At times, Pastor Bill Cannon really caught wind of the aroma of Hell.
His home in Haiti sat 200 feet from a community dump in St. Marc, a city of nearly 200,000 in the northern part of the island nation. With no municipal garbage collection available in the neighborhood, the residents trudged to this spot with their cans and bags full of trash.
Dogs, goats, pigs and other animals swarmed over this grubby smorgasbord, picking clean any edible remnant. The rest of the refuse was set afire and tended to by a crew of men with rakes and shovels. This created “a perpetual burning,” according to Pastor Cannon. And, he took to calling the place “Gehenna” — a real, fiery dump near Jerusalem during Jesus’s days on earth and a word the Lord used to describe the eternal place reserved for the unsaved. On many days, the breeze carried the smoke from “Gehenna” right into the Cannons’ home.
The smell, though bothersome, served to remind Pastor Cannon of the mission God gave him for Haiti. He and his wife, Cheryl, dedicated themselves to sharing the Gospel and keeping people from the fires of Gehenna.
Pastor Cannon died while at work in this mission. In February of 2013, in Haiti, an asthma-related attack resulted in this fervent pastor being carried home to Heaven. His days in St. Marc and other areas of the nation were times of much sowing in preparing a harvest field for a rich reaping.
A Different Vision
Haiti forms the western third of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, the eastern part is the Dominican Republic. Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 and wound up here. The Spanish settlers who followed him led to the near decimation of the native population through the introduction of European diseases such as smallpox and other colonial practices. In 1697, Spain ceded Haiti to France, which imported a number of African slaves to work the sugar fields and harvest the forests. Living here in Haiti. How true the words of Jesus, 'the poor you shall have with you always.' Click To TweetSoon, Haiti became one of the richest areas in the Caribbean and led French Emperor Napoleon to envision a slave-training operation that would prepare workers for the fields in Mississippi River delta surrounding New Orleans and Louisiana. The island’s prosperity and Napoleon’s designs were upended when the nearly 500,000 slaves in the nation revolted against French rule and declared independence in 1804. Since then, the nation has endured a series of government upheavals that have left it among the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere.
The Cannons carried a very different vision when they took residence in Haiti in the Spring of 2011. They had paid visits to the island throughout 2010 after it had been hammered by a series of natural disasters. Four hurricanes swamped Haiti through 2008 and then came the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that violently shook the nation in January 2010. The temblor killed more than 300,000 and left 1.5 million homeless as it damaged more than 50 percent of the nation’s homes and buildings. It has been labeled the worst quake to strike the region in 200 years.
The troubles opened a door to the hearts of the people. In a blog post from September 2011, Pastor Cannon wrote the following:
Living here in Haiti. How true the words of Jesus, “the poor you shall have with you always.” Sure there are the scam artists, or those who will tell you a story with the hopes of getting something from you. But then there are those who don’t ask you for anything. And you know them for a little while and you might ask them, ‘Do you have food in your house? Have you eaten?’ And they have an embarrassed look on their face and they say, ‘But I know you don’t have very much either. I can’t ask you for anything.’ And you go quickly to your nearly empty cupboard and gather whatever you can find so that that family can have something to eat tonight.”
Pastor Steven Scibelli, Missions Director for Greater Grace, visited Haiti in April 2015 and saw the fruit of the Cannons’ ministry firsthand. A Bible College graduation ceremony celebrated 27 men who finished their course of studies. There now are eight GGWO affiliate churches operating in Haiti with a total of 1,300 attending services.
“I saw in these people a love for Bill Cannon,” Pastor Scibelli said during a service following his return. “These people embraced him and I sensed an incredible embracing of the message of the Finished Work of Jesus Christ. It’s just an example of what a person can do with confidence in God. One Book, one man and, the result, many churches. We could have 50 [churches] there one day soon.”
Since the passing of Pastor Cannon, Pastor Julian Matthew has been making regular visits to Haiti to teach intensified Bible College sessions and to guide leaders and believers in their transitions.
“My sleep pattern has changed,” Pastor Matthew explained. “I am constantly thinking of and praying for the Haitian youth and families seeking opportunities for better lives/futures.”
In another blogpost, Pastor Cannon revealed the content of his heart as missionary. Its words speak as a testament to his work and a challenge to all of us who believe that God commissions us to go after the Lost:
“Over the years I’ve shared this experience I’ve had with many, and I don’t want to be redundant. It concerns a verse the Lord shared with me that has become a life-verse. Actually the Lord spoke this verse to me twice in my life in a unique an unusual way (Now God speaks to us daily by His Word and Spirit. I can’t explain how these two times were unique and unusual, just that they were.) The first time was in Lenox, MA. The second time was in Haines City, FL, with the span of years between the two. The verse is Matthew 25:40: ‘Inasmuch as you did it to the least of these My brethren you did it to Me.’ Over the years I’ve related these verses to nursing home ministry and hospital visitation. ‘I was sick and you visited Me.’ And to prison ministry. ‘I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Now in Haiti I can relate it to this: ‘for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink. I was a stranger and you took Me in. I was naked and you clothed me.’ (Just as it also relates to the hungry and homeless in the U.S. or any country).”
Here is the Cannon Code:
I do believe — I must believe — in the ultimate triumph of God’s Kingdom over all that opposes it and is contrary to it, no matter what it presently looks like by sight (Daniel 2:44, Revelations 11:15).
I do believe — I must believe — in the success of Christ’s mission in the world, outlined 4,000 years ago in God’s promise to Abraham, that in his seed all the nations would be blessed, and that Abraham would have many spiritual children, Jew and Gentile alike, through faith in Christ (Genesis 12:3, Genesis 15:5,6, Galatians 3:6-9, Isaiah 49:4-6).
I do believe — I must believe — in the power of the Word of God to transform a persons life (Hebrews 4:12, Psalm 19:7, Jeremiah 23:29).
I do believe — I must believe — that wherever we go, bearing precious seed, we will find, (He will lead us to) a Rebekah, a Zacchaeus, a women at the well, a Nicodemus, a Mary Magdalene, an Andrew, a Simon Peter, a Lydia (Psalm 126:6, Luke 19:10, Genesis 24:27, John 4:6, Acts 16:14).
Bill Cannon’s life is a challenge for us all. Will we take up the Cannon Code? Remember one man with one Book can change a nation.