Since we returned from Haiti last week, several of you have asked Dad (Bernie) and me about the school that collapsed in Petionville in November and a second school that partially collapsed in Port-au-Prince a few days later. Were these schools connected to Starfish Ministries? (They weren’t.) And is there any danger of something similar happening to any of the 29 schools Starfish administrates in Haiti?
There are significant differences in design and construction between Starfish’s schools and the ones that collapsed. Starfish’s schools are basic, straightforward structures. The majority are single-story buildings with cement-block walls and metal roofing. And Glenn and Doug, along with our Haitian construction manager, Jonal, have been diligent in building these schools to appropriate standards.
However, in this world in general, and in Haiti specifically, where disaster is never far away, we don’t find our security in the strength of our walls or the soundness of our construction. Walls much mightier than these have fallen, and it has often happened at the moment when their builders were most confident. We will continue to take seriously our responsibility in building these schools, but ultimately we recognize that it’s only by God’s grace that anything we’re involved with stands up at all. So pray with us for God’s protection over these schools and even more so for the students and teachers who occupy them.
There is one Starfish school building, in the village of Corail, that is in some potential danger. The problem in this case has nothing to do with its construction but with a creek nearby. The hurricanes in September poured so much water into rivers and streams in Haiti that they undercut their banks and carved away, in many places, considerable amounts of land. This is what caused the destruction of many homes – the ground was washed out from under them and they fell into the water. Since then, smaller seasonal storms have continued to erode the banks, threatening more homes and, in Corail, one of our schools.
I visited Corail last May. To get to the school, we climbed down into a small ravine about 12 feet deep, traversed a log that spanned the creek, and scrambled up the other side. Back then, the school was perhaps 30 feet from the ravine, and there weren’t any indications that this would ever present a problem. But over the last few months, the edge of the ravine has crept closer to the school, and while the building is not yet in immediate danger, it’s evident that something needs to be done.
The answer is a retaining wall built at the base of the ravine below the school. It will need to be approximately 45 feet long and eight feet high, will be constructed from river rocks held together with mortar made from sand and cement, and will cost about $1,800 to build. But praise the Lord – He has already provided the funds! Scarcely had we recognized the problem and identified the solution when a short-term mission team from Grace Community Church in Auburn, Washington, committed to covering the cost. This team led by Ken McKinley spent 10 days with us in Haiti last month, and upon hearing of this need quickly offered some additional funds they’d raised. So we’re thanking the Lord, beginning construction, and praying that God continues to protect this school.
A passage in Ezekiel comes to mind as I consider the retaining wall in Corail: “And I [the Lord] searched for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the gap before me for the land . . .” (Ezekiel 22:30). Of course, the wall in this passage is not a rock wall, nor is the land soil that is eroding away. But the context is erosion of another kind. This entire chapter (and much of the book of Ezekiel) is an indictment of Israel for allowing the currents of the heathen nations around her to erode her righteousness and undercut her faithfulness. She let the influence of her idolatrous neighbors compromise her commitment to the one true God, and He was righteously angered by it.
The pressures we face today are not so different from those faced by Israel 2600 years ago. The world’s influence constantly threatens to erode our righteousness and undermine our faith. This is true in Haiti as much as it is in the United States and Canada. Sometimes it happens with hurricane-force torrents, but more often it comes with the subtlety of seasonal rains. We’re pressed to compromise a little and we hardly notice the difference.
At Starfish Ministries, we desire to build more than just rock walls. As important as it is to meet physical needs – to feed the hungry, to care for orphans and widows, to educate the illiterate, to provide clean water, and to rebuild homes – none of it means anything without the righteousness that comes only through Jesus Christ. We desire to partner with our Haitian brothers and sisters as the men and women God uses to build up a wall of righteousness in Haiti, to stand in the gap before God for this land.
Thank you for your partnership as we continue to minister in Haiti, and may God bless each of you during this season as we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Serving the Lord together,
Bernie, Sheryl & Philip Bovenkamp