Previously a missionary in Ivory Coast, Ken Wimer ministers in Shreveport, Louisiana (www. shreveg race.org). He trains Haitian preachers using Europresse (French EP) study courses; and annually runs a sovereign grace preachers’ conference in Haiti. This is his account of the 2003 visit.
Ten days, three countries, and four languages (English, Spanish, French and Creole)! What a blessing it was to travel and preach the gospel on the Caribbean Island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti!
Flying some 900 nautical miles southeast of Florida, you quickly see that Haiti is mountainous and dry, while the Dominican Republic hilly and lush green.
My first stop was Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.
The flight from Miami took 1 hour 40 minutes. Skies were clear, with a beautiful view of the ocean, islands and reefs below.
The plane landed half an hour early and Roberto Martinez was there to meet me. Roberto is a lawyer, fluent in Spanish, English and French, who attended a preachers’ conference in Haiti several years ago.
Roberto and I picked up Manuel and his two-year-old daughter. We visited sights in historic downtown Santo Domingo, where Christopher Columbus called 500 years ago.
The cannons and walls show increasing wear and tear, but it was interesting to hear the guides talk of ancient battles.
I couldn’t help thinking that, in death, these renowned men and the enemies they conquered all share the same fate – eternal condemnation unless the Lord sovereignly brought them to faith in Christ, through the gospel. How vain and temporal is earthly fame without Christ!
On the Sunday, the Lord blessed our meeting with the church. I preached from Romans 3:21-22 on the righteousness of God. Roberto had invited a friend from a staunchly communist family.
In the evening I preached from 2 Thessalonians 2 on the difference between false religion and a true work of God’s grace. Following this, it was a joy to celebrate the Lord’s Supper with these dear brethren.
My flight to Haiti was on Monday afternoon. Manuel dropped me off two hours early at the airport, so I had plenty of time to wait before boarding a small Air Jamaica prop plane for the one-hour flight to Port-au-Prince.
I spent the time reading and listening to the woes of some other passengers. They had waited for three days to get to San Martin, but had been delayed because of a volcanic eruption.
When we arrived, Jean Claude Dorsainvil was waiting at the airport with another preacher from Port-au-Prince. They took me directly to the hotel, where I had just 15 minutes to freshen up before heading to a meeting at the Evangelical Free Church of Haiti.
We travelled through unpaved streets, past houses built on the steep mountainside. Homes are villas, or sometimes narrow concrete structures. Some are half finished, waiting for money to become available.
Much of the neighbourhood in which the church is located is without electricity and running water, so we were obliged to use a small generator at the meetings. This failed on several occasions, requiring us to stop and light candles.
The first meeting began an hour late, after 7.00pm. The young man leading the pre-service songs and prayers was obviously untaught in the gospel, and there was a lot of vain repetition as described in Matthew 6:7.
They were accustomed to all raising their voices and yelling out their ‘prayers’, which created much confusion.
Christ as King
During my message, I felt compelled to speak to this issue, when talking about Christ’s work as Prophet, Priest, and King.
With Christ as King, believers have no need to fear, for he ever lives enthroned in glory, having conquered sin, Satan and the world.
To attempt to ‘bind’ Satan, and deliver themselves from evil forces, Christians need not multiply words, prayers and shouts – as if the battle were theirs. Christ has already accomplished victory for his people: ‘Now is the judgement of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out’ (John 12:31).
Many of the preachers in the study programme are being confronted with the gospel, but are still bound by tradition. They will continue so until the Lord opens their eyes to the Christ of Scripture.
My plans had changed. Instead of spending a week travelling upcountry over rough terrain as planned, I had to remain at my hotel and used the opportunity to study in preparation for preaching each evening. This was because of the poor road conditions and constant danger of bandits along the way. Everyone discouraged me from attempting the trip north without someone to accompany the driver and me.
I could only give thanks to our Lord for his providence, which always has a gracious purpose.
So, I was thankful to have a safe and comfortable place to stay, and where I could enjoy quiet days of prayerful preparation by the pool, next to the palm trees and exotic tropical flowers.
At the Tuesday evening service, I preached from I Corinthians 1:17-18 on ‘The cross of the Lord Jesus’.
The cross is a symbol of the guilt and condemnation of sin. There the justice of God was entirely satisfied for those whom Christ redeemed, and there God is revealed as just in justifying ungodly sinners through Christ’s completed work.
In the cross God’s love is manifested for his Son as the Lamb slain, to his chosen people, and by his own righteousness. How full and rich the gospel message is!
Driving between the church building and hotel, I thought about Haitian culture with its contrasts.
There are neighbourhoods with huge villas, walled fences and beautiful, exotic tropical flowers and trees. However, most people live in makeshift aluminium shacks or half-completed concrete buildings – in very poor living conditions and on streets full of people, mangy dogs, sewage and garbage.
Things look particularly dismal at night as you look out over the city and see only patches of light where electricity is available.
The grace of God
It was a smaller group on Wednesday evening. My text was 2 Timothy 1:9-10, and I preached on ‘The grace of God in salvation’. The grace of God is the foundation and motive for God saving sinners.
As I came to the final point, the generator went dead, and we were plunged into darkness. I used it as an opportunity to preach on the temporary nature of life and the reality of spiritual darkness apart from Christ.
On the Thursday evening, a few had begun to gather, but a huge tropical thunderstorm occurred at around 6.15pm and no others were able to come to the meeting.
Following that service, I talked with Jean Claude Dorsainvil, who represents Europresse in Haiti, about getting French gospel literature distributed there.
The next day, I spent the morning running errands with Jean Claude Dorsainvil. He is building a private guesthouse, which he hopes to have completed in a couple of years. He hopes to use it for future preachers’ conferences. We also called at the radio station to pick up thirteen cartons of Europresse boxes, sent from France in time for the conference.
The preachers’ conference proper began on the Friday evening. There were twenty-three men in attendance, with the majority of them hearing the gospel of grace for the first time.
I asked five of the men to prepare a message and lead us in a couple of songs and prayer in between the times that I would teach. In my five teaching sessions each day, I endeavoured to use the Word of God to make the biblical gospel plain, teaching them verse by verse.
My goal was to enable them to see, by God’s grace, how all of Scripture reveals Christ, and God’s free, saving, sovereign grace in him.
I spent extra time on 1 Timothy 1, talking about who is a true gospel preacher and what it is to preach the gospel.
After the first two sessions we took a break, and when I returned from getting a drink of water, there was what sounded like a loud argument, with everyone talking at the same time.
I asked one of the men what was going on and he said, ‘They are talking about the messages that they have just heard and lamenting the fact that they have been so ignorant of the gospel message, not having been taught’.
This is a common reaction each year, particularly as some men come in with a certain ‘zeal’ for ministry according to what they have been taught. However, as Christ said, you can’t take new wine and put it into old wineskins: ‘new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved’ (Luke 5:38).
When the Spirit of God puts out the flame of false religious zeal, there is a lot of smoke from the burning embers before the fire finally dies.
On the Sunday the pastor of the Evangelical Free Church invited all twenty-three of the students and myself to attend their services. A student called Ifrene Francois led the first service in a very worshipful manner.
The services were from 6.00 to 9.00am during the coolest part of the day; and in the evening when it was again cooler.
I preached from 1 John 4 on God’s love revealed in Christ for his people. The message was well received. Many of those attending have been taught in mission organisations where the gospel of God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ is denied, and have, therefore, no clear understanding of true worship or what it is to preach the gospel.
We spent the rest of the day until 8.30pm studying the Word, enabling me to complete a verse-by-verse exposition of I Timothy.
Paul wrote to Timothy: ‘And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also’ (2 Timothy 2:3).
May the Lord soon raise up faithful preachers from among the Haitian people, capable of communicating the gospel clearly in their own language!