My First Fifty Years – By Gerald Bustin

Chapter 16

More of Boats and Our Beginning in Haiti

Following the foregoing experience some of our group yet felt that the boat should make a trip back to the States to bring medical supplies, needed equipment, and clothing for the poor. Since the Cashew season was then under way it was decided that we would give many poor people work and load the boat with these nuts to bring over to the States. Little did we realize what a job we were getting into. At that time wages were dreadfully low in Haiti, for there was little in the way of public work. Folk were then begging to work for thirty cents a day. We decided to take on twenty or thirty people to help us prepare the cashew nuts. Something like two hundred came begging for work. Before we knew it we had taken on more than one hundred. Some of our own people had walked about thirty miles for three days work at only thirty cents a day. Later we learned that these folk wanted the money to buy a little cloth to make a dress to be baptized in.

We were hardly able to break even with the 4,500 pounds of nuts which were taken to Miami, but at least we had experienced the joy of knowing that our people who were attending services (not many of them were converted as yet) had a little extra in the way of food as a result of the pittance which the work provided.

A very dear friend met me in Miami and arranged to pay what we yet lacked on the Pelican. If I had had my way the Pelican would have been sold in late summer and we would have gone out of the boat business altogether, for my hands were being somewhat tied. Others felt that we should keep the boat, or get another larger vessel. I confess that I hated to see it go, or to be without a boat altogether, for it had been difficult to find shipping facilities. Too, we had been able to transport thousands of garments of clothing to the multitudes who were in deep poverty. Little children were running about over the mountain sides naked, and of course would not come to the services like that. Upon making the second trip to the States it was decided by some of our Advisory Council and some other friends that we would sell the Pelican and purchase a much larger boat from the Government. The larger boat would be much more safe in operation, and so much more could be done with it. I went along with this idea and threw my heart into it expecting to find a seaman to put in as captain. Of this I am sure, none of us prayed as much about this as we should have.

Again my good friend volunteered to let us have what we required in the way of difference between the Pelican and a larger boat. We found a Government vessel — double-planked mahogany from stem to stern — which had not been used in the war, and had cost the Government $225,000. They sold it to us for $10,000. Of course we had to take out the gasoline motors and install diesel motors. This was indeed a beautiful boat. We brought it from Charleston, S. C., to Miami where the other motors were installed.

In February of 1947 the Big ANGELOS with twenty-three people aboard sailed from Miami to Haiti by way of the Bahamas. Another one of the tests of my life was experienced upon crossing the Gulf of Mexico. About midway a heavy northwester struck us. There was really not a seaman aboard. For seven long hours I hung to the helm as we fought the wind and waves. We cast anchor in Bahamian waters, but the force of the gale was such that we lost one anchor immediately and was in grave danger of losing the other. We took up the other anchor, turned the bow of the boat into the teeth of the storm and headed back into the Gulf waters to keep from being dashed to pieces on the rocks. After the vessel was well out into the deep waters the helm was placed in the hands of a man who had never been aboard a boat before in his life. I watched our course through the long night, then at the break of day sailed through the Riding Rock channel, and on out into the white waters of the Great Bahamas Bank. We learned that one vessel was wrecked out near where we had been that night, and that the captain and one of his men lost their lives. God had graciously brought us through. This was the beginning of the end of the boat business for me. Human cargo is too precious, and the responsibility too great. Aboard the vessel during this trip were eleven members of the Lebanon Valley Gospel Band, and several missionaries including the one who is now my wife. I have thanked God over and over that no lives were lost during my boat experiences.

A captain and crew were installed aboard the boat on my second trip to Haiti. Due to unprincipled men things did not go too well, so eventually we had to make disposition of the vessel. The Lord alone knows how much was accomplished by means of the boats, and only eternity will reveal it. Both our Mission and others hated to see the boat disposed of, but we had no dependable boatmen, and the Lord called me to preach the Gospel and not to operate a boat. (God called Noah to build a boat and preach to warn the people. God was the operator of that boat, so all went well). The boat was sold, all bills were paid, everything was clear and some funds were placed at the Mission’s disposal. Some folk who didn’t know the story greatly criticized “Bustin and his boats,” but the friend who furnished most of the funds never had an unkind remark to make. Later, when the need of the Radio Station in Haiti presented itself this man gave us $6,000. This concludes the boat story, so we turn to the work in Haiti.

Our entire missionary force at the beginning was new at missionary work, thus mistakes were made which would not have been made by more experienced workmen, but, thanks be to God, something has been made other than mistakes. Thousands have had the Gospel preached to them, and some hundreds have been converted from the dark ways of sin. Not all of these have remained true to the Lord and His Word, but some have remained true, and some of these have already made the safe landing in the “better country.” Among the number of “triumphant believers are a son and father. The son was one of the early converts in Haiti who first contacted us in the clinic where approximately 60,000 treatments have been given during the past eight years. This young man was truly converted to the Lord, then his old father and most of the family — about twelve in all including children and grandchildren — followed. The young man proved himself faithful for more than three years before going to be with the Lord. Later the old father, who had faithfully preached the Gospel along the wayside and over the mountain trails, even when he was practically blind, triumphantly made the landing on the other side. This too was one of the great funerals of my life. How real was the presence of the Lord in the very midst of dark heathenism on all sides. This man had lived and died in the faith of the pure Gospel. Wicked men knew of the change which had been wrought in that life. Even unto the end he had praised the Lord while in the midst of great suffering.

Time forbids the relating of many experiences in connection with the Haitien work. In 1947 the writer was providentially directed to the Voodooist village of Source Matelas — a very large village about fifteen miles from Port au Prince, the Capital city. Upon beginning work in this place the people did not want us to mention the name of Jesus lest the devil be offended and persecute them. The whole village was given to demon worship, and practically every kind of witchcraft known to Africa could be found there.

On the second day of our labors in this village, I said, speaking to Napoleon, one of our faithful native preachers who was then my interpreter, “We shall plan to spend the night in the village rather than go back to the city.” (Port au Prince was fifteen miles away, and since we had no vehicle with us it was difficult to get back and forth), The day was crowded with many experiences. One of the first was our contact with the Bocour, or Witchdoctor. The word of our being in the village had been well circulated, so the Witchdoctor went about warning his devotees, demon worshipers, against these men of the Gospel. He well knew that his nefarious business would be interfered with if the Gospel of Christ were preached among his followers. Our contact with this wretched character came about when we stopped to visit a sick man who had suffered many things at the hands of the Witchdoctor, but had found no relief for body or soul. Having heard a little about the Gospel (we had been in that area the day before) he wanted to know Christ, and had taken the first step by having a wooden post pulled out of the ground and cut into splinters. (This old post had been an object of demon worship. The demon worshipers employ trees, stumps, posts, rocks, pieces of iron, bottles, pictures, and a multiplicity of objects in their worship). The old Witchdoctor and a group of the “faithful” were on the war path because this sick man had renounced demon worship. We sought to have a talk with the Witchdoctor, but he would not allow us to come near him. He said, “You go your way, and I will go mine.”

During this particular day we came in contact with two deaths. The first was that of a wicked man. Our offer to conduct a funeral service had been reluctantly accepted by his people. At the appointed hour the service was held in the shade of some large trees where the home-made box contained the body. Around us sat and stood a motley crowd of hall-dressed natives with bleary, scornful, sleep-sodden eyes. Most of these had been awake all night “paying their last debt to the dead” by drinking, dancing, gambling, and wild revelry. The service was naturally brief, but we sought to get a Gospel message across to the living. Such a message was unappreciated among this group. One big burly with hard features began to move about in the crowd and create disturbance. They hardly waited for the dismissal until they grabbed hold of the box containing the corpse and started in the direction of the shallow grave. Upon their departure water was thrown behind the corpse in order to chase away the demons. The next strange procedure was to beat the casket of the dead man. They claimed that he was very wicked and didn’t want to go to the burial place. Upon arriving at the grave they simply dropped the box into the ground, hurriedly piled in the dirt and rocks, then passed the bottle around among the grave-fillers. Oh the shivering horrors of a heathen burial!

The next death we contacted was that of a little child. We went into the mud hut where the little thing lay on the cold ground with a few banana leaves as its bed. Not a chair, not a table, nor even a box in the hut. The poor mother sat beneath a tree convulsed with sobs. Her demon worship afforded no hope of ever seeing her baby again.

In the afternoon of this same day we began to inquire about the possibility of renting a mud hut as our camp for the night. Repeatedly the natives would say, “Ou capab jwin.” (You can find one).

One of the touching incidents of the day came to us upon our visit to a certain habitation (cluster of mud houses where related families live). A very old man sat on the ground weaving a fish trap of bamboo, and never ceased his activity while we were in his yard. We sought to bring at least a bit of light to his darkened mind, but seemed to make no headway with him as he unremittingly worked at his task. As we turned to go we almost stumbled over some iron bars driven deep into the sand. Thinking that we might be able to approach the poor man in a more understandable way we said, “What are these things for?” (Of course we knew they were placed there in connection with demon worship). We were frankly informed that this was his personal affair-in substance “this was none of our business.” “You are right, sir, but if you should visit my country you would see many things which would be strange to you, and if you should ask me what they are used for I would kindly tell you.” This touched the old man’s heart, so he called his son, a middle-aged man, and told him to take us some place. We followed him into a newly whitewashed and well swept hut. Immediately we were aware that we were in a house dedicated to demon worship. Among the relics of this mud house were various kinds of clay vessels, and quite an array of Roman Catholic pictures. Most of such places also carry an assortment of bones, but such were not visible here. It is possible that they were concealed. While in this place I put my arm on the shoulder of the man and talked to him about the Lord. His reply was, “I am willing to be converted if my father is. When I was born my father was worshipping Satan, and he taught me to worship him, so I don’t know anything else.” Outside again I placed my arm about the shoulders of the old man and thanked him for his kindness, then sought to tell him about Christ who could bring help and hope to his life. His reply was, “When I was born I found my father worshipping Satan, he taught me this way, and I have never known anything different.” The old man’s words deeply touched my soul, for yonder in the distance, less than a thousand miles, is the great land of America with its millions who say they love the Christ, but none had ever come this way to tell the glad story of His love. Then I thought of the multiplied thousands of poor blinded minds on this island who have never heard the story of Jesus.

Finally in the evening of this particular day the sun was setting. Folk continued to tell us we could find a place to stay for the night, but now the night was approaching us. We had worked from morning until sunset without eating, and had walked for miles. Upon asking the pointed question of where we could find a place to camp for the night the answer was, “Nou pa kona” (We don’t know). We said, “All right we will camp beneath a tree.” This touched their hearts, so one man said he would rent us his house. This miserable shack was in a horrible state. No human being had lived in it for a long while. It had been occupied by donkeys, goats, chickens, fleas, spiders, and all types of pests, however we agreed to take it if the man would have it cleaned out. He set about to do so, then his neighbors objected, saying, “If you let these Gospel men have your house Satan will be angry and will persecute us all after they are gone.” While we were preparing supper out in the open a young woman came saying that we could occupy her house. She moved out, swept the dirt floor and gave us possession. This became our village hotel. The house was just wide enough for us to wedge our cots inside.

In this same village on another occasion a very wicked man told us that we could sleep on his front porch (a sheltered extension to his small house). We accepted his offer, opened up our cots, and were soon fast asleep in spite of the devouring malarial mosquitoes. About 10: 30 the writer was awakened by the appearance of the wicked owner of the house. By the light of the moon I could see something which resembled a club being carried in his hand. After he went into his house I fell asleep again.

About three years after the above mentioned experiences, one of our missionaries, Miss Helen Hammer, was carrying on the work in this village when word was brought to her that a band of wicked men were seeking to kill her and our native Christians. On the night of their intended foul play the service conducted by Miss Hammer ended unusually early, so the plans were thwarted. Upon on seeing their plans defeated these would-be-murderers laid hold upon a certain man with the intention of taking his life, but were unable to cope with his fighting power, so fled for their lives. This matter was brought to the attention of the law, the men were arrested, questioned, and discovery was made that fourteen skulls were in a certain little house. It was also brought out that the flesh from the bones represented by these skulls had been sold in an open market by a woman from whom we had rented a little house in a nearby village. It also came to light that my life had been attacked in the beginning of the work three years before. They reported that they were unable to carry out their plans “because of some kind of strange power about him which prevented us from striking.” Praise God for His great faithfulness.

We now have a chapel in this place, good attendance, some baptized believers, also a day school for children to learn to read and write. Such pioneering is by no means easy, nor is it naturally safe, but this is none of our business. The call is to go, then leave the results to the Lord.