Towson pastor and 'reluctant missionary' take Gospel, labor to isolated Haitians

Julie Hindmarsh expected hard work and she got it, hauling 5-gallon buckets of water up a hilly jungle trail from a river, mixing cement and learning to lay heavy concrete blocks in straight courses.

But the exertion was worth it, said Ms. Hindmarsh, 37, because her missionary group brought a new non-denominational church for an isolated mountain community in Haiti, the hemisphere's poorest country, one step nearer completion and also won some converts to Christianity in the process.


Ms. Hindmarsh, assistant director of adult health services for Baltimore County, described herself as a "reluctant missionary" who had to force herself to enter people's homes to preach the Gospel. But when she found how receptive the Haitians were, both Christians and non-Christians, it became easier.

"We went into their homes to share the Gospel with them and tell them who Jesus Christ was. Most of the people have heard of Jesus, even if they don't know too much," the Anneslie resident said.


"If they're already Christian they wanted to talk about Him and if not, they wanted to learn about Him," she continued.

The missionaries exchanged Gospel readings with the people through translators in English and Creole, the native dialect.

The Rev. Jerry Cooper, 29, associate pastor of Towson's Central Presbyterian Church, said the two-week trip, which ended earlier this month, was the first of what he hopes will be an annual adult mission from the church to offer practical and spiritual help to a deprived community, overseas or in the United States.

The trip was sponsored by Short Term Evangelical Missions, based in Minneapolis. STEM maintains two missionaries full-time in Haiti who arrange and oversee the visits.

The Haitian community is in the Nicole district, west of Port-au-Prince, but is not a village in the usual sense, they said.

The people live in thatched-roof huts of woven banana leaves, some plastered with mud, scattered here and there through the jungle. They raise subsistence crops of rice, coffee, bananas and sugar cane, and some families have a few goats, the missionaries said.

Mr. Cooper and Ms. Hindmarsh said that "emotionally" they wanted to stay longer to try to complete the church, "but logistically we couldn't do it because we all had jobs back here" and the mission supervisor had jobs to oversee elsewhere in the country.

During the missionary visits in the area, the group won about a dozen converts, Mr. Cooper said, and he persuaded two of three voodoo priests to at least consider abandoning their pagan beliefs and accepting Jesus Christ.


"Voodoo is based on fear and that's how a priest makes his money, by selling charms and the like. Christianity is based on love and faith; it would mean them abandoning their present way, but two of them said the power of Christ was stronger than the magic of voodoo," Mr. Cooper said.

Ms. Hindmarsh, Mr. Cooper and Rosemary Bolinger, 29, who makes sonograms at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, were the local contingent in the 18-member group, which also had missionaries from Silver Spring and communities in California, Florida and Pennsylvania.

After orientation in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, Ms. Hindmarsh said, "We loaded into a truck with all our luggage, with bars welded on like a cage to hold on to," and started off.

"We felt every bump and rut," she said of the hour-long, 15-mile journey -- to the point where they humped their gear, including food, a half-mile through the jungle and up into the hills.

Ms. Hindmarsh said she had traveled in South America but had never had the opportunity "to get this close to the people."

At the end of the fortnight, she said, "you're able to communicate more and more, and then we had to leave. But it opens your eyes to see that there are real people behind the statistics [of poverty]."


On the practical side of the missionary visit, Mr. Cooper -- who once worked for a masonry contractor -- said the group completed the concrete foundation of the church begun by a similar group last year, and laid about three-quarters of the walls for the 30-foot by 40-foot church.

He said two more teams will be needed to finish the walls and build the roof, and that the church will probably open in autumn 1992.

The new church will replace the present "Evangelical Church of Light of Nicole," a tin roof on sticks with mosquito netting for walls, they said.

The missionaries said they paid for the building, and local people worked side by side with them.

One thing Ms. Hindmarsh said she never mastered was the ability of the Haitian women to carry a full 5-gallon can of water up on the trail on their heads.