The downfall of Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier in February 1986 brought the hope of a better life to many in the impoverished Caribbean nation. However, economic woes have continued, the interim military government has come under increasing criticism, and an atmosphere of violence has taken over many areas of the island nation.

Elections to choose a civilian president are scheduled for later this month, but the weeks leading up to the election have been rife with riots, arrests, strikes, random killings, and the assassinations of political leaders. Claude Noel, general secretary of the Council of Evangelical Churches in Haiti, says the turmoil has interfered with the work of those trying to meet the desperate physical and spiritual needs of the people. CHRISTIANITY TODAY asked Dave Disch, news editor of Light and Life magazine, to interview Noel about the current tensions in Haiti.

How have public demonstrations and the threat of violence affected churches in Haiti?

Several denominations have had to cancel large gatherings and conventions. I usually speak at several gatherings within our church council, but this year I have not been to any. The schools close whenever there is violence, so the Bible schools have to close as well. And a few times we did not hold church services because the roads were barricaded. You couldn’t cross the barricades without risking violence.

What has happened to the church leaders who were associated with the Duvalier regime?

Some of them had to leave, because the people chased them out of town. In denominational churches, the denominations moved those pastors to other areas. We hope they will be able to return after a civilian government is elected.

What about pastors who were not connected with Duvalier? Are they under pressure?

They face political pressure. The people push them to support what they support. If there is a strike, they want everybody to participate, including the church. And when you try to stay out of it, you are in trouble. You cannot remain neutral.

Many times we can’t support what the people are pushing. We oppose anything that involves violence. In our churches, we preach civil liberty. Many of my messages have dealt with the rights of the individual and applying the Bible to Christian involvement in community affairs. But sometimes the people outside want the church to go too far.

Is mission work being hampered?

In general, missionaries have not been molested, but there have been a few incidents. In one case, a crowd of Haitians went into a missionary’s home and ordered him to leave the country. He told them, “I have people to report to in the city, so you have to write me a letter telling me to leave the country and each one of you has to sign it.” They were not willing to do that, so they left. Many missionaries have decided not to stay in Haiti, or if they are outside the country, not to return until after the elections.

Has the Catholic church been involved in the changing political situation?

Catholics played an important role in ousting Duvalier, and some priests are now presenting themselves as the heroes of the revolution. They are not all in agreement, however, about the proper degree of political involvement. That creates problems in the evangelical churches because young people especially are pushing the pastors, telling them, “You see what the Catholics are doing. What are we doing?”

What if this month’s scheduled election is not fair? Would the evangelical churches then take a more public political stance?

If we had proof the election was rigged, we would ask that something be done about it. But you must realize that the different political parties might complain that the election was not fair because their candidates lost. That’s why we would need proof.

What are your hopes for Haiti?

The best thing would be to have a government that could provide work, housing, and food for the people. But we wonder how long it’s going to take for that to happen. We have people from many churches and organizations involved in education and community development in Haiti, but we don’t see much change. I believe the Lord will eventually change the situation. I have talked to many officials in the present government, and I believe they want to see things improve for the people.

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