In 2010, Buckley '91 was the senior pastor at 4,650-member First Baptist Church Jackson, and his hands and his calendar were full.
When a representative of a mission project in Haiti contacted Buckley in the wake of a catastrophic earthquake that had left the already-impoverished nation in chaos, Buckley’s first response was less than enthusiastic.
"I didn't want to meet with him," he says. "First Baptist already had a lot of ministries and we didn't need another one."
Buckley agreed to see the man only as a courtesy. But when the representative produced photo after photo of hundreds of thousands of people living in unspeakable squalor and pain amid the ruins, Buckley could not look away.
“I told this man I’d pray for Haiti and said ‘bye,’ but the Holy Spirit would not let me forget those people,” Buckley says. “I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I decided I had to go to Haiti.”
Just one year later, Stan Buckley resigned his position at First Baptist Jackson. The pastor who did not want to go to Haiti surrendered his heart, his career, and his life to work in one of the most desperate, miserable places on earth, and in the process, has seen first-hand that with God, all things are possible.
An Impossible Challenge
The Republic of Haiti occupies a portion of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, sharing the island with the Dominican Republic. But while the Dominican Republic has become popular as a tourist destination, Haiti remains an isolated country marked by extreme poverty, a severe lack of infrastructure, the absence of a national educational system, and a historically dysfunctional government that has hindered progress for more than two centuries.
Haiti occupies 10,700 square miles on the map – a space less than a quarter the size of the state of Mississippi – but is home to more than 10 million people, the majority of whom live on less than $2 per day. Haiti was already near the top of the list of the world’s poorest countries in January of 2010, when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the capital city of Port-au-Prince. The earthquake killed as many as 230,000 people, left 1.6 million people – a tenth of Haiti’s population – homeless, and brought the entire country to the brink of collapse.
Concrete buildings caved into the streets, houses slid down the mountainsides, and rubble and garbage rose seven feet high with no resources available to remove it. Mass graves were hastily dug and filled; many victims were never identified. Hundreds of thousands of people took shelter in makeshift tent cities with no access to clean water or sanitation. When food ran out, they resorted to eating dirt. The unspeakable conditions led to an outbreak of cholera that infected some 185,000 people and claimed thousands more lives.
In August of 2010, 10 months after the earthquake, Stan Buckley arrived in Haiti, accompanied by a small group from First Baptist Church Jackson. Their first stop was a tent city for amputees. Thousands of people missing arms, legs, hands, or feet huddled beneath ragged tarps in the sweltering heat. There was no electricity or running water. The overpowering odor of raw sewage and human waste filled the air and garbage choked the narrow paths through row after row of tents and tarps.
“I’ve never seen such utter hopelessness and despair,” Buckley says. “We were surrounded by throngs of people. There was no breeze, just this stifling humidity and putrid smells. And all of these people, trapped in this situation with no power to change their circumstances. I stepped away from the group to pray and try to process what I was seeing.”
When Buckley looked up, a young man was standing before him. Buckley learned that his name was Thomas, he was 19 years old, and he had fled to the tent city with his mother after his father was killed in the earthquake and the family’s home was destroyed. He had been living there for eight months. “I asked Thomas what had to be the dumbest question anyone could have asked,” Buckley says. “I asked, ‘If you and your family could leave this tent city and live somewhere in a house, with clean water and food, and you could go to school or to work, would you like to move there?’ Thomas said, “Of course. But that’s impossible.’
“In that instant, I thought, ‘But God,’” Buckley says. “I thought of all the times God has shown up when things are impossible. The Red Sea, the fiery furnace, the lion’s den, the dead walking. Those times, the impossible times, are the times when God does His best work.”
Upon his return to Jackson, Buckley began praying for direction, asking God, “What can I do? I’m one pastor, in one church, in a poor state. What can I do?”
The answer to Buckley’s prayers was a vision of a community that would not only house and heal suffering people, but would empower the Haitians to help themselves and each other. Buckley’s vision included a medical clinic, a worship center, and a school, and, perhaps most likely to be deemed “impossible,” a plan for sustainability that would allow the Haitians to create a viable economy from virtually nothing.
“What I saw wasn’t a ‘parachute’ mission, where an outside group comes in and takes charge,” Buckley says. “It was something that the Haitians would be invested in. It was something that would last.”
In October, Buckley shared his vision with the First Baptist Church membership in a sermon, complete with a prototype of the houses he envisioned building.
“I explained that in March, First Baptist Jackson would take up a single offering to build a sustainable community on an island in the middle of nowhere,” Buckley recalls with a wry smile.
That single offering came in at $600,000, including $100,000 raised from outside First Baptist Jackson through word of mouth and people who had seen the televised sermon.
“Once again,” Buckley says, “I had the thought, ‘But God.’”
In May of 2011, construction began in Haiti on 17 acres near the village of Galette Chambon, 18 miles from the devastated city of Port-au-Prince. The project became known as the Hope Center.
Buckley traveled to Haiti as the work began. During a previously scheduled sabbatical from First Baptist Jackson in June and July, Buckley realized he was being called to minister to the country and its people fulltime, explaining, “Originally, I had envisioned building this ministry through First Baptist Jackson, but now I was sensing that God had a different plan.”
With the support of his wife, Jewell, and their three children, Buckley announced his resignation from First Baptist Jackson and became the fulltime executive director of the nonprofit organization he aptly christened “But God Ministries.” Buckley divided his efforts between travel to Haiti at least one week out of every month and spending his remaining time in Mississippi fundraising and directing the ministry, which grew more quickly than he ever could have imagined.
“Because the ministry began at First Baptist Jackson, it had credibility,” Buckley says. “Almost from the beginning, other churches began sending teams to help with the construction.”
By February of 2012, the impossible had been achieved. Where before there was only bare land tainted by tragedy and despair, there were now a medical and dental clinic and dorms for the hundreds of volunteers who would bring new hope to Haiti.