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Associated Press/Photo by Ramon Espinosa

Lessons from Haiti

Haiti | Controversy at an American-supported ministry offers a cautionary tale for Christians who want to help a devastated nation

Issue: "At the wire," Nov. 6, 2010

As Haitians enter the tenth month since a massive earthquake killed some 250,000 victims and left more than 1 million citizens homeless, problems mount as high as the rubble still lining the streets: Thousands remain planted in tent cities with little prospect for permanent homes, and upcoming presidential elections offer more worry than hope (see sidebar below).

With all of the turmoil, it isn't helpful when controversy strikes a group designed to relieve suffering. That's the case just north of Port-au-Prince at Presbyterian Mission in Haiti (PMH), a Christian organization that WORLD featured in our post-quake coverage earlier this year (see "Aftershock," Feb. 13).

Though PMH is one of hundreds of organizations providing aid in Haiti, the group's troubles offer a cautionary tale, especially for Christians seeking to establish effective ministries in one of the most needy countries in the world.

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PMH-an independent organization connected with six churches, five schools, an orphanage, and relief work-has existed since 1997 and has hosted scores of short-term mission teams from the United States.

In an August letter to PMH supporters, the group's South Carolina--based board announced it had suspended the group's Haitian leader, Charles Amicy, an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). The board said it had also stopped sending funds to Haiti and canceled all short-term mission trips.

By October, PMH announced that Amicy's presbytery in South Carolina had suspended him from his ministerial duties, and specified three reasons: adultery, inappropriate communication with women over the internet, and abusive discipline of his son.

Amicy denies most of the charges and says he will retain control over the ministry, with a board made up of Haitians. He has refused to meet with the leaders in his presbytery. The PMH board in the United States said Haitian law offers little recourse for gaining control of PMH properties in Haiti or forcing Amicy to relinquish control of the ministry. (Board members estimate that the worth of the property and other assets exceeds $1 million.)

In an October letter, the PMH board asked supporters to discontinue contributions to PMH and to Amicy. The board said it would offer to return contributions given to PMH since January or to direct them to a different ministry in Haiti.

Amicy-who was born in Haiti and graduated from Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in South Carolina-has led the organization since its inception. For 10 years, PMH operated under the oversight of Mission to the World (MTW)-the mission agency of the PCA. Nearly two years ago, the agency gave control of the ministry to an independent board largely composed of longtime supporters from the United States who regularly visited the field. Richard Wolfe of MTW described the separation with PMH: "Most of it was that administratively it had gotten really huge, and because we have so many works in so many different places, we really couldn't handle it anymore."

Scott Clark-one of the PMH board members in South Carolina-says that on a trip to Haiti in June, he and another board member learned that Amicy had committed serious sins against his family. Clark says Amicy confessed to adultery and initially seemed repentant, but that he later denied the allegations and restructured the board to maintain control of the ministry.

From his home in Haiti, Amicy told WORLD that he is sorry he used "inappropriate language" on "one or two occasions" in emails to a woman who is not his wife. But he denies abusive discipline of his son or committing adultery. He also denies confessing adultery to Clark and others, and said he thinks "language and a cultural barrier" created a misunderstanding.

Clark says that Amicy-who speaks fluent English-gave a clear confession of adultery. Joseph Pipa, president of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, says Amicy also confessed adultery to him during a phone call: "I said, 'Did you commit physical adultery?' And he said: 'Yes.'"

While Amicy's case moves forward in his presbytery, the now-former PMH board members are moving on. The group is considering how to bolster other mission efforts in Haiti, including support for Octavius Delfils-the only Haitian pastor who has publicly broken from Amicy.

Delfils-who left the church he was leading in Port-au-Prince because of the controversy-is beginning a new church with help from Orthodox Presbyterian Church missionary Ben Hopp and Word and Deed missionary Randy Lodder. (Word and Deed is an evangelical and Reformed humanitarian organization that lost its school building during the earthquake.)

Clark says that the former PMH board has learned lessons that it hopes to apply to any new mission effort: "The most important thing on a go-forward basis for indigenous pastors is a man-or men-willing to commit to regular mentorship, discipleship, and accountability-at least weekly." MTW's Wolfe said his organization tried to provide accountability to Amicy while the agency oversaw PMH, but Clark doesn't think Amicy and his family had enough regular, direct oversight.

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