Only new Bible college graduates are eligible for salary subsidy, and then only for a maximum of three years. Of course, through Nazarene Approved Special funds we can help local churches purchase Coleman lanterns, accordions, battery-powered loudspeaker systems, and horses and motorcycles for pastors. [ more info on Approved Specials ]

Without a complex structure or a high-powered program, Haitian Nazarenes are reaping an unbelievable harvest. We North American missionaries have our pocket calendars with hourly appointment schedules. We keep tidy filing cabinets. We insist on all kinds of complicated report forms. Sometimes we pull our hair out in dismay over what seems to be administrative chaos in places like Haiti. At these times the Lord reminds us that His command was not to keep tidy file cabinets. Rather, He told us to preach the gospel to every person on earth. It's a job the Haitian Nazarenes do very, very well.

Spiritual revival events in a stadium

The Church of the Nazarene sponsored the first-ever evangelistic crusade in Port-au-Prince's 25,000-seat soccer stadium. That was in 1966. Since then, other groups have used that stadium for crusades. We were the first, however, and what a harvest we reaped. A veteran pastor took some of the converts from that crusade and planted a church. That church -- Bel Air -- has up to 2,000 to 2,500 in its services. One of the converts in that stadium crusade was a young man named Evens Grammont. He felt a call to preach and eventually became superintendent of the Haiti South District. He also directed our Haitian Creole radio ministry. Respected by Nazarenes across Haiti, he spent some time as our denomination's official spokesperson to the Haitian government.

Another large event like that is now in the planning stages. One of the goals would be launching another new church. Services in the stadium would be broadcast live on a network of Christian radio stations. This would allow Nazarenes from all over Haiti to join the gathering.

Some time ago the Church of the Nazarene in Port-de-Paix led in organizing an interdenominational citywide crusade. Much of the fruit from the crusade in that northern coastal city was harvested by that Nazarene church.

Groups of churches throughout Haiti often hold zone rallies or even camp meetings. At one time, about 10 Nazarene churches in the extreme southeastern part of Haiti held a weekend camp meeting. There was some civil unrest in the country. Undaunted, over 1,000 people came to camp meeting. Thirty-five were baptized on Sunday afternoon.

Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish." (Matthew 13:47). These crusades and camp meetings, large and small, are visible happenings of our casting our nets. Among the poor of Haiti, we've had some good catches!

Sometimes, however, when I begin reeling off church growth figures for Haiti, I'll get disbelieving looks. Those numbers are astounding. The growth has been rapid. Can we trust these statistics? Are they really accurate? Are they inflated to please the missionaries and general leaders?

To answer those questions, you need to visit a Haitian church on Sunday morning. During the first part of the service, you'll most likely see an usher pass down the rows. He'll be making check marks on cards held out by many of the people. You see, before a person joins the Church of the Nazarene in Haiti, he must be baptized. He cannot be baptized if he does not regularly attend services after his conversion. Attendance will probably also be required at a new converts' class. These classes often meet during Sunday School for six weeks or so. Ushers mark their cards to vewrify their attendance records. Many churches also use attendance cards for full members to encourage their faithfulness as well.

In addition, we have discovered that converts in some of the more remote preaching points sometimes do not get counted in membership statistics. Some stations having only weeknight services are too far from the mother church building for people to participate in its regular services. The mother church sometimes forgets to put these converts from the station on its rolls. So they miss getting counted in annual reports. Such groups of people are really Nazarenes. While they don't get counted, their presence helps balance out any deadwood we may have in existing churches.

Work and Witness

An important issue in church planting anywhere is providing facilities for worship, education, and evangelism. People need places to meet. The buildings used by Haitian Nazarenes come in all types. They range from tiny, cramped rooms to spacious, barn-like buildings. Some are brightly painted. Others are simple brush arbors with no walls to paint. A few have tile floors. Many have only dirt.

In Haiti, the local Nazarenes almost always construct their first building as a brush-arbor-type structure. In a deforested country like Haiti, big trees to make wooden rafters and beams are not available. So as the group expands beyond the size of a small house, they have to go to concrete blocks and mortar and steel. Costs for these materials usually exceed their financial capabilities. Haitian banks don't loan money to churches. So these Haitian Nazarenes have to look for outside help.

In the early days of our work in Haiti that help came from Alabaster funds. Recently, most of it has had to come from Nazarene Mission Teams. A limited amount of Alabaster money has also been available to help purchase property.

For years a missionary couple has been assigned to work full-time with construction and the Nazarene Mission Teams. Freddy and Judy Williams, Bob and Nancy Say, and Scott and Pamela Hannay were among those with whom we worked. Our rapid growth in Haiti forces a hectic pace of church construction. In one five-week period, district superintendents dedicated four new church buildings built by Nazarene Mission Teams. Our district superintendents have one gripe against our Nazarene Mission Teams missionaries. They complain that they haven't figured out a way to work 24 hours a day. The list of our construction needs is long. At any one time the high priority list of needed projects has 100 or more projects on iut, Each new church organized means a building needed sometime in the future.

Their 50 percent?

The Global Mission office has some rules governing church construction on mission fields. One rule says that the local Nazarenes must give at least one-half of what it takes to build their building. They can't get a bank loan. So how do they pay for their 50 percent?

Some creative ways are used to ensure compliance with the rule. An interesting story happened out on La Gonave a few years ago. A village called Grand Source lies two hours' walk up the mountain above a coastal fishing village. I've made that long walk up and back down that rock-strewn trail a few times. Those Nazarenes carried concrete blocks on their heads on that two-hour walk up the mountain to build their church. Computed solely in dollars and cents, it would be hard to argue that they have given their 50 percent. They did not pay for the blocks. Still, those days of climbing that mountain, carrying heavy concrete blocks one by one, seems a bigger investment than the cash gift they'd received from an American church.

High in the mountains along the southern coast is a rural village called Fond Melon. The Nazarenes there had to get building materials up a long, winding footpath following a stream up a steep valley. Missionary Charles Morrow told me they approached the problem like American churches approach their building projects. They took pledges! Some folks pledged to carry pieces of tin. Others pledged to carry a certain number of concrete blocks. Still others pledged to carry so much sand. One lady pledged to make several horse trips to carry up the sacks of cement.

I remember a dedication service in a mountain village called Lachaud. The building had been nearly completed by a Nazarene Mission Team a few weeks earlier. The finishing touches had been completed. So a special Sunday morning dedication service led by the district superintendent was planned. He asked me to be present on behalf of the work team. During the Saturday evening and Sunday morning I was at Lachaud, I thought a lot about the mission policy's 50 percent clause. I'm convinced that what counted as the Haitians' 50 percent was a good deal more than the American Nazarene Mission Team's 50 percent.

Let me explain: Lachaud is two hours walk from the end of the road. The path that began where I parked my jeep was a mountain trail running straight up a mountainside. It was steep and covered with loose gravel. That Saturday afternoon, I had trouble just getting myself up it.

The building we dedicated Sunday morning was a prefabricated metal one. I knew that every piece of steel had gone up that trail on somebody's head. The 100-pound sacks of cement for the floor and foundation had gone up on the backs of horses belonging to members of the church. Schoolchildren carried the sand up in dishpans on their heads. There's no spring on top of the mountain. To get water, people from the village have to walk back down that trail for about half an hour. All the water for mixing cement (and for baths for Nazarene Mission Team members) had gone up that trail on somebody's head.

Sunday morning we had a great dedication service. The people sang gladly. They clapped for joy. They listened intently to God's Word. We thanked the Lord for this tangible sign of the Kingdom's intrusion into that area.

After the service, we started back down that steep trail. I felt my toes pushing deeper and deeper into the ends of my hiking boots. Finally, I felt them starting to curl under. As we neared the bottom, I wondered how long it would take for those toes to uncurl. I also knew I would need to order new parts for my knees. My ankles were going to need replacing.

I felt exhausted when we reached the bottom. Yet all I had done was get myself up that trail and back down again. I thought about the materials for that church. Lachaud Nazarenes made that tortuous trip over and over, carrying sheets of roofing, steel bars, cement, sand, water, and even supplies for the Nazarene Missions Team.

The biggest problem was a heavy gasoline generator/ welder that needed to go up to the job site. Missionary Bob Say had built a carrying frame for the welder. It vaguely resembled a wheelbarrow with handles coming out both ends. He placed handles on both ends and one large wheel under the center of the heavy machine. He hoped that would enable at least four men to push and pull it up that trail. It was still bulky and heavy. Climbing that steep trail with it was not going to be easy.

The Nazarene Mission Team from Wichita, KS, climbed the steep mountain trail their first night. They carried little more than their toothbrushes and some food supplies. The generator/welder had been left at the bottom of the trail. Members of the Haitian congregation were going to try to bring it up.

By the time the Nazarene Mission Team got up to the village, it was late afternoon. Exhausted from their climb, they sat eating supper. They had raised $5,000 above their expenses to buy materials for this building. Now they began to wonder if they could put it together without a welder. They barely managed to get themselves up that mountainside. The welder/generator? No way. They knew how heavy it was. The more they thought about it, the more impossible the task of getting it up the mountain seemed. They had loaded it on the pickup back in Port-au-Prince and struggled to get it off at the end of the road. Carry it up that path? No way. Someone mentioned how easy it would be if they only had a helicopter.

Supper ended. Darkness fell. Then, from far away, singing came floating up the steep trail. Gradually the sounds came closer and closer. Finally, over the top came a group of men dragging that generator/welder. The Americans stared in disbelief. Then tears came to their eyes as they saw the cut and bruised arms and legs of the men struggling with that machine.

The generator/welder showed signs of having taken a tumble or two. Obviously it had been a tough climb. In spite of the new dents and scratches, it started up with the first pull on the starter rope.

The building went up in record time. The most amazing thing for everyone, however, was not how quickly the building went up. The biggest story was the arrival of that portable welding machine.

Construction completed, the Americans packed their belongings. They started down the trail, slipping and sliding. As they went over the crest, they looked back. There were the men of the church discussing how to start back down the trail with that generator/welder. Sure enough, hours later the men who had been waiting with a pickup at the end of the road looked up. There were the men of the church lugging that welding machine. What had gone up had indeed come down.

Did Lachaud give their 50 percent? Did they obey the official rule? I'm not certain you can compute it easily in dollars and cents. Sunday after the dedication service I slithered and slid down that mountain trail from Lachaud. As I thought about that building project, tears welled up in my eyes. Lachaud's 50 percent?

Somehow their contributions seemed to carry a higher price tag than the work team's $5,000. Certainly, some Americans had given freely to buy those materials. Perhaps you could even call it "sacrificial giving." The Americans, however, had given out of their abundance. These folks from Lachaud were malnourished and plagued by intestinal parasites, malaria, and other health problems. They had done what the healthy Americans did not think possible. In doing so, they had literally given their lifeblood to build a place to preach about their Messiah. Christ did come. He is present today. The commitment of the Lachaud Nazarenes is proof of that.

Like a prairie fire

While growing up in southeastern Oklahoma, I remember seeing prairie fires. One stands out in my mind. Several fields had already been burned by the time I arrived. The wind drove the flames through the tall grass like waves coming up on a beach. Farmers tried to make firebreaks. It was no use. The wind blew the sparks over the bare strips. As the fire approached the edge of one field, they prayed that the gravel road would stop it. It didn't. The wind blew burning straw across the road. Off the fire went, blazing through the next field.

The Holy Spirit sparked a flame in the hearts of Haitian Nazarenes. Today it resembles that prairie fire. Satan tried to keep that fire confined to one little Caribbean nation. But he failed badly.

Haiti's dire economic distress has turned many of its people into the wanderers of the Caribbean, indeed of the Western world. Selling everything they have to buy airline or boat tickets, they endanger their lives and risk the wrath of immigration officials in the United States and other countries.

Some of those Haitians trying to emigrate to other countries are Nazarenes. Victims of racial and national prejudice where they've gone, they've clung tenaciously to their faith. They've given witness to that faith. They've sought to convert others. Fiercely loyal, these Haitians have tried to plant the Church of the Nazarene wherever they've gone. God has turned economic misfortune into a force for spreading the gospel!

Haitian Nazarenes have planted churches in countries like France, Canada, Suriname, Venezuela, and the United States. Fifty percent of the Nazarenes in the Bahamas are Haitian. Nazarene work in the Dominican Republic began in the mid-1970s. We have watched in wonder at the rapid Nazarene growth there. Few people know, however, that 50 percent of the Nazarenes in the Dominican Republic are Haitian. Four of the six world regions of the Church of the Nazarene have Haitian churches! In the New York area, in central and south Florida, and in eastern Maryland, Haitian Nazarene immigrants get together and start churches. They eventually get discovered by the district and are officially organized. The prairie fire is out of control. The gospel is being preached to the poor. The Kingdom is striking back!

Such spontaneous, rapid growth inspires Nazarenes in other countries. Some years ago the Nazarene Bible College campus near Port-au-Prince hosted the Caribbean Regional Conference. Delegates came to fellowship. They came to plan strategies. They hoped to cement Caribbean unity. Perhaps most of all they came to partake of the Haitian Nazarene spirit. Inspired by a firsthand look at the work of the Holy Spirit through the Haitian Nazarenes, these Caribbean leaders set some lofty goals.

The poor are having the gospel preached to them. The Messiah has come. [ continue reading ]

  Page:  ←Prev  | &nbs p; Foreword  |  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 → 

The Kingdom is present

arrow pointing rightTo some looking on today, God's kingdom may not inspire awe. Don't be caught napping. The Kingdom is present. . . . [ more ]

   -- Howard Culbertson,

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

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