My evangelist friend, Alex, walked through Batey 50 spreading the news that we would be having a worship service at the corner of the village under the tree with wide spreading branches for shade.
Soon, people started coming – young and old, men and women. They came with chairs for the guest and a few chairs for themselves. They came with the most colorful drum I’d ever seen. They came with tambourines, and what is sometimes called a “Merengue Salsa Beat Machine”. Mostly they came with a sense of joy. Clearly, they were glad we had come. They were ready for some joyous worship. Before the Evangelist officially began the service, they started in.
They couldn’t wait to sing, and to play those wonderful percussion instruments.
But that’s not the way it used to be.
When Pastor Lubin Beaucejour and I began to do evangelism in Sugar Cane villages (called Bateys) in 2002, we were ignored in Batey 50. Not so much elsewhere. In fact, it’s hard to ignore my friend, Pastor Lubin. He is joyous, an out-going conversationalists, and has a way of presenting the Gospel that is hard to resist.
Let me describe it. One day, Pastor Lubin noticed a large group of people lined up waiting for the medical clinic to open. Nurses were inside setting up. So, my friend decided to “redeem the time” and told them he had some good news for them. They formed a circle around him and began to listen. 45 minutes later they were holding hands with each other, confessing their sins with bowed heads, then repeating the “sinners prayer” asking Jesus to come into their lives. That was followed with joyful shouting, broad smiles, hugs, and the hope that we would never leave. We started a new church with 80 new converts that day.
Not so with Batey 50! Pastor Lubin walked around the village talking to people who showed no interest. I was walking around the village praying my heart out – asking the Wind of the Spirit to blow through that Batey with evangelistic power, just as the gentle breezes were blowing across the sugar cane that was bending with the wind.
The only person that came to faith that day was a woman who had been brought there that day by a taxi driver. She had come to Batey 50 to visit the Voodoo Witch Doctor. She been given some money to go their in order to receive special powers. There was someone with whom people in her village were very angry. They wanted him dead. They depended on the dark powers of Voodoo to do the job. The Voodoo practitioner in Batey 50 was just the man who could give her those powers to kill.
Her life was changed that day. Pastor Lubin talked to her about how evil those forces of Voodoo were. She herself was bound by them. She needed to receive Jesus into her life who would free her from those dark forces and give her everlasting life. She believed that day. Her life was changed. But her was the only one who was changed in that spiritually dark place.
As I walked through and around the village praying, as was my custom, I was aware of how sad this place appeared to be. No American would ever want to live in any of the housing that exists on those Bateys. We would call them shacks.
Batey 50 was the worst of them. The houses were thrown together lean-to’s – shacks made with old pieces of boards and sheets of tin. They had dirt floors, the roofs leaked, and the appearance was awful – the saddest excuse for housing I’d seen. I thought, no human being should ever have to live like that. No wonder our message was being ignored.
Several years later the new lovely church was built. Clearly, it was the nicest building in the village. It was across the street from the Voodoo guy who didn’t want it built there and performed Voodoo rituals to stop construction. One team found a cut-up snake – a part of a voodoo ritual. But it had no effect on them nor on the church building they were constructing.
Voodoo must act in the dark. The light of the Gospel was beginning to shine.
In the year 2010 new latrines were being erected. Plans were being made to build new houses on Batey 50 by mission teams which would replace the shacks. Things were beginning to change. Pastor Lubin returned to do evangelism. This time the reception was different. People gathered to listen and 30 people came forward to accept Christ as their Savior.
I returned this year, 2015 to view the changes that had been made. It was remarkable. The campaign to build 50 new houses on Batey 50 was nearly completed. Two more houses were dedicated and the people were thrilled. This year some elderly people were getting new houses (a small 3-room cement block building with a tin roof). It is hard to describe their joy.
As the physical houses changed, so did the spiritual atmosphere. There was joy, thanksgiving and up-lifting worship.
That night our team showed a children’s movie on a large screen erected on the newly built play ground. It was an incredible phenomenon for a people who lived out their lives with no electricity. Life was clearly changing and it was all for the better.
I have never seen social ministry and spiritual ministry come together in such a powerful way. The folks at Wallingford First Baptist understand that the compassion of Christ demands that they be involved in the relief of the suffering of humanity, but that there is more. As Christians they must also be concerned about the eternal soul that will never die. The latter motivates the former. People need to hear of the saving message that God so loved us that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. Without caring for people’s desperate physical needs, that life-saving message will be ignored.
The people in Batey 50 have changed its name. It’s now called Batey Esperanza – Batey Hope.
It’s no longer called by a mere number – today it’s a meaningful place of hope!
For more info on the DR Mission Team, please visit drmissionteam.org or search #DRMT15 on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.