Since the earthquake in 2010, Haiti has become a popular place to serve on short-term mission trips. While many in America were finishing Christmas parties and family dinners, a group of 10 left the 20-degree weather to conduct a pastors leadership conference in Croix des Bouquets, Haiti, where the temperature averaged in the mid-90’s.
While the children were out of school for an end-of-year break, the church on the compound of Double Harvest invited 150 church leaders from the surrounding communities to study topics that better prepare them to be successful leaders. Each year Shannon Benefiel, dean of institutional advancement at Clear Creek Baptist Bible College, and Pastor Garry Auguste, pastor at Baptist Evangelical Church in Croix des Bouquets, organize the conference by discussing topics that will best serve the local pastors and leaders.
This year the pastors studied the leadership characteristics in the first six chapters of Nehemiah. Subjects in the past have included Pastoral Counseling, the book of Ephesians accompanied by Sermon Preparation and Introduction to Christian Leadership.
This year Benefiel was accompanied by Dr. Roy Lucas, H.C. Chiles Professor of New Testament at Clear Creek. Lucas complemented the book of Nehemiah by teaching a historical timeline leading up to the time of Nehemiah and the significance of the gates in the wall around Jerusalem. He also taught parallel leadership characteristics from Moses, David, Paul, and Jesus. The partnership in ministry between Lucas and Benefiel began nearly 20 years earlier when they became co-pastors of First Baptist Church in Loyall, Ky. They pastored together for four years, maintaining a close relationship throughout the years.
“Although it was the first time to Haiti for Lucas, he delivered just like he always does,” said Benefiel. “It was an honor to share a ministry that is so dear to me with my ministry-long mentor and friend.”
In the same way Romans 12:1-2 stresses the importance of the application of theology, this pastors conference has elements of both theological training and practical application.
“This is as practical as it gets,” continued Benefiel, “For many this is the only theological education they will receive all year. We teach scripture exegetically then emphasize practical application. They love the time of open questions at the end of each session. You can tell the leaders desire to apply the information to their situation.”
The conference is unique in that it serves the whole family. Not only do the leaders receive training, but the wives and children receive training as well. A team from Bethlehem Baptist Church in central Tennessee, led by Tracy Dever and her family, organizes a program for the children and youth. This year the theme was Being Hope Bringers and Joy Givers. David (a mechanical engineer) and Emma (a nursing student at Western Kentucky University) led the youth program while Tracy (a high school math teacher), her son Daniel (a high school student), Jodi Choate (an elementary school music teacher) and her daughter Makenna (a middle school student) led the children’s program.
Mary Benefiel, Shannon’s wife, has a heart for women’s ministry and has committed to training the wives during the conference. During the conference the ladies are invited to attend sessions in the main assembly, then gather separately to discuss the topic of the conference as it relates to them. This type of training is uncommon in Haiti. She teaches these ladies how their support helps maximize the leadership effectiveness of their husband.
“These ladies deal with the same things we deal with here in America,” said Mary. “They are concerned about the effects of ministry on their children, their husbands are extremely busy with church members and they are trying to find their place in the church, just like we are.”
This year Mary Benefiel’s theme was Being Married to a Nehemiah Kind of Man. Mary Benefiel felt blessed to have Kendra McNeeley work with her this year. McNeeley, a 2017 graduate of Clear Creek, helped with teaching the ladies as well as helping when needed with the youth and children.
When Mary Benefiel thanked Kendra for her help, McNeeley said, “I am putting my degree to work.”
One of the most exciting parts of this year’s trip for the team was that three people on the team were new to foreign missions. Jodi, McKenna and Kendra had never been on a plane, much less traveled to another country.
“I love introducing people to the mission field,” said Benefiel. “The mixture of excitement generated by stepping out in faith and fear created by the unknown makes fertile soil for God to change a person’s outlook on missions forever. I am thrilled to watch that happen every time.”
Nehemiah 4:6 is an excellent parallel scripture to this trip. The team worked together to accomplish God’s task for the week. Everyone did things that were a bit uncomfortable or new but had to be done. The task is certainly not finished and a mind to work prevailed.