Evangelistic meetings held January 8 through February 4 of this year in Portau-Prince, Haiti, by Southern Union evangelist Kenneth Cox, experienced such delightful problems as having more church members willing to help than could be used, more people wanting to attend than even three sessions per evening could accommodate, and the logistical difficulties involved in trying to baptize 465 persons on a single Sabbath afternoon! At the close of the meetings some 700 had been baptized, and fol low-up programs continue to add to that total.
Although preparations began months before the opening of the series, efforts to secure the Port-au-Prince soccer stadium, seating 25,000 people and the largest in the city, failed because of prior bookings. Instead, the meetings began in the Adventist-owned evangelistic center downtown, seating 2,000, which incidentally is the second-largest auditorium in the city.
With seating limited to 2,000 the anticipated attendance would require three services each evening—at 5:30, 7:30, and 9:30. And for four weeks—twenty-eight straight nights—the three nightly sessions were packed!
One reason church leaders anticipated such large crowds was that the message would be presented by means of a multimedia program illustrating all 28 sermons with full-color pictures and key Bible texts on four large screens. With a remote-control device, Evangelist Cox signals a sophisticated computer back stage to operate fifteen slide projectors and two motion-picture projectors.
Not often do evangelists have to worry about too many people wanting to attend their meetings, but church leaders pointed out that in the city of Port-au-Prince alone there are 15,000 Adventists, who, of course, would plan to be present. Three sessions a night wouldn't even take care of the Adventists! This posed a problem. If thousands of people converged on a 2,000-seat auditorium, utter chaos would result and no one would be able to hear the message.
The planning committee decided to print tickets and limit attendance to those who received them. The ticket for each session would be a different color and would be valid only for the date and subject title printed on it. For the opening night, pastors and church members distributed tickets to their non-Adventist friends. Thereafter tickets for the next evening were given to those in attendance. Adventists were allotted only 1,500 tickets for each night on a rotating basis so that every church member would have the opportunity of attending twice during the crusade. What a contrast to the sparse numbers who come to meetings in some parts of the world!
The response to this plan was over whelming. Practically no tickets went unused, and a few people even resorted to selling them, so great was the demand!
As preparations continued, the decision was made to prepare 1,500 new slides with quotations and Bible texts in French—the predominant language of Haiti. In spite of the fact that these additions had to be programmed into the computer and positioned in their proper places, the team felt the added benefit would be well worth the hours of extra effort. With French-language slides and Guy Valleray, Ministerial secretary of the Franco-Haitian Union, translating for Evangelist Cox, the people would be able to understand the message thoroughly.
Working with the evangelistic team from the United States were the 26 pas tors of the South Haitian Mission, fifteen senior theology students from the Adventist Seminary in Port-au-Prince, and more than 250 church members. Many more members had volunteered to help, but only 250 could be used.
On opening night, January 8, the preparations had been made, the prayers had ascended, each worker had done his part, and now they waited. Would their faith be rewarded? Long before time for the first session the people began to arrive—hundreds of them—thousands—packing the auditorium to overflowing. Those without tickets stood outside hoping to get in. Some pushed their way inside, even though they had no ticket. When the three sessions had finished, more than 6,000 people had seen the presentation. Each night during the four weeks the pattern repeated itself.
The evangelistic team made definite efforts to reach the higher classes of Port-au-Prince, since the meeting hall was only two blocks from the presidential palace, the workers made personal contacts with hundreds of influential persons in the Government and in business, and gave them special reserved-seat tickets. Many came. Approximately 300 teachers, businessmen, and Government officials attended each night, some of whom were baptized.
Perhaps for some of the thousands who came each evening the crusade was nothing more than a gigantic social function and entertainment. For others, it may have been only an intriguing fascination with all the colorful pictures on the screens. But for many it was an opportunity to drink in the words of life and to understand more of Jesus and His truth. As the Bible teachings were presented in a clear, easy-to-understand way, people began to respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit. With each call to accept Christ and to follow Him, hundreds made decisions to be baptized.
In most cases the greatest barrier to decision-making was not the usual problems of Sabbath employment, unclean foods, alcohol, or tobacco. It was the problem of living with one or more mates outside of marriage. Such situations are common in Haiti and difficult to resolve. For many, this was the barrier that prevented baptism.
However, as bags were given to those planning to be baptized, hundreds re turned them with a change of clothes inside, and the bags began to pile up in mounds behind the platform. On February 4, the date of the first baptism, 465 were ready to follow their Lord in the sacred ceremony. Thousands made their way by bus, car, and van to a beautiful beach on the bay of Port-au-Prince. Spectators gathered at the water's edge in a large semicircle, with some perched in trees, and a few even watching from boats.
Twenty-two pastors waded into the water, forming a line parallel to the shore. As soon as they were in position, the baptismal candidates walked into the water to meet them, forming lines in front of each pastor. Twenty-two per sons were baptized simultaneously, and within an hour and a half all 465 had been baptized.
Kenneth Cox and the evangelistic team remained in Haiti an extra week to conduct follow-up meetings. At the close of that week an additional 161 were baptized. Since then the total has risen to more than 700, with an additional 300 to 400 continuing to study.
American evangelism, Haitian style, has shown that the yearning of hearts in need of the gospel is the same every where.