For over 15 years, Sue Gross has led the Haitian Lutheran Mission Project (HLMP) in its many short-term mission trips to Haiti, where they have provided a great deal of physical care for the people, including eyeglasses and meals for Lutheran school children.
Then one day, Sue had an epiphany. “Our mission society had been concentrating on the people’s physical needs,” she reflected. “All of a sudden, I realized that we’ve been neglecting their spiritual needs.”
For the HLMP’s next project, Sue took a different approach and contacted the Lutheran Heritage Foundation for Haitian-Creole language Small Catechisms. She made plans with a Haitian Lutheran pastor she’d adopted, Pastor Isaac, to teach the catechism to Lutheran school teachers in the remote villages of northern Haiti.
Then she recruited her longtime friend and retired Lutheran school teacher, Mark Lillie, to teach. The experience proved to be even more beneficial than either of them had hoped.
“The catechism was an ideal teaching platform with its statements, and then questions about those statements,” Mark said. “What does this mean? Who can benefit from this? We went through all of that. These Lutheran school teachers had never seen the catechism in their own language. They were just overjoyed to have it and gobbled it up!”
“We were taking it for granted that these Lutheran schools and their teachers were getting a Lutheran education,” Sue said, “but they weren’t! In Haiti, they just don’t have the same level of education we do here, so hopefully this will help.”
Mark and the school teachers spent their time going through the 10 Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed and more.
“They really liked studying the meanings of the 10 Commandments,” Mark said. “For example, what does it mean that you shall not kill? The teachers said they’d thought it was just like stabbing someone, but they learned it’s so much more. It was like a light going on in their heads.”
In addition to a better understanding of the faith, the catechisms have also given the teachers a practical resource they can use every day. “The catechism has so many other things besides the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer,” Mark said. “It also has things like Luther’s Morning Prayer. We asked them, ‘Do you pray in your schools?’ They do, but this gives them a little more insight into what to pray for.
Catechism teaching will continue to be an important component of future HLMP mission trips, Sue emphasized.
“We’re trying to equip the pastors to go into the villages where most people still practice voodoo,” she said. “We want to get these catechisms out to the people and teach them how to use them, how to incorporate them into their daily teachings.”
The HLMP team also came up with other ways to more widely share Luther’s Small Catechism in Haiti.
“The last day we were in Haiti, we distributed eyeglasses,” explained Mark. “In the past, we’ve never had anything to test the people’s vision, once they’re fitted with new glasses. But this time, we had something we could give them to test their vision: the catechism! So they would be trying on a new pair of glasses, and then would try reading a section of the catechism. It was great!
“We’ve gone to Haiti many times now, but this was the first time I ever had anything to give the people about the Lutheran faith that was in a language they could understand,” he concluded. “It was such a blessing; I’ve never experienced anything like that. To the teachers, these catechisms were like gold.”