|Young Haitians find identity in English-speaking church
By Barbara Denman
January 6, 2014
a Haitian-American child growing up in Miami, Petrus Marcellus felt like he was
stuck in limbo. “We weren’t fully Haitian and we weren’t fully American. We
faced stereotypes about who we were, what we could do and what we couldn’t do.”
only place the youngster really found peace, he recalled, was at church. “It
was a relief to come to church where there were so many kids like us.”
and his family are committed members of Emmanuel Haitian Baptist Church, one of
Florida Baptists’ flagship Haitian congregations in Miami’s Little Haiti
community. The church was planted in 1973 to reach the influx of Haitian
immigrants that moved to Miami to escape political oppression and economic
instability in their homeland.
even though he was comfortable at Emmanuel, as he got older, Marcellus soon
realized he didn’t quite fit in that Creole-speaking congregation either,
simply saying. “We couldn’t understand what they were saying.”
read and write in English,” said Marcellus who is now a computer network
administrator at the Dade County Public School. “English is my first language;
Creole is my second. But I can’t read or write in Creole.” Nor could he
understand scripture in Creole.
English-speaking youth began meeting together in Bible study, which eventually
grew into a church—a congregation composed of young Haitian adults reaching out
to a new generation, a congregation with a new vision.
each Sunday in the same building 300 young adults attend New Vision Emmanuel
Church while an additional 700 Creole-speaking Haitians worship in the church’s
English-speaking church draws many, like Marcellus, who have worked hard to be
contributing young adults in their new country. They include young
professionals—educators, pharmacists, lawyers, engineers and IT technicians.
Twenty-six members currently attend colleges away from home.
the neighborhood around them is filled with young adults who have not found
their identity as a second generation Haitian. The number of gangs is
increasing, as is those with addiction issues.
the past 12 years, Ronald Eugene has served as pastor of New Vision guiding the
congregation to not just minister to Haitians, “but to the whole community
where the common language is English,” he said.
is much needed in this community because we have multi-ethnic groups all around
us,” said Eugene, noting that the diversity includes Jamaicans, Bahamians,
Guatemalans and Cubans. “God has put the passion in our hearts to reach out to
the whole community.”
church has a presence in the neighborhood through a small food distribution
program, a ministry through the Ronald McDonald House and community events such
as “Race for a Cure.”
said New Vision often serves as mediator for families that experience
disconnect between generations, and as a moral compass, objecting to
promiscuous lifestyles, drugs and broken families.
has a purpose for each one of us in life,” said the pastor. “We are to
exemplify to the community and the world how a Christian should live their
life. We can encourage them by saying the Kingdom of God comes first.”
48, serves the church bivocationally, working as an electronic technician at
the Miami International airport. Having come from a Catholic background, he
accepted Christ as Savior and began working with the Emmanuel’s youth group.
several years after the encouragement from Emmanuel Pastor Wilner Maxey, he
felt God calling into him into ministry to lead the congregation.
Vision is a pioneer in planting a church to reach second-generation Haitians.
And at the time, some members objected to the youth losing their Haitian
heritage and traditions by giving into American culture.
complaints were silenced through Pastor Maxey’s guidance and patience, Eugene
said. “He was 100 percent supportive. He has a desire and vision for the
future. He was the shield that God used to protect us.”
churches are not made available to second generation Haitians, Eugene predicts
that they will leave the church totally or migrate to American churches.
is not about language. It’s about being saved and serving God’s Kingdom and
opening your doors and allowing young people to worship God and serve God in a
language they are more comfortable with.”
critical to the church’s growth, said Eugene has been a partnership with
Florida and Southern Baptists. Originally, Scott Nelson, former missionary to
Haiti who serves with the Miami Baptist Association led the church. Church
planter funding was provided by the Florida Baptist Convention and additional
assistance was given by the SBC North American Mission Board.
as a young father, Marcellus said he goes to Pastor Eugene with spiritual
issues and concerns. “Because I can understand what the preacher is saying, my
spiritual life has grown incredibly. I can understand every word in the Bible
as he leads in Bible study.”