Jesus Is Everywhere in Port-au-Prince, but So Is Vodou

(Daniel Morel/AP Photo)

The massive earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010 left thousands homeless and desperate, struggling to find the strength to rebuild their lives. As usual, opportunistic preachers emerged to sell them comfort and make sense of it all. Ecclésias Donatien at Tabernacle de Louange and André Muscadin, founding pastor of Shalom Tabernacle de Gloire, are two of Haiti’s biggest and richest. People say Muscadin is connected to the police, that he’s Mafia, has political ambitions. People fear him. He said he based his religious business off of “the McDonald’s model.”

For the newly relaunched Believer, Susana Ferreira reports on the way Haiti’s booming evangelism business deals with Vodou, Haiti’s African Creole spiritual practice. Violent tensions and distrust have existed between Vodouisants and missionary Christians for centuries, but these tensions are not only about religion. They’re about autonomy, about whether native Haitians get to determine their own religious identity and success, and about missionary evangelicalism’s continued colonial power over Haiti, be they crooked megachurch pastors or well-meaning American teens volunteering in the cleanup efforts.

“Evangelicals arrive, and the first thing they do is destroy trees. They say that in that tree there is the devil,” he said, practically spitting his words. The act of desecrating the kingdom below for the sake of the kingdom above, he said, went beyond sacrilege. Josué told me he wasn’t anti-Christian, but he classified the actions of the Jeunes and many foreign missionaries as anti-Haitian.

“The words that the evangelicals bring discourage peasants from working for the earth, but to work for heaven. That’s the sin. It’s the missionary that’s in sin,” Josué said, his voice tired, body slumped in a plastic chair, the lingering dusk casting sharp shadows across the angles of his face. “The real paradise is here on earth. In our Vodou tradition, this is your paradise, where you live.”

Josué is one of several high-profile people from Haiti’s Vodou communities pressing the state to declare August 14 a national holiday—not for its religious significance, but specifically to mark the role of the gathering at Bois Caïman in the abolition of slavery and the end of colonial rule. Of this fact Josué was sure every Haitian could be proud, regardless of their faith. His fact-finding mission with the ethnography staff would go toward preparing a proposal for facilities to be built to receive groups of international tourists at the site and a permanent memorial to the twenty-one nations who came together to buck the course of history—the same number of evil spirits the Jeunes claimed to have exorcised.

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