We will not soon forget the January 12, 2010, earthquake in Haiti (4:53 PM local time, to be exact) and the aftermath of this horrific tragedy. Over 200,000 people died. A million people displaced, living in tents and under tarpaulins. One year after the devastating disaster, we continue to think about and pray for the people of this beleaguered nation where major reconstruction of the country has yet to get off the ground in a significant way.
I was talking with a cousin during Christmas week. She had asked me about my travels in 2010. In the midst of our discussion, I mentioned that I traveled twice to Haiti to participate in activities at our Seminary in the country. She said, “I did not know that we had a school in Haiti!”
We do, indeed. The Seminaire Theologique Nazareen D’Haiti was organized in 1952 as a Bible School with seven students enrolled. Missionaries Paul and Mary Orjala arrived in Haiti in October 1950 to open the work for the Church of the Nazarene. Rev. Paul was an educator who believed that pastors must be trained no matter where in the country they served.
Within a few months he had translated Sunday school literature in Creole, the language of the people of Haiti. There were no books available in French or Creole, no library, no commentaries, and no budget. He did have access to a Creole translation of the Gospel of Luke. He was the only faculty member. He began to develop his own curriculum based on the Bible. As a Greek scholar, he was able to translate Greek into French and Creole.
The Bible school continued to grow. Other missionaries directed the school when Paul left Haiti in 1964 to begin the missions program at Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City. The residential program of studies continued to operate at the school, and a program of studies was created for rural pastors who could not leave their homes and their farms to enroll in the residential programs on the Bible school campus on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.
The school closed for a period of time in the early 1970’s. Most of the missionaries were sent home or were transferred to other fields. This was a major setback for the work of the Church of the Nazarene in Haiti.
New missionaries were appointed to Haiti in 1973. Jeanine van Beek arrived in Haiti in 1975 from the European Nazarene Bible College. She was a veteran educator and spoke fluent French and English. The Bible College was opened in the fall of 1975. Jeanine’s only assignment was the Bible College and she worked to advance the program. She worked closely with the Haitian Department of Religion and obtained permission to offer a degree program. The name was changed during the leadership of van Beek. She retired from missionary service in the 1990’s.
The school today is listed in the top six seminaries in the country. Greg Crofford and Scott Stargel were named successive directors of the seminary and the school continued to move forward.
Nazarene missionaries were removed from Haiti in 2005 due to turmoil in the country and Dr. Lucien Jean Baptiste was asked to take over the direction of the school. He had been a student at the same school when Paul Orjala was the leader. The school currently admits men and women, has day courses for the residential students, and evening courses for students from local churches who wish to become better servants in the church. Currently the seminary has a total of 45 students attending both of these educational tracks.
The only damage to the seminary in January 2010 from the devastating earthquake in Haiti was the security wall surrounding the campus. The wall was quickly restored by work and witness teams and campus personnel. The school was closed from the time of the earthquake until mid-April 2010 because many Haitians, including Nazarenes who had lost their homes in the earthquake, retreated to the seminary campus as a safe place to find shelter and food.
Classes on campus began again in the spring and the graduation date for the class of 2010 was held on July 4 with Dr. J.K. Warrick, general superintendent, as commencement speaker. Seventeen students graduated! Over 1000 Haitians gathered on campus for the special event. What a day!
Prior to the commencement service, leadership classes for pastors and district superintendents were conducted on July 1-3 by Dr. David Wilson, general secretary, Church of the Nazarene; Dr. David Nixon, district superintendent, South Florida District, and myself.
I returned in September to the Nazarene Seminary in Haiti with former Nazarene missionary to Haiti, Dr. Terry Reed, Dr. Scott Stargel, former director of the school, and Dr. Scoffield Eversley, president of the Caribbean Nazarene College, Trinidad, West Indies. This International Board of Education (IBOE) consultation team worked with the current seminary president, Dr. Lucien Jean Baptiste, and Rev. Bill Dawson, field strategy coordinator, in re-envisioning the school in light of present realities and needs. The focus is on strengthening the governing board, developing a five year strategic growth plan for school with multiple sites throughout Haiti, and developing the Haitian faculty and staff.
LeBron Fairbanks with
Director, Rev. Dr. Lucien Jean Baptiste
Seminaire Theologique Nazareen D’Haiti
Yes, we have a school in Haiti for which the Church of the Nazarene can be appropriately proud!
Click here to read the NCN News article, “Haiti: One Year Later” by Dr. J. K. Warrick.
January 13, 2011