Friday morning came with anticipation. I was considering what to cook as a reunion-meal and getting the children ready for the clean-up; Daddy was due home. Julian had spent the scheduled 2 ½ weeks in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Unlike much travel in today’s world, his trips to the island next door are difficult because communication via phone or internet is often impossible; I hadn’t had any communication for several days. I was anticipating hearing his voice on the phone as he came into the port. He and Pastor Rob Dressel were due in to the San Juan port on the ferry at 8am. As I sat with my coffee in front of my computer, I received a call from our missions director that confirmed a status I had just read on Facebook. Pastor Bill Cannon, the GGWO/U.S. missionary to Haiti had passed into eternity Haiti the night before. My children witnessed the tears their mommy shed, not understanding the impact of this news.
Pastor Scibelli, our missions director, was attempting to reach my husband, Julian. The request was being made for him to return. Pastor Cannon’s wife was in Haiti; she needed Julian there as soon as possible. Pastor Cannon’s brother would be arriving the following day, and, with no previous experiences in Haiti, would need an escort and assistance as well. After a few hours of sorting out the possibilities, Julian went from the port in San Juan to the airport and boarded the only connection to Haiti for the day. We never got to see one-another--he was off again. For those precious minutes while he was across the island on Puerto Rico’s soil, we spoke; as the time for boarding came, I wept.
As we reflect on the timing and sovereignty involved in these events, we are in awe that Julian was given a precious glimpse into the ministry P. Bill Cannon pioneered in Haiti. Many young lives saw in Pastor Cannon a man of God who sacrificed greatly on behalf of their spiritual value. He was distinguished from other foreign missions efforts in the way he allowed them into his home, and shared humble portions of food together. Children mourned him as a lost “father”. Onlookers marveled that Haitians, including the funeral services owner, were offering services and assistance free-of-charge at a time when many would have considered it an opportunity to get a little something extra from the “Americans”. While most efforts in Haiti have a primary focus on meeting material needs, the work the Cannons had was primarily Bible training/college courses that were offered to men and women already serving as leaders in church congregations. Many of them are pastors. To think of men who are walking 3 hours on foot, then riding a bus for 3 hours to spend their Saturdays in Bible training, convicts most of us to consider our own convenience-driven lives. These precious people are so valuable to Him!
Julian’s second trip was a difficult one--helping the Haitians mourn while he himself mourned a dear friend, dealing with the embassy, the morgue, renegotiating rents, contracts, giving things away and securing others, arranging for continued church-services and Bible college classes….
Upon his return to Puerto Rico, Julian announced that he plans to take monthly trips to Haiti--at least until a permanent team can be on the ground in Haiti. The plan is to have very concentrated weekends of Bible college courses, both video and live. There is a certain type of releasing that a wife must allow if her husband feels called to dedicate his time to God’s work. We concluded long before these trips, that it would not be God’s plan for us to move the family to Haiti—at least in the foreseeable future, but we have grappled with these questions because of the ways God has equipped Julian to be a blessing in Haiti—specifically with his Creole language skills.
As a boy growing up in St. Lucia, his family discouraged the use of Creole in the house, thinking it would prove a hindrance to higher education in English. Since that time, St. Lucians are seeing a resurgence of enthusiasm for the language and culture that is tied to Creole, but this is a recent development. Written Creole was something Julian didn’t know as a child. When Julian “disobeyed” his uncles, step-grandmother and mother by learning Creole to the best of his ability, he wouldn’t have known that he would be moved to the U.S. Virgin Islands at the age of 13. About 23 years ago, before we were married, I found and purchased a Haitian Bible, “Bib la”, from a small American Bible Society shop in downtown Baltimore. Signed with my maiden name, it became a sentimental item. I remember his intrigue as he sounded the written letters phonetically and discovered that he comprehended it. St. Lucia has a population of 180,000, and their primary language is English. Haiti has 11 million; Creole is the predominant language, and French is spoken by the well-educated minority. English is a rarity in Haiti. Julian announced in church last Sunday that he lent the Bible to a Haitian young man who needed it—we’ll replace it later.
Update from Julian:
I am here still gathering myself after coming back from Haiti... Has been a jolting time for me emotionally and definitely one that has brought refinement to the call... I am so thankful each one who has walked this path with us. Whether from a distance or near, your prayers, financial support and words of encouragement have all worked to emblazon a path for me to walk in, confident that the Lord is leading...
I am preparing to head back to Haiti to provide concentrated Bible college classes for the 35 students who are enrolled. I am expecting to be there March 15-19th. The students will be staying overnight at the house, sleeping anywhere they can lay their heads on Saturday night and we will go through 4pm Sunday together. We will provide meals and assistance for transportation back to their hometowns. Some of them are coming from as far as 6 hours away. Really amazing the spiritual hunger that is there. This portion of the Haitian capacity is not spoken of much.
With Pastor Bill's death we have been left with questions of how to continue personal things he did for families and the youth. We are attempting to raise school support for three young boys he paid for. I had to motivate one of the young men, Jeffte, to tell me his thoughts and give him the private opportunity to weep at the loss of Pastor Bill, who he considered "his father." Jeffte’s dad and mom are both sick and unable to provide for the family. Last year I gave him my hair clippers so that he would make some money cutting the hair of the young men in the neighborhood. The clippers broke somehow and that source of income was lost as well. In early February, when I went to the Dominican Republic to accompany Pastor Bill, I gave my replacement clippers to the young Haitian pastor to do the same or to have someone do it on his behalf; again, it is a source of income. The clippers I went to Haiti with were my replacement pair, and I vowed (to myself-keeping my own budget in mind) that I would not give them away. That was not the case; I gave my third set of clippers to Jeffte to replace his broken ones. I chuckled with him and exhorted him that his first prayer for me was for money to buy another set.
My sleep pattern has changed. I am constantly thinking of and praying for the Haitian youth and families seeking opportunities for better lives/futures. I believe the church can provide a wonderful vehicle for partnering with them for their success. In fact, I told Jeffte that he did not need to replace his father, but rather he needed a brother/partner to agree with him on what his vision for the future is and how they can encourage, invest, or participate in that with him and others.
The plan now is to go back once a month to do intensified Bible college classes and to have a combined church service with the students, youth and families in the neighborhood where we have ministered. Oh Lord, give one dose of Haiti to every Christian, to every person, so that we will have a refined view on life and others! That's my prayer.
I am hoping to pair up those whom Pastor Bill assisted personally with support. He took care of three young adults' tuition at $23 US a month and fed upwards of 20 kids as they came to his house for a daily meal. For several years, I have gone over to renegotiate the rent, schedule repairs, and see who has most improved in their swimming -- gifting them with a pair of goggles, sneakers or some other treasured item I may have brought over. We have learned many songs, and when the night appears and electricity is gone we break into song... It was nothing to be up until 4:30 a.m. speaking about the work and way of God in His children's lives.
It has been so amazing to have been involved in this area of the world/Caribbean. Great things are ahead for these people, for the church and for the future of Haiti by the hands of Haitians.
Those who have partnered with us have allowed me to be there for Pastor Bill, and for this reason the church and students have hope that the work will not be left to naught. Please pray for my wife and the work here in Puerto Rico. All must participate/cooperate/agree/unite in this aspect of the call for all to be blessed. I think of I Cor 12, Eph. 4 and Ps. 133.
Special thanks to Pastor Rob Dressel for his photography