Fostering Meaningful Relationships in Haiti and Brazil

April 10, 2020

The Diocese of Indianapolis through the Global Missions Commission, chaired by Father Jeff Bower who is also the Associate Rector for Stewardship and Community Engagement at St. Paul’s Indy, has taken significant strides to create relationships with our brothers and sisters in Haiti and in Brazil.

The Diocese of Indianapolis has been involved with the small rural community of Michonne, Haiti since 2011. When the earthquake occurred in 2010, much of the resources for relief were going to the major cities in Haiti and little was being given to the villages in the mountains like Michonne. In 2011, the Diocese of Indianapolis voted at their annual convention to donate to the rebuilding of the Cathedral in Haiti. Additionally, Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis decided to enter into a relationship with the Diocese of Haiti and donated money to build a school in Michonne. This school runs ten months out of the year and staffs eight full-time teachers as well as feeds 160 students one hot meal a day. The Diocese of Indianapolis was also able to install a water well on the school grounds. The school continues to run today.

In 2015, Hurricane Matthew hit the small nation and damaged the school and water well in Michonne and both needed significant repair. The Diocese of Indianapolis decided to repair the school as well as begin an asset-based community development agriculture program as most of the village had lost their crops from the hurricane. This program began by hiring a local Haitian agronomist who advised the people in Michonne to plant beans and pistachios to create a sustainable harvest. A pump was bought to bring water from the nearby river to the fields and then hand irrigated throughout the crops. This project continues today and has become a community garden. The “entire community [is] working together” and has made this project sustainable by replanting the seeds from the previous harvest as Fr. Jeff describes.

Currently the political situation in Haiti has not allowed for groups to visit but Fr. Jeff Bower remains in contact with Archdeacon Abiade Lozama to ensure that all are doing well. The goals right now are to keep the school and water well running. Many children become ill due to a lack of potable water in a community and cholera remains a high risk. “If people are starving and children are not being educated, those [needs] are primary and those are going to continue to be in the way of our relationship if we don’t address them,” Fr. Jeff explains. This relationship is unique because it has always been about balances. “It’s not about finances, but it is about walking together and building relationships, and not getting to a place where it is dependent. We’ve done our best to address things to help move the community along so that leaders will rise up from their own communities and be able to take responsibilities to transfer their situation.”

The other relationship the Diocese of Indianapolis has entered into is with the Diocese of Brasilia in Brazil which as spanned over three decades. This relationship is a formal covenant agreement and has allowed the two dioceses to be more purposeful and intentional about their relationship. Fr. Jeff has noticed that each diocese can learn from one another and that similar issues such as social justice, immigration, racism, LGBTQ issues and gender equality are present in both places.

The focus of the work being supported in the Diocese of Brasilia are on developing social agencies that are “centered around Anglican communities of the church to develop community and provide programs for development.” The largest social agency run by the Diocese of Brasilia is a school in Pedregal that serves over 100 children K-12th grade. Additionally, through a generous donation and grant match, a project to build a Sports and Activities Center is now underway in Pedregal. The community does not have a safe place to meet due to gang violence and this center would be able to provide that safety. In addition, the Diocese of Southeast Florida is also partnering in this project and has cleared the land for the center to be built.

Another major initiative of the Diocese of Brasilia is to create a safe haven for the LGBTQ community that are being marginalized and abused. While on a trip to Brazil in 2018, Fr. Jeff joined a gathering of 40 people to talk about the LGBTQ community and their experiences. Similarly, in Indianapolis a LGBTQ homeless initiative will be starting in the diocese in January 2020 and will be the first of its kind in Indiana and one of the first in the United States.

From all these examples it’s clear that one can find the parallels in our global society that show how we can benefit from learning from each other. As Fr. Jeff describes, “Spending time in relationship – that’s what global mission allows us to do: to enter into meaningful relationships which allows us to have these life-giving, loving conversations around issues that are important and learn from each other. [The] more people who are exposed to global missions and other cultures [will have] their eyes opened to understanding the world very differently than when they are caught up in their own situation or local ministry. It is a different lens that I look through when I’ve had global exposure.”