Magazine article The Christian Century

A Tree Grows in Haiti. (Harvesting 15 Years of Mission Work)

Magazine article The Christian Century

A Tree Grows in Haiti. (Harvesting 15 Years of Mission Work)

Article excerpt

HAITI IS a nation of contrasts," says Rodney Babe, who meets our church's team of mission workers at the airport. We soon understand what he means. BMWs and Hummers are weaving through the open-air market in Leogane. Someone is boiling a cow's head to remove the hair for sale, and the smell mingles with odors from mounds of decaying garbage, fresh mangos, burning charcoal, diesel fumes, dust and assorted frying meats. Later, along a steep slope in the mountainous terrain miles from Leogane, electricity, running water and any hint of technology, a little boy wearing a cast-off Dave Matthews Band T-shirt greets me with, "Bonjour!" in perhaps the only pure French remaining in the Creole dialect.

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the Catholic priest who first came to power with popular support in 1991, is coming under pressure for failing to effect any significant change in this country. After rejecting calls for legislative elections throughout 2002, he has agreed to hold elections in the new year. Business leaders, human rights groups and students have called for Aristide's resignation, while Aristide blames the U.S. and the international community for Haiti's lack of progress, citing the withholding of $150 million in loans for roads and health projects. The funds were pulled in 2000, when the Lavalas Party won in what observers called flawed elections. But although the money was released last summer, it has not yet been received by Aristide's government.

Whatever the current political crisis, it's the economy that defines this country, with its 70 percent unemployment, its financial mismanagement, its illiteracy and hunger. Church groups and Christian organizations of every name and denominational stripe attempt to minister in this sad place, with many of the mission projects dating back before Aristide and the Duvalier dictators, "Baby Doc" and "Papa Doc."

The Comprehensive Development Project (CODEP) is one of them. Our ten-member mission team represents the First Presbyterian Church in Bern, North Carolina, the church that began CODEP 15 years ago under the impetus of church member Jack Hanna. Today CODEP boasts 23 congregations as a support core, with 3040 more congregations, individuals, organizations and presbyteries contributing to an annual budget of nearly $250,000.

Mission co-workers Rodney and Sharyn Babe live on the CODEP compound located on the shore of the Canal De La Gonave, 30 miles west of Port-au-Prince. …

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