Fighting on their knees

As vigilante warfare rages on in Haiti, JiHM leaders fight a different kind of battle

Over the past two weeks, a grassroots vigilante movement called “Bwa Kale” has emboldened Haitians throughout gang-occupied areas to fight back against gangs without mercy.

“Imagine you have kept silent for years, enduring all of these wrongs. People killing your family, killing your loved ones, stealing from you, treating you as nothing,” explained Roger, JiHM’s director of operations. “But one day, you say that’s enough, and you act in a way that you never thought you could act. Like a dog that keeps getting abused will one day finally bite back. That’s what is happening now. The nation has had enough.

“The population is saying, ‘we will fight against you because we are more than you. It doesn’t matter that you have guns. We will use our machetes, our picks, our sticks, whatever we have and come after you.’

“That’s exactly what the population has done,” he continued. “Block by block. Town by town. Village by village. Fathers and mothers who know their sons or daughters are part of the gangs, they are handing them over to the population to kill them, because enough is enough.”

Their strength is in their numbers and in their fearlessness born from unending months of despair. As one man who joined the fight said, “We are already dead.”

A local bwa kale movement has united Source Matelas, Cabaret, Arcahaie and more villages in the vicinity. On Saturday, April 29, a crowd of thousands of people carrying machetes walked from Cabaret to Source Matelas, accompanied by two armored vehicles and several police officers to begin to take back the village from the gang members who have occupied it by force since the massacre on April 19.

On the first day of the bwa kale resistance in Source Matelas, 4 civilians and 7 gang members were killed.

Despite ongoing threats from gang leaders that if the people keep up with bwa kale, they will show them zam pale (how guns talk), they have not been scared off.

Working together with the police day after day, they have pushed gang members out of Source Matelas, even using drones to locate gang members hiding in the village. Many gang members have been killed.

The resistance has had enough success that earlier this week, the vigilantes announced they would soon be going door to door in one final sweep of Source Matelas before giving the all-clear for people to return to their homes.

The all clear has not been given yet, but even if it was, Roger said people aren’t going to rush home. They may take advantage of this time to return to check on their homes quickly and retrieve any valuables that remain, but no one will stay. It’s still too dangerous.

“We need Titanyen to be cleaned of the gangs, too,” he said. “And Minotrie. And Canaan.”

The view from a student’s home in Cabaret.

A different way to fight

Though he knows the new wave of violence is just adding to the evil in Haiti right now, Roger says sometimes it is hard not to cheer for the people who are rising up against the gangs.

Just last week, an elderly woman attempted to return to her home in Cabaret to check on her livestock. The gangs found her, along with a boy who was begging in the street, and took both of them up to a mountain and shot them. Then they circulated a video of the killings on social media.

“When we see something like that, our flesh responds, Go ahead! Get them!” Roger shared. “But at the same time, we know these gang members are dying because evil is at work in their hearts. They are not the enemy. Satan is the enemy.”

And so, as a follower of Jesus, Roger must choose to fight back in a different way.

Instead of grabbing a machete, he clings to the Word of God.

Most days, he wakes up around 4 am in the home he has temporarily rented for his family and begins the daily battle in prayer with the Lord.

“I am constantly asking God to protect those who need protection and to do whatever He wants to do, because no one can stop God’s plan. I say, ‘I believe this is the time for the gang’s reign to stop, and I know You’re working toward that. I know You love this country and these people, and so do what You have to do, but give us wisdom to be patient.'”

Roger visits a first grader from Grace Emmanuel School and his mom who are staying in temporary housing in Arcahaie.
Roger, Frisner (black shirt), and Jerry (pink shirt) have spent the last few weeks together helping meet the needs of those displaced from Source Matelas and Cabaret. They ran into this 11th grader from Grace Emmanuel School in Arcahaie and were able to help him with money for food.

Though several JiHM staff members are still helping from a distance to track down students via phone, Roger’s in-person team has dwindled to three: himself, Frisner, and Jerry. Jerry graduated from Grace Emmanuel School in 2021 and has since become a trusted friend and courageous driver for JiHM. Frisner is JiHM’s administrator and Roger’s right hand man.

Last week, the trio visited multiple locations in Arcahaie that have been providing temporary housing for the displaced from Source Matelas, places like a dorm and a community center. When they find students from Grace Emmanuel School, they discretely distribute food money or write down current cell phone numbers to send money later via an app.

Roger and Frisner distribute water and juice at a community center in Arcahaie.

When they aren’t on the road making visits, Roger and Frisner are on the phone. There is no shortage of calls and texts to respond to from people in need, whether it be a staff member, a student’s parents, church friends, or their own extended family.

Over the past couple of weeks, because of your quick response to provide relief funds, they have helped staff members and students with food, transportation and money to secure short-term housing in places all over Haiti, like Deschapelles, Mirebalais, St Marc, La Gonave, Cap Haïtien, and Lascahobas.

Many people Roger meets with are experiencing trauma from their experiences these last few weeks, and there is a lot of heartache over lost possessions.

“I try to remind them of the lives of Job and the Israelites in exile. I say, ‘God has way more for you, and there are way better things ahead than anything we have right now. If the gangs want to take whatever we have in our houses, fine, they can take it. But we have our lives! What is more important than that? Material things are nothing. Trust in God and believe in Him and keep your faith. Those other things may be gone instantly, but new things are coming.'”

This 5th grader and his family, including his older sister who graduated from Grace Emmanuel School in 2020, were helped to relocate to northern Haiti.
Pele, the bus driver at Grace Emmanuel School, was able to move his family, including his elderly parents, to the Artibonite valley with help from JiHM. He texted this photo to Roger, saying “I don’t know how to thank you. Thank you so much for your support and collaboration. May God continue to grow your thoughtfulness.”

Fighting on his knees

Likewise, Pastor Derson is encouraging people to fight on their knees and with open hands, not with their fists. Just as he was forced to do during COVID-19, he has turned to social media to encourage the people of Victory Bible Church.

“We created a group on WhatsApp to stay connected,” said Derson, who became the lead pastor of VBC in February 2020. “We post prayers in the group and share prayer requests, encourage each other with the Word of God, and share recordings from different church services. We must constantly remind each other of the sovereignty of God. We have to trust that He is still in charge and directing everything. We can trust Him.”

Derson also shares videos he posts on YouTube to address the doubts and questions people have right now. In one video titled “Has God forgotten me?,” he recounts the stories of Joseph and Job, reminding people that a lack of material wealth and comfort does not equate to God forgetting them. Instead, our changing circumstances mark different chapters in our lives and are always part of the process of God testing and purifying us with His Word.

“We are always more concerned with our destiny, but God is interested in our development and in what kind of person we are becoming,” he said.

“Instead of looking at our current circumstances to see God’s blessing, we can always trust in His unchanging character and His faithfulness to keep His promises to us. Just look at Christ’s finished work on the cross.

“The season will change again,” he continued, “and you will find all that you lost. All that was destroyed will be restored. We can know Him in the valley as we know Him on the mountain, when we are alone as when we are in a family. We can know Him when we are broken and don’t have food or money to pay for our house just as when we have success. God is our life. God is our reward. God is our precious treasure.”

Truth like that is the only weapon strong enough to win the battle that rages on in Haiti.

Kristi Bucher has served as Communications Manager for Jesus in Haiti Ministries since 2014. She currently lives in Minnesota with her husband, Nathan, and two kids. Kristi and Nathan lived in Haiti from 2012–2014.