King Henri Christophe(1767 – 1820) oversaw the construction of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, this historical site in the north of Haiti, at Milot. It was built in three years, from 1810 – 1813. The church building had received special world recognition from UNESCO. Christians who would be on short-term missions made a point to visit this cultural site. Tourists visiting the Sans-Souci Palace and local “Capois” (Haitians from Cap-Haitien) marveled at its architectural wonders. It was a mausoleum. It was the pride of not only the North but of many Haitians and architects who studied round buildings. The chapel had survived the 1842 earthquake with some damage to its round dome. The chapel represented survival of natural disasters and human sufferings.
The night of April 12, 2020, a fire destroyed this beautiful sacred site. The local firehouse did not have the right equipment and the water pressure could not tame the flames which over powered history. The dome collapsed, the wooden pews burnt, the chapel was destroyed.
We lament our yesterdays and grieve our todays. We remember what was and is, as we live this season of pandemic. What was and is has our attention today and helps form our tomorrow.
Here are reflections shared by Herb Rogers, former missionary who served in Haiti with his wife, Bernice for two decades. Herb is a Special Assistant to Rev. Dr. Adalia Gutierrez Lee (Area Director for Iberoamerica & Caribbean) and a special volunteer to the Short-Term Mission team.
“Early on, in my time at l’Hôpital Bon Samaritain, Limbé, Haïti (October 4,1964 to June 4, 1965) our limited recreation activities was to visit the Citadel Laferrière. To avoid the 5+ mile hike from Milot we would take the road to Dondon to a point where the road was a little less than half a mile. It was a strenuous hike, skirting the many gardens there, the incline seemed to be about 45̊°, but it was better than the five-mile trail from the Sans-Souci Palace. It was not until early in 1965 that we explored the Sans-Souci Palace and the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. Not wanting to intrude into someone else’s worship space I regarded this magnificent structure from a distance, on subsequent visits ventured closer; first peering through the windows, then the doors and then inside sitting in the back as parishioners would occasionally enter and pass by the alter and the birds would chirp as they flew about under the massive vaulted ceiling.. Most impressive was the tranquil, almost ethereal, sense of peace that was experienced there.”
Where shall we find that peace today?
How will we, who are God’s instruments of peace, mercy, hope and love continue to be formed as we emerge from this pandemic? How can we be the servant-leaders God is asking us to be? Rev. Susan Beaumont says in her book, How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, that we ought to be “leading from a place of open wonder and curiosity.” May we encounter in our short-term cross-cultural engagements this “open wonder” with everyone. The Milot Chapel was and is a beacon of shining light for its community and the world.
May we lean into God’s grace, in accompanying others along their faith journey through missions. May wisdom shared in Proverbs 3 be the guiding lamp we hold in our hearts. May God’s peace be received and lived.