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United Methodists celebrate growth of Haitian church from Miami to California

United Methodists celebrate growth of Haitian church from Miami to California

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

United Methodists celebrate growth of Haitian church from Miami to California

Sept. 29, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0553}

An e-Review Feature
By Steven Skelley**

The Rev. Luc Dessieux and Jocelyne Jean-Baptiste help others remember the birth of  Haitian United Methodist churches in Florida and the United States. Dessieux helped launch Grace Haitian United Methodist Church, the first Haitian congregation; Jean-Baptiste was one of its first worshippers. Photo by Steven Skelley, Photo #06-441. Web photo only.
In 1979 a man named Luc Dessieux fled his Haitian homeland in fear for his family’s lives. An illegal immigrant, he was imprisoned in the United States for three weeks.

Just two years later, God led Dessieux to launch the first Haitian United Methodist Church in his new homeland.

From this one small beginning in Little Haiti, Miami, 18 Haitian United Methodist congregations in Florida and across New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Georgia and California were born.

That first Haitian congregation was Grace Haitian United Methodist Church. It’s motto today is “Grace Haitian United Methodist: Where Everybody Is Somebody,” and that attitude was evident there Sept. 10 during the 25th anniversary celebration of the church and Haitian ministry in the United States.

Twenty-five years ago Bishop James Lloyd Knox was superintendent of what was then called the Miami District. He recalled how he came to know Dessieux. “Luc had washed ashore on Palm Beach,” Knox said. “Immigration had taken him to its facility in Immokalee. They held him there for three weeks. Luc’s brother, Pierre, lived in Miami and had somehow gotten Luc released.”

Dessieux, now an ordained elder in the Florida Conference, had been a school teacher in Haiti. He was also the assistant pastor of a nine-congregation Methodist circuit in the Cap Haitien area. A terrorist group called the Ton Ton Macoute threatened to kill his family unless he left Haiti. He fled in 1979 and did not see his family for six years.

In the fall of 1980, Dessieux contacted Knox about creating a Creole-language congregation. The Rev. Michael Loomis and the congregation of Grace United Methodist Church agreed to provide that opportunity. On Sept. 11, 1981, the first Haitian United Methodist congregation in the United States was formally recognized. Dessieux, now a local pastor, became the minister of that church.
“It was possible to get funding from the district, the Florida Conference and the then National Division of the Board of Global Ministries for pastoral support,” Knox said. “The Haitian congregation flourished.” 

A banner hung at Grace Haitian United Methodist Church announces the 25th anniversary of the church. Photo by Steven Skelley, Photo #06-442. Web photo only.

By 1991 the church had more than 350 members. “Grace Haitian United Methodist Church is considered the mother-church, at least by the Haitians in Florida,” Knox said.
The Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Ministries and the United Methodist
Committee on Relief gave the district funds for a number of Haitian ministries, including a ministry with Haitian and Hispanic women and children and a refugee resettlement program for Haitians, according to Knox.

The Rev. Deborah A. McLeod, superintendent of the South East District, which includes the Miami area, said the six Haitian congregations in the district are among the district’s strongest churches “in terms of average attendance, spiritual maturity and their evangelistic and mission efforts. There are many professions of faith each year in all these congregations.”

She added: “The Haitian-American United Methodist pastors are among the hardest-working pastors. They are often the only paid employee of the church, serving as spiritual leader, counselor, social worker, translator, friend in legal proceedings, immigration advisor, organizer of youth activities and driver of the church van. We have the finest men and women serving as pastors of our Haitian congregations.”

The Rev. Preval Floreal, the current pastor of Grace Haitian church, stood during the celebration and asked the congregation, “Has God been good to you?” They immediately stood and shouted, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” punctuating each “yes” with raised hands.

Grace Haitian United Methodist Church was filled to overflowing during the celebration of its 25th anniversary and the Haitian ministry it helped launch in the United States. Photo by Steven Skelley, Photo #06-443. Web photo only.
“We have gathered here to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Haitian ministry here in the United States of America,” Floreal said. “We thank God for all of you who have gathered together to praise and lift up the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Jocelyne Jean-Baptiste was one of the church’s first worshipers. “We feel God here,” she said. “He has done so much. We see people who have worshiped here for many, many years, and we see young people coming in. We see God doing something here.” She said the church’s revival meetings sometimes last until midnight.

Wilfred Toussaint attended the celebration with his wife, Julie. He said he feels the church is very important to the community. “We have a very helpful pastor, and the church is reaching out to the community. We formed PATC: People Acting Together for this Community. We meet to discuss the needs of the community, like transportation, education, immigration and people in need of housing.”

Floreal shared the stories of people who had come to know Christ through the church, including one woman who attributed the healing of a hemorrhage to giving “her heart to the Lord.”

“And there is another lady,” Floreal said. “God sent her to the church. I went to her house and began to witness to her. … One day after that, she came to the church and now she is coming here. The Lord is working.”

Others agree. “God has been working in our lives here for years,” the Rev. Fabolon Pradel said. “We try to touch lives in many ways because people have different needs.”

The Rev. Mike Oliver, superintendent of the Atlantic Central District, added: “I drove down to support the Haitian church in their celebration. I think God is using them in this community to do many good things.”

The celebration included a variety of special speakers, choirs, dancers and communion. The sanctuary was filled to capacity, and as many as 25 people stood in the narthex watching through the glass windows.

The praise team opened the celebration by leading the congregation in singing “How Great Thou Art,” while a clergy processional including Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker, Knox, Dessieux, Floreal and other conference pastors entered the sanctuary. The welcome was given in both English and Creole.


This article relates to New Church Development.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Skelley is a freelance writer based in Beverly Hills, Fla. His columns appear in the Naples Sun Times newspaper and Faith & Tennis magazine.