Dad (Bernie) and I (this is Bernie and Sheryl’s son, Philip) are in Port-au-Prince tonight. Tomorrow we’ll connect with Glenn Bridges and Art Berry, who along with Pastor Diogene will travel with us to Tricotte. There we’ll spend the next two weeks drilling a well at the school in Camass, tackling maintenance and improvement projects at the orphanage, working with our school administrators as the new school year begins, and attending to our feeding and relief ministries. We’ll visit a few of the churches we’ve helped Pastor Diogene plant and assist him as he prepares for upcoming evangelistic crusades.
Those are significant areas of Starfish’s ministry, and they are things that we’ve shared about often. There’s another area, though, that hasn’t gotten as much mention. At Starfish, we’re committed to equipping and encouraging pastors in Haiti, and to that end we sponsor an annual Pastors’ Conference.
Dad and I just returned from that Pastors’ Conference; it was the first leg of this trip. We spent the last three days in Montrouis, about two hours north of Port-au-Prince, with Pastor Kim Ryan (North County Christ the King in Lynden, WA), Pastor Justin Manzey (Christ the King in Abbotsford, BC), and about 80 Haitian pastors. I was inspired, I was encouraged, and I was challenged by Kim’s charge to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:3) and by Justin’s instruction on characteristics of healthy churches. I was humbled that they trusted me teach these amazing servants of God from His word. But the thing that moved me most of the entire conference was the testimony of one Haitian pastor.
Sitting around a table one evening, Pastor Nathan shared with Kim, Justin, Dad, and me about his church, about his wife, and about an orphanage of twenty children he runs. Then he shared an account of an experience he had in Badyo, a village known for powerful demonic oppression. Nathan had been warned to stay away from Badyo. He had been told that this was not a place that would be open to the Gospel and that to go there would be dangerous. That didn’t stop him. God had impressed on him that he needed to go to this village to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
Upon arriving in Badyo, he found a large tree – a Haitian village’s equivalent to the town square – and he began to proclaim the truth of our risen Lord. He quickly attracted attention, though the growing crowd was not interested in his message. He was confronted, he was insulted, and he was threatened. But Nathan didn’t back down. He continued to preach the Gospel until an angry young man stepped forward, apparently with more on his mind than mere threats.
Now this is the point in the story – the point where things seem bleakest for God’s servant – that I’ve come to expect an abrupt change in direction. Perhaps he speaks an authoritative word, and that is followed by some supernatural intervention. The antagonist is defeated, the crowd is astonished by this display of power, and many believe in Jesus.
But that’s not the way it happened this time. Instead, things happened just as the crowd expected: the man attacked and beat Nathan, and Nathan left sore and without any converts. Praise God that He protected Nathan from serious injury or even death.
Soon after, Nathan’s attacker died, apparently without ever coming to Christ. If it’s true that he failed to put his faith in Jesus, he is needlessly paying for his own sin today. And what a tragedy that is. Nathan has returned to Badyo and resumed preaching the Gospel to the same people who stood by and watched as he was beaten. Response has been slow, but he is now conducting a regular Bible study not far from the place where he was attacked.
I recently taught a class on Acts 16, where Paul and Silas were severely beaten and thrown into prison. In the middle of the night, as Paul and Silas prayed and sang songs of praise, God miraculously released them from their bounds. I asked the class why they thought God hadn’t intervened several hours earlier and spared Paul and Silas the beating. The beating they experienced was no small thing, and they likely felt the effects of it for months afterward. But God had His reasons for waiting, the most apparent of which was the Philippian jailer and his entire household, who believed in Christ as a result of Paul’s testimony. Despite Paul and Silas’s suffering, it was better this way. The Kingdom grew, and God was glorified.
And why didn’t God intervene for Nathan when he was attacked? Perhaps the statement made when one of our Lord’s servants endures a beating, then willingly returns to do his Master’s bidding is greater than the most spectacular display of power. I don’t take this brother’s suffering lightly, but I thank God for Nathan’s faithfulness and the glory he brings to Jesus’ name.
Life is not easy for Haitian pastors. From severe financial challenges to real physical dangers, from limited local support to serious demonic opposition, Haitian pastors travel a road virtually unknown in the United States and Canada. Yet men like Nathan press on, running with endurance that race set before them, believing there is a better life to come, and striving to rescue as many as possible from the misery of their current spiritual bondage and to deliver them by the power of the cross into a joy that transcends every temporal affliction.
At Starfish we’re honored to partner with men like Pastors Diogene and Nathan and so many more, and to do what we can to support them as they prove themselves worthy of our Lord in the most difficult of circumstances. And thank you for the role you play in spreading the Gospel in Haiti.
Serving the Lord together,
Bernie, Sheryl & Philip Bovenkamp