Lighting a Flame of Hope

Trauma counseling and training in Haiti


Just after the 2010 Haitian earthquake, a local pastor stepped out of his house to find his whole congregation standing in the front yard. They had come to their shepherd for guidance and instruction—yet he was as traumatized as his flock.

Another pastor crouched under a fallen building, helping to save a woman pinned to the ground by rubble and a large refrigerator. The only tool available to the rescuers was a small hammer, which they used to chip away at the fallen concrete. It took many hours, but they eventually freed her.

Rev. Dr. Harold Vieux, assistant pastor of Morija Evangelical Alliance Church in Greenacres, Florida, was visiting his homeland in Haiti when the earthquake hit. He described it as the worst five minutes of his life. The structure of his house cracked loudly. Paintings flew off the walls. Water pipes broke beneath the concrete floors, and water spewed out. The doorframe he held onto began to tear from the cement blocks. He said his only hope came as he uttered the sweet Name of Jesus.

Rather than set up a clinic staffed by North Americans, Compassion and Mercy Associates (CAMA), the relief and development arm of The Alliance, wanted to give Haitians the skills they needed to help each other. Training local pastors in how to counsel those who had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) would give far more people access to help than one clinic could bring.

Leaders from CAMA and the Southeastern District of The Alliance sought to assemble a counseling team to address the spiritual and emotional impact the earthquake had on the pastors and churches in Haiti. Word quickly spread through Alliance district superintendents. Rev. Joseph Adner, pastor of Berean Alliance Church in Delray Beach, Florida, and Drew Bishop of CAMA coordinated the resulting team. Other participants were Rev. Don Steenhoek, team chaplain; Rev. Stephen M. Rose, clinical director; Rev. Dr. Vieux; GingerLee Hooley, onsite administrative director; and former Alliance international worker Alicia Clarke. The first team flew to Port-au-Prince in April 2010 and the second team followed six months later to build on the foundation of the first.

The David C. Cook organization had produced a training book, Trauma Kit Haiti, in English and Creole. This was like giving the Haitian pastors gold; they had in their hands expertly prepared material in their own language. Team members not only taught the pastors from the book but also showed them how to teach PTSD counseling to others. Some of the topics covered in the sessions included suffering in relation to God’s love, healing the wounded heart, talking to grieving people, counseling children and helping women who have been sexually assaulted.

The trainees greatly appreciated the training on counseling rape victims and the exercises on “active listening.” One participant wrote, “Money could never give us what we learned in this program. I feel I am not alone in my situation, and you are with me, brother and sister.” Another commented, “I am able to consider the cases of sexual violence that may be there. [Also,] a cousin of mine had an arm amputated. Now I know how to better assist her.”

The pastors asked us if we would be teaching the mini-course on counseling elsewhere in Haiti. “We came to light a flame so that you may set the fire in Haiti,” one of our team members responded.

“You are the ones to teach this to others.”

CAMA has rebuilt two Alliance churches that were destroyed in the January 2010 Haitian earthquake and is in the process of building two others. One of these is a church plant established through CAMA’s Cash for Work program, in which Haitians were paid to clear the rubble from their own properties. A local C&MA pastor held meetings among this group, and soon a congregation of 60 people was formed. CAMA also partnered with a non-Alliance church in New York City to help rebuild houses; 8 of the 12 projected homes had been completed at press time.

The personnel needed to respond quickly to natural disasters around the world are supported through the CAMA Advance Fund.

For more information go to www.camaservices.org.

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