While in Haiti: Part II

Baptismal Procession

Saturday evening we were supposed to have baptisms but the scheduled activities went a little longer than anticipated. It was decided that we ought to wait until the next morning. Sunday we awoke and gathered outside of the Church. About 30 or so headed out as a group towards the Massacre River (the natural border between the Dominican and Haiti). We walked through the town passing houses on the left and right. The group sang hymns in Creole as we walked. Those we passed would stop and observe us on our way. A man heckled us from his house; everyone else just looked on. Some smiled at us.

What stood out to me the most as we made our 20 minute trip to the river were some of the people that passed through our cloud of witnesses as we went along. The streets were busy with activity and people were coming and going on their way to trade or hauling water, tending to the basic needs of the day. Occasionally a man or woman would pass by or fall in line with the group because we were, for that stretch of the road, headed in the same direction. Some of them would just walk silently. Others, though, would join in the song, praising along with us. So every so often a stranger would pass through revealing themselves to be brothers or sisters in Christ, offering their blessings on the occasion that brought us briefly together and offering their thanks to the Lord on account of it.

Jerry, John, and Jean Baptiste wade into the river

We arrived at the river and my dear friend and co-worker, John Martinez, waded into the water with Jean Baptiste (the associate pastor at the church) and Jerry Woodcox, a fellow Louisvillian checking out the ministry. Gathered at the waters edge, the crowd continued to sing and pray as those who were being baptized were led into the water one at a time. The first baptism went as expected. The next young lady was being baptized. Her head was about to go under when her body first went rigid and then threw itself into a violent convulsions. Jean Baptiste told John firmly to baptize her. They took her down and brought her back up as she twisted, turned, and screamed out. John and Jerry managed to hold her steady while Jean Baptiste, with one hand firmly on her shoulder and one hand raised in the air began to pray fervently over her. This went on for about a minute and a half. Suddenly, the young lady became calm and came to her senses. The spirit that oppressed her was expelled. I glanced around at my Haitian peers at the rivers’ edge while all of this went on and no one looked surprised or amazed. They went on singing and praying as if nothing out of the ordinary was taking place. Of course much of their prayer and singing were on account of and in response to what was taking place. Another victim of the spiritual oppression that grips much of Haiti was released in our presence and was now free to worship God.

A young woman desiring to be baptized resists out of spiritual oppression and influence

Jean Baptiste (John the Baptist) prays over the young woman and against the spirit that burdens her

That baptism was followed by another young lady, who when she was submerged, went totally limp like a corpse. It took all three men to get her up on her feet. She stood upright in their arms like a dead person being held up. Again, Jean Baptiste assumed his previous posture and began to call out to the Lord to free this woman of her oppressor. Moments went by; again, the songs and prayers continued without a pause; she came to. Jean Baptiste shouted praises and exaltations and the young lady returned to the riverbank, cleansed anew.

Another young woman is oppressed by a spirt at the moment of her baptism

Jean Baptiste prays over her as well until the spirit leaves

The other baptisms took place without incident, as we would expect here in the West. Each of the newly baptized Christians was offered new clothes, dresses for the women, shirts and slacks for the men. A make shift changing room was made there on the bank with a few people of their respective genders holding up sheets as curtains for each of new brothers and sisters.

Christians pray on the river's edge during the baptisms

We walked back in song and prepared for church.

I had the opportunity to speak with Jean Baptiste later that day. I asked if this head ever happened to him before. For him, it had been the first time and it had taken him a little bit by surprise. When he discovered what was happening, however, he knew just what to do. He told me that this sort of thing happened all of the time in the communities in the interior of Haiti, especially the rural areas, but this was the first time it happened in his presence in Quanamenthe. He thought that the spirit is the first woman was so strong due to her grandfather being a Voodoo priest. He said that it was not uncommon for families so closely related to servants of Voodoo to have similar experiences when they attempt to forsake the gods of their fathers.

Young observers watch us pass by

Again, we bump up against a culture and an understanding of the world that is far different from our own. Those in Haiti caught up in the powers of spirituality characterized by Voodoo know about spiritual power. They attempt to manipulate it; they fear it; they recognize it when they see it. When they encounter Christians who know the True Spirit, who know the One in whom true power resides they come to recognize a Power that they can not manipulate, a Power that frustrates their own fallen intentions, a Power that seeks them out. Haitians know and believe in the spiritual world; it’s just that many of them are unfamiliar with Jesus. But when they are confronted by him they discover that even the spirits they serve bow before him, as ultimately we all must, and they begin to pay closer attention to this Jesus often surrendering their lives to him. They discover that his yoke easy and his burden light, a stark contrast from their former spiritual masters.