One cannot consider Haiti without asking a perennial question. Why do some nations flourish while others seemed forever trapped in poverty?
Observers have suggested many causes, including colonialism, lack of resources, or corruption. But each of these capture only an aspect of problem. As we have argued at this blog and in our books and papers, we believe the root of the problem is worldview. Poverty is the fruit of a people’s mindset, the product of the mental infrastructure of a nation, the result of the moral vision of a culture.
Haiti is the classic case study. Despite the relative bounty of the island of Hispaniola, the second largest island of the West Indies, despite the billions of dollars in international aid that has poured into Haiti, the nation remains miserably poor.
My path and Marc’s crossed briefly at L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland in the early 70’s. More recently we have become reacquainted. With a background in theology and missions, Marc has spent much of his life living and teaching in France and the French-speaking world of the Caribbean and south Florida.
Marc has served in Haiti and with Haitians for 14 years. His heart has been broken by the poverty of Haiti. His article, “Haiti vs Israel,” is a thoughtful piece on the necessity and power of a Biblical worldview for the transformation of a nation.
Good intentions do not solve the problems of poverty. It is truth that not only sets people free, but puts them on a path to development.
Marc’s article was originally published by GoodNews Florida which has graciously given us permission to repost it here.
Haiti vs. Israel
South Florida residents include a significant number of Haitians and Jews—two people groups of considerably different cultural backgrounds. Amongst the Haitians are a large number of professing believers in Jesus Christ, much larger than the percentage of Jews who would recognize Yeshua as the Messiah. The same is true for the country of Haiti itself where, according to Operation World (French edition of 1994) evangelicals comprise at least 21% of the population compared with Israel where less than 1% of the population confesses Christ.
Haiti has roughly 9.5 million people in an area of 10,715 square miles. It’s a mostly fertile land blessed with a warm tropical climate and abundant rain. Alas, it has suffered widespread ecological abuse and has gone from 60% forested in 1915 to less than 2% today. Israel has 7.8 million people (80% Jewish) on 8,019 square miles of mostly dry, desert land. But the Israelis have transformed that land into a world leader in irrigation techniques as well as medical and computer science, in spite of spending around 50% of its national budget on military defense.
Question: In light of the Lord’s promises of blessings for his people (Deuteronomy 7:12- 15; 15:4-5 etc.), how is it that Israel is so technologically advanced and prosperous while Haiti is so appallingly destitute? How does one explain the fact that the Jews, in only 64 years since 1948, have transformed a tiny stretch of middle eastern desert into an island of prosperity in a sea of Muslim underdevelopment, whereas Haiti— a French economic superpower in the 18th century—continues to stagnate in filth and underdevelopment with almost 75% of its people illiterate? Is there a biblical explanation for these horrendous discrepancies?
A key to answering these questions might require a better understanding of the residual effects of God’s grace and blessings. In Deuteronomy 5:9 the Lord affirms that he “visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate him, but shows mercy to thousands who keep his commandments.” In other words, the actions of the parents tend to carry over to their descendants, both for good and for evil.
On the positive side, the Jews were the first people to possess God’s oracles with the all-important teachings of the so-called cultural mandate: God’s order to subdue the earth, keep it, and care for it (Genesis 1:28; 2:15). They have generally, albeit imperfectly, passed this wisdom on to their children including many who, alas, no longer walk in the faith. Subduing the earth has become almost second nature to the Jews whose tendency to dominate the intellectual and cultural world is legendary. A Jewish joke says that life begins neither at conception nor at birth but when your child arrives home from law school or medical school with diploma in hand. Not so for many other people, including the Haitians who have not understood the importance of literacy for man’s vocation to subdue the earth and care for it.
What’s more, the Jews have passed on this biblically proactive trait of caring for the environment to their posterity. This has resulted in generations of residual blessings which, if I understand Scripture correctly, are available to any who apply the Lord’s statutes and follow his biblical “directions for use” ordinances. In addition to its message of salvation, the Bible is also God’s instruction manual to man for getting along in this fallen world. Surely the Jews have understood this better than most, hence their remarkable domination in world affairs. Though they represent scarcely 0.2% of the world’s population, they have won almost 20% of all the Nobel Prizes that have ever been awarded! The world’s 1.3 billion Muslims have won only 3 Nobel Prizes.
But what can we say about the large number of professing Christians in Haiti? Why do they not exert a greater transforming influence on their nation? Essentially, they haven’t been taught to think biblically because they’re largely uninstructed in the Word. The fact is that most Haitians are descendants of a people whose ancestors have bequeathed them a persistent tradition of voodoo superstition and occultism. Indeed, Haiti traces the origin of its very independence from France to a gathering of voodoo priests— the infamous Cérémonie du Bois Caiman of August 1791 when the country was consecrated to the “enemy of the French God,” i.e. Satan! Lest the reader think that this is merely a quaint historical anecdote, know that this diabolical ceremony is repeated regularly by voodoo practitioners in Haiti who remain legion. One does not thumb his nose at the Almighty with impunity.
Just as the residual effects of the Lord’s blessings to the Jews subsist in spite of their wide scale rebellion, so has the curse of occultism continued to plague Haiti and thwart the development of that country. The Bible is abundantly clear about the dangers of syncretism against which the Lord warned His people on numerous occasions.
Meanwhile, all is not lost for Haiti. It often takes several generations before the implications of the gospel truth penetrate the hearts of a people and, eventually, transform a nation. What’s needed in Haiti, as anywhere else, is basic biblical instruction for her people to learn to read, understand, and apply the Word of God—the Creator’s recipe for both spiritual and material prosperity. The Haitians are a spiritually receptive people. If they turn from occultism and learn to live by the truths of God’s Word, forsaking the ubiquitous corruption that hinders all efforts at development, then there’s no reason that this Maryland-sized nation of almost 10 million people—with the Lord’s blessings through the transforming power of the gospel—cannot become an island of prosperity.
Marc Mailloux is an evangelistic radio broadcaster (www.radiofloride.com), teaches in the Haitian Institut Biblique et Théologique de la Floride, preaches in Haitian churches, and is developing the IONA teaching ministry in the French speaking Caribbean where he currently directs three IONA programs. Marc blogs at marcmailloux.wordpress.com.