It seems this week everyone is looking back over the past decade. Some make lists of the best and the worst. Some relate memorable experiences and stories. Some merely reflect on where we’ve come these last ten years.
I actually did this – somewhat unintentionally – a couple of months ago. I was doing some work on the Starfish Ministries website, which included assigning “tags” to all of our old newsletters (“orphanage,” “feeding program,” “well-drilling,” etc.). This meant re-reading all of those newsletters. And as I did this, a project I initially thought of as “busy work” soon became quite engrossing, like reading a novel about the last ten years of Starfish, with various plots and subplots woven together, and reoccurring themes and characters.
Bernie wrote the vast majority of the newsletters, and as I read them I repeatedly had this thought: “When he wrote that, he had no idea what God was planning to do.” He had faith that he was following God’s leading – you can see that in his writing – but he didn’t know where that was going to take him. And yet he and Sheryl, along with Pastor Diogene and Glenn Bridges and Doug Jarvie and many others, trusted God and were faithful to His calling.
Starfish Ministries’ history in Bethel is a great example of this – of moving forward in obedience without really knowing what God had in mind. The first newsletter mention of Bethel came in February 2004. In that newsletter, Bernie explains how a traffic fatality brought Starfish to Bethel. He concludes that letter by writing:
On Sunday afternoon, January 18, Diogene and several of the Port-au-Prince church leaders went to Bethel. They went from hut to hut and shared with the people there. They found no Christians but most of the people were excited about the possibility of a school in their village. Our next step is to find property to purchase so that we can build and start a school and be able to share the love of Jesus with the children of that village and eventually hope to see many receive Christ as Savior.
When he wrote that, Bethel was nothing but an open door. I get excited when I read that now. I know what happens next. As he writes, he hopes, but he doesn’t yet know. A few months later that hope began to be realized. In the June 2004 newsletter, Bernie reported more on Bethel, including this:
Four weeks ago, 14 unsaved people came together under a large tree to study the Gospel of John. The next week 22 were there. The third week it was 26 of which two indicated a desire to become Christians. When we were there, 36 people came to hear the Word of God shared and three more became Christians. Pastor Steve had the opportunity to pray with them. It is so exciting to see the interest and hunger for the truth. One of the older women in the group was a witch doctor’s wife. Many more people passed by, slowed down, and listened for a while, wondering what was going on.
The following month, in July 2004, Bernie opened the newsletter with this:
When I talked to Pastor Diogene this week, I asked how things were going in the village of Bethel. His enthusiastic answer: “Unbelievable!” Last Tuesday the Bible Study team from Diogene’s Port-au-Prince church arrived in Bethel at 3:00 PM. That’s an hour before the Bible study was to begin and that’s a miracle in itself. But when they arrived at the big tree in the middle of the village, there were already people waiting. And by 4:00 there were 138 people ready to hear the gospel message. Just eight weeks ago they started this outreach Bible study with 14 people and each week the group has grown. There are over 20 of them that have become Christians. What a tremendous working of the Holy Spirit in these lives! The people are so hungry for the truth of God’s Word.
The body of believers in Bethel continued to grow over the next year, both in numbers and in maturity. They badly needed a church building to meet in. In August 2005, Bernie was able to share about God’s provision for that:
I was so excited when I got the good news that a 24’ X 50’ portable fabric shelter had been donated to Starfish Ministries to be used as a portable church in Bethel. I quickly phoned Pastor Diogene to tell him about the portable church building but also that we had a team ready to go to Haiti in August to assemble it. I thought I could hear Diogene doing cartwheels over the telephone. He was truly praising our Faithful Provider for this gift.
In September 2005, he reported about the first Sunday in the new church:
Over 100 people from Bethel attended the first Sunday church service in their own church on August 7. The team who constructed the building was there to worship with them. It was a great day! God used Pastor Diogene’s message to speak to the heart of another young woman who then prayed to receive Christ as Savior.
In the January 2006, Bernie wrote, “[Pastor Diogene] told me that 49 more people from Bethel have become Christians. That is after 128 trusted the Lord in November.” And on it goes. In November 2006 he wrote of the opposition mounting against the Bethel Christians from local Voodoo witchdoctors. That December he shared that one of those witchdoctors had repented and come to the Lord. In February 2008, he updated that witchdoctor’s story and shared of the victory he experienced in Christ. And in other newsletters he tells of the success of the school in Bethel and the ongoing challenge to bring clean drinking water to the village.
And just a few days ago, Bernie shared with me that Pastor Diogene and his team led 26 more people to the Lord in Bethel last week. While they were there, the witchdoctors attempted to disrupt their work, beating drums and calling on evil spirits. But the spirits don’t show up anymore. They are defeated and have given up and moved on.
I was blessed as I read these old newsletters. Perhaps you would be, too. You can find them at the Starfish Ministries website.
We look forward to the next decade of following God’s leading together, and we begin it with the same hopeful expectation that characterized the last one, because Faithful is He who has called us, and He will bring it to pass (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
Thank you all for your generous Christmas giving again this year, providing goats and chickens, bibles and song books, shoes and soccer balls, and much more. Many needy Haitians will be the recipients of these items. You have blessed their lives! You have also blessed us as we have seen hearts of individuals, families, and also children generously helping those in need.
Serving the Lord together,
Bernie, Sheryl & Philip Bovenkamp