Andy Sims, Director of Leadership Development at Lifeline, one of Southland’s Mission Partners, shared the following story about his recent experience in La Régale, Haiti. He was privileged to see God’s power at work first hand in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.
The view became more and more spectacular the higher we ascended to La Régale. Years ago, Pastor Nocent had started a Lifeline Church and School among these simple, often forgotten people. Both the church and the school had grown to be bright spots in this out-of-the-way place. Nocent was a perfect fit for La Régale. His quiet, humble, and somewhat poetic demeanor hide an inner strength and visionary spirit. The source of his success is plain to see when Nocent prays. What else could explain a thriving church of over 300 people on a mountainside without a single house in sight? Still spry at 78 years old, Nocent has now passed most of the responsibility to his son, Philemon. Much more outgoing than his father, Philemon always wears a smile on his face.
But that was before Hurricane Matthew blew through La Régale. While we knew the areas hit hardest by the storm were farther west, we also knew the church and portions of the school had been destroyed. How would this affect the ministry? And how would their new leader react in the face of this enormous challenge?
When I got my first glimpse of what was left of the church, I saw the metal roof had been peeled back and twisted, broken blocks and steel doors lay amidst the rubble. It was easy to visualize the path of those hurricane winds howling directly up the valley, then through the church. But what caught my eye was the crowd of people already gathered, waiting to help. After surveying the damage, our team quickly went to work.
When we pulled Nocent and Philemon aside to ask for more details, we erre told school had been cancelled. Homes everywhere were damaged. Crops and livestock were lost. There was nowhere to turn. No other relief expected. No hope. "How are you feeling?" I asked them. "Are you discouraged? Angry?"
Philemon seemed surprised. "Why would we be angry?" he replied with his familiar smile. You see, the church had gathered amidst the rubble three days before for worship as he preached from Romans 8:28. Philemon quoted the text to us, "God works all things together for the good to those who love Him.“ Then reminded us, “God provides. Our job is to wait. We don't know when He will provide. And we don't know how. I told them to be patient… because we know Who will provide."
Our team worked all day clearing the debris, sheltering several classrooms with tarps so school could restart. We prayed over the leaders and eventually headed back down the mountain, each of us struggling to process all we'd experienced. I don't think La Régale has changed. Their church building is gone. A new leader has emerged. But the same faith that has anchored this community will lead it forward. Perhaps I'd smile more if I knew God like Philemon does.