In shady, green pastures, so rich and so sweet, God leads his dear children along

WITH A NEW CHURCH building and plans to build a large missionary training center, we are thriving once more. We are in a new country, the Dominican Republic, right next door to our former field of Haiti, on Hispaniola, the most populous island in the West Indies. We are just where the Lord wants us. And all is well—apart from the occasional frisson, such as a nearby bar owner threatening to spray our church with bullets.

But God’s leading for us involved a car wreck, an arrest warrant, a pregnancy scare showing a deformed baby, and a devastating earthquake that flattened the maternity ward, and killed several hundred thousand people across Haiti.

‘Madam Pastor’ Erica Lerisse: We had a big church in Haiti. Our buses took children to school on behalf of the government. Everyone knew us. I was pregnant with my fourth child, had my room booked in a good hospital, and life was sweet.

But one Sunday in 2009, as I was preparing to drive across the border to the Dominican Republic to where Biz was due to speak at a Bible college graduation later in the week, my van went out of control.

With me were our children BJ, then aged 6, Sissy, 4, and Jacqueline, 1. My husband was back at church on top of the hill in Saint-Marc, preparing for the evening service.

The brakes locked first, then the steering wheel. We started hurtling down the hill. I could see people further down in the road—adults playing dominos, kids playing in the street, and a boy of about 10 on a donkey in the middle of the road.

The van’s horn was broken, so I had no way of letting them know that a heavily pregnant woman was hurtling toward them in an out-of-control vehicle. At first I wasn’t panicked, but was literally flipping rapidly through files in my mind, searching for something mechanical to solve the problem. Instead, these words of God sprang to mind,


The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe. (Proverbs 18:10)


Here’s what happened next:

I’m hurtling down the mountain. I’m heading for a T-intersection. On one side of the road is a river and on the other a brick house. Somehow, I manage to shove the wheel, which is stuck, slightly one way, and we turn away from the river below, and start heading for the donkey, which just won’t get off the road.

By now I am yelling my prayer, the only words I can think of—“Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!” People see the van, see we are flying, and run. They all scatter in a moment.

All except the boy on the donkey in the middle of the road.

I hit that donkey, and I’m barely able to wrench the wheel to point the car at a nearby brick house. I am aiming to hit the house rather than plunge off the road and into the river.

Next morning our deacon called and said, ‘Get madam pastor out of Haiti because they’ve issued a warrant for her arrest.’

And the little boy goes up into the air, slams into the windshield and crumples to the ground. My first thought is, “He’s dead.”

In Haiti when you hit someone, the custom is that all these people come into the street, drag the driver out, burn the car, and beat up or kill the driver. So I get out. And I’m trying to run back up the mountain to check on the boy. But my BJ is already running to get my husband.

As a mob starts to gather around our car, an old man appears from the house and scoops up me and my girls, and hides us in his home. We wait three hours for the police to come, but they never come. At last, our lawyer arrives and tells us to go home, and we’ll work it all out the next day.

The next day came and our deacon called and said, “Get madam pastor out of Haiti because they’ve issued a warrant for her arrest. They are saying that it was a hit-and-run.”

Our friend and mentor Dr Mike Cox, of the Global Outreach missions board, called us and said:

“You don’t want your wife in a Haitian jail. Don’t hang around. Continue to Santo Domingo [capital of the Dominican Republic] for the graduation meeting, and then pray about your future in Haiti. You can leave the church in good hands, and God might be leading you to the needy Haitians in the Dominican Republic. You can always go back to Haiti to visit and help with the church as needed. Don’t forget that even the apostle Paul was let down over the city walls in a basket when the Jews took counsel to kill him, as recorded in Acts 9:22-25.”

So that’s what we did. We didn’t go back. We stayed to plant Living Hope Baptist Church, in Bani, a city of 200,000 southwest of Santo Domingo.

A devastating diagnosis

Did the shock of the accident damage my baby-to-be? We decided to play it safe and get an ultrasound. The doctor laughed and joked with us, but suddenly became solemn. He said everything was fine—but he wouldn’t look me in the eye. Clearly, we needed a second opinion. And a new scan revealed devastating news:


  • Spina bifida (literally “split spine”) showed up as a protrusion out of the baby’s back. He would need post-natal surgery, and life-long care, including further surgeries—if he survived at all
  • Fluid on the brain, needing surgery to drain it off


Questions swirled through our minds: Should we leave the mission field and go to the States for such a major surgery? Should we stay? The church in Haiti began to pray, and the newly founded church in the Dominican Republic started to pray. Friends in the States prayed, and in our little home, we began to pray.

As I poured my heart out to God, I recalled a time in Haiti when the ladies would bring their starving babies to me, “Madam Pastor” to beg, in tears, for food or medicine. One brought a miscarried child in a baby food jar.

As these images filled my mind I cried out to God, “Father, I do not have a Madam Pastor to whom I can take my little baby. Please heal my baby Steven.” And as I cried out all my pleadings, the Holy Spirit gave me a promise:


Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High: And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” (Psalm 50:14-15)


By faith we decided to stay in the Dominican Republic where God had moved us, and to trust him, and him alone.

On January 12, 2010, a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, killing around 3000,000 or more—nobody knows the exact figure—and making around another 300,000 homeless. The maternity ward where I was due to give birth was flattened. All the hospitals in the country were either destroyed or badly damaged, the harbor was unusable and 300,000 commercial buildings needed to be demolished. The prison collapsed, allowing 4,000 criminals to escape.

And the next day, January 13, I gave birth in the Dominican Republic to a very healthy and whole and beautiful Steven Ray Lerisse.

The clinic in Haiti had been ready for me. But God was ready for us in another location. He led us out of harm’s way.

What happened to the boy on the donkey?

After checking on my children in the van, I had thought about running back up the mountain to check on him. But our church deacon had already moved to take the boy to hospital. And by the mercies of God, he had only a sprained arm.

40 saved in jail, and new pastures open up

Pastor Biz Lerisse: After the earthquake struck, turning much of Haiti into rubble and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless, we turned around from the Dominican Republic and went back there, taking food, medicine, finances, and water for the people, to help them get through that dark valley.

We could see God had led us out of the way. Steven was born normal, and continued to thrive—and our church in the DR continued to grow. We are in awe of what God can do. For three years, God had been knocking on my door telling me, “Get out!” But I wasn’t listening. I was like a bulldog. I sank my teeth in, and I wasn’t letting go. I loved the people of Haiti, and they loved me.

Our church in Saint-Marc, just north of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, was averaging 400 and 1,500 on big days. Everyone in the city knew me.

I knew of my countrymen across the border—more than a million Haitians had moved to the Dominican Republic over the years—and they needed the gospel. But the language was different—Haitians speak French and Dominican Republic people speak Spanish, as well as native dialects.

The education system was also different and I thought I would not be able to achieve the same success there. In Haiti, we had driven children to school in our church buses, the first group ever to do such a thing. This opened up the door for us to be invited into parents’ homes, to make contacts with families, and to see many saved. Today many of those reached in this way are missionaries and pastors.

But while my wife was going through her trials, God was putting me through mine:


  • City officials and judges in Haiti started asking me for for money, which our church didn’t have because we were already supporting the school system by bussing children to school
  • A political party put pressure on me to join them, which would have placed me in a compromising position
  • A woman helper in our house was accused of stealing from other houses. She ran away, and because the police couldn’t find her, they arrested me. They knew that because I was a pastor, I couldn’t run. But I stood my ground and they got nothing. So they jailed me for three days.


God turned it all to good. Forty people were saved in prison as I preached to them. My church delivered copies of the books of John and Romans and we distributed them to every inmate. And because I am an American citizen, the embassy intervened, and I was released.

We have seen great miracles even apart from Steven and my wife’s experiences, and even apart from my brief prison ministry. One of them was a young man called Jimmy, whose parents are witch doctors.

When I say Jimmy got saved I mean he is really sold out for Christ. He’s out there soul-winning with me, he’s in my office helping, and anything I’m doing Jimmy wants to be a part of it. He has surrendered his life, and wants to be a pastor.

One time after I preached Jimmy came up to me and said, “Wow. How did you do it? How do you preach in the way you do? Can you teach me to do the same?”

I said, “Jimmy, just be patient, your time will come. I believe the Lord has a great plan for you. He’s going to use you.”

We recently met Jimmy’s mother in the street. She came up to me and said, “Pastor, thank you so much for taking Jimmy under your wing for me. Pastor, I give him to you.” She has rejected Christ, but knows she’s on her way to hell, and doesn’t want her child to follow her path. She said, “Please hold on to him for me, pastor, don’t let him go. My hope is the church, that his life will turn out right.”

Please pray for her.

Our original work in Haiti is still continuing to grow, thanks to the grace of God, and through the Lord’s leading in the lives of the young men we’re training. We have already sent out two missionaries. They were trained in Florida and are on the field and well supported. God is good.