In the month of July, U.S. citizens celebrate the freedom and opportunity many in the world are not afforded. We chatted with Gregory Loewer, Pastor for Missions at Columbia Baptist Church in Virginia, to discuss the work his church has done with World Vision and how that has impacted his perception of freedom and the responsibility that comes with it.
Can you tell us a little bit about what your church does with World Vision in Haiti?
Haiti allows organizations such as World Vision and my church to conduct benevolent work with communities like the farming community of Savane Plate in the central plateau of Haiti. There, people are guided by World Vision staff to choose their own community leaders. World Vision staff then meets with those leaders to explore their community’s assets and primary needs to form a proposal for World Vision and a development partner like our church.
My church’s partner since 2010, World Vision is being used by God to do wonderful long-term community development work. Our projects focus on food security and community development by helping to provide funds for things such as farm animals, plows, home drinking water purification systems, wells, latrines, a lake for irrigation and fish farming, and a sugarcane processing mill.
Your church has done a lot of work with World Vision in Haiti, can you tell us about your last trip?
In June, I returned from my 10th trip to Haiti (9th to the community of Savane Plate). The purpose of the trip was fellowship and to worship with the Savane Plate residents, observe the most recent projects, and hear testimonies of the beneficiaries. This most recent trip included, by World Vision Haiti’s request, MOPS Training (Mother’s of Preschoolers) for eight leader moms, along with a half-day conference for more than 50 women. We also visited sponsored children and affirmed and encouraged the community residents.
When I observe a community like Savane Plate, it is both inspiring and indicting. I am inspired by their diligence in work and their faith in action. I witness the dignity of the people and their joyful gratitude for the hope they receive from the projects. Our friends in Savane Plate continue to bless us with their friendships as we witness their faith and hard work.
Is there anything new that caught your attention on your most recent trip?
I witnessed even more significantly that God is truly at work among and through the people of Savane Plate in long-term development. The community continues its movement toward self-sufficiency in substantial ways, by their own initiative, and with their own resources. Their work toward food security, clean water, sanitation and hygiene, and economic development is changing the community dramatically.
The freedom to choose leaders and to express their thoughts publicly is also something new to the present generation of Haitians. This grassroots democracy of the people builds a liberated spirit within them and empowers them to share and exchange ideas. Thank God for the present freedom and democracy for places like Haiti.
How has this experience made you feel?
All of this is a bit indicting, even convicting. So often, we Americans (whether individuals, churches, or organizations) presume to know what is best. Skipping over any values of liberty or opportunities to engage the freedom of the people we claim to love and want to assist, we devalue them and the true concept of liberty. Regardless of our declarations, our actions can betray our lack of commitment to those vital values.
But it is also such a joy to see their continued march toward self-sufficiency. They know they serve a can-do Lord; now they are learning just what it means to be a can-do people.
What do you learn about yourself on these trips?
In the nine times that I have visited Savane Plate, I have learned that I can be used by God to bless our partners in the community. But more importantly, I have learned that they bless me with their faith, worship, prayer, and community values of hard work, education, family, cooperation, gratitude, and hope.
I have also learned that it is important to respect and trust both people and their democracy, however simple and grassroots it may be. I recognize that others are equal partners with me and that I can join with them and promote true democracy, at least in some basic ways.
How do you give your trips value through your actions back home?
The more I experience Haiti, the more I want to advocate and to invite other churches to explore the potential of kingdom work. Of course, some churches focus only locally and some only globally. But Columbia Baptist’s perspective is “Glocal.” What God is doing far away is just as important as here, and vice versa.
This past winter I participated in the World Vision Pastor and Influencer Advocacy Summit. It was a needed reminder that God has called us to stand up, stand out, and speak up for the cause of His kingdom. The Summit affirmed my Christian prophetic role of “speaking truth to power,” engaging elected and appointed governmental leaders, requesting and recommending action, and encouraging leaders.
In recent months, I have conversed with my senator’s legislative aid and my congressman’s staff. I invited my congressman to visit Columbia’s local Spend Yourself Food Pantry, where we serve 200 families per week. He came and spent an hour touring the facilities and talking with volunteers.
What would you like to tell others?
When the U.S. partners with other countries through foreign assistance or political encouragement, those efforts often produce a more stable environment with the freedom and the opportunity needed for transformative development projects conducted by organizations like World Vision and funded by churches like mine. Since we have been given life and liberty in the U.S., and since our country can promote freedom and democracy in other lands, should we not use our position to advocate on behalf of other countries that need both freedom and opportunity?
During this season where we celebrate U.S. independence, let me contact my elected officials, sign group letters, explain the realities of the need in other countries to fellow church members and friends, and make use of my own democratic freedom to promote those values here and elsewhere. I have been given this opportunity; indeed, I have been called by God to this responsibility. Any advocacy steps I take to promote freedom and equality can only help my world — my Father’s world.
Photo: Gregory Loewer with a sponsored child, Kettley. (Photo courtesy of Gregory Loewer.)