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Former Haitian church leader safe, but homeless

Former Haitian church leader safe, but homeless

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Former Haitian church leader safe, but homeless

By Jenna De Marco | Jan. 14, 2010 {1122}

The Rev. Raphael Dessieu said he’s alive, but his home has been destroyed.

The former president of the Methodist Church of Haiti sent that message in an e-mail to the Rev. Debbie Casanzio, a Florida Conference pastor.

Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker (left) and the Rev. Raphael Dessieu sign the Haiti/Florida Covenant at the 2006 Florida Annual Conference Event. File photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #06-369. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0496, 6/4/06.

Dessieu’s home was located near Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where a massive earthquake struck Jan. 12.

Many in the Florida Conference know Dessieu. He and Florida Conference Bishop Timothy Whitaker signed the Haiti/Florida Covenant at the 2006 Florida Annual Conference Event.

In his Jan. 13 e-mail, Dessieu said: “My family and I are alive, sleeping in the street, as home and items are all gone. It is not safe, so please pray.”

The Rev. Dionne Hammond, associate pastor at East Lake United Methodist Church in Tampa, shared the message with e-Review. Hammond visited Dessieu in November 2009 on behalf of the Florida Conference. Her husband, the Rev. Craig Hammond, senior pastor at Wellspring United Methodist Church in Tampa, and a medical mission team also made the trip.

Dessieu’s house was near the widely publicized, and partially collapsed, presidential palace, Dionne said.

Dessieu has been waiting for a work visa that will allow him to serve the Florida Conference as pastor at Faith Community Haitian United Methodist Mission in Tampa. He was appointed there in July 2009, but lacking a work visa has stalled his arrival, according to Hammond, a member of the Haiti/Florida Covenant team.

Other clergy have preached at the mission in Dessieu’s absence, and lay leaders have been instrumental in the congregation’s well being, said the Rev. Tamara Isidore, senior pastor at Grace and Oak Grove United Methodist churches in Tampa. Isidore served the mission for 13 years before Dessieu’s appointment last July.

“The Haitian church has strong leaders, so they are doing a good job keeping it going,” she said.

Prayer vigil set for crisis

In a show of support, a “Hope for Haiti” prayer vigil was scheduled to take place 7 to 10 p.m. Jan. 14 at Wellspring United Methodist Church, with Dionne Hammond preaching.

The Revs. Craig and Dionne Hammond pose with the Rev. Raphael Dessieu and his wife (center) in November in front of their Port-au-Prince home, now destroyed. Photo courtesy of Dionne Hammond. Photo #10-1364.

Hope is what Haiti will need in the coming days and weeks as the country faces the implications of being unable to attend to those who have died, said Patience Nave, secretary of the Haiti/Florida Covenant. Nave said her numerous trips to Haiti have taught her that many Haitians take their burial practices seriously.

It is difficult to imagine, Nave said, “how hard it is for these people who have such a strong sense of family to leave their dead relatives in the streets.”

Help through UMCOR

As news of the earthquake spread around the world, Julie Fleurinor felt a sense of frustration about what she could do to help. Fleurinor, who was born in Haiti, attends Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Chicago. She traveled to the Caribbean country with Nave in 2008.

“The hard thing about this is that I feel so helpless,” she said.

Fleurinor was able to send an e-mail to about 1,000 contacts, including the e-Review, urging them to consider making a donation to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).

Florida Conference Bishop Timothy Whitaker is also encouraging financial donations to the mission agency at, Haiti Emergency, Advance #418325. The Rev. Dr. Larry Rankin, Florida Conference consultant with the Haiti/Florida Covenant, describes UMCOR as the best channel of support.

Churches can also consider preparing and sending health kits that may be needed during the short- and long-term recovery efforts to Sager-Brown, the UMCOR depot in Louisiana. Information on how to make the kits or other information on the United Methodist response to Haiti is available at http://

Churches should not plan to sponsor or send a team to Haiti until later in the year and are asked to visit the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission Web site at for updates on team needs.

Although there are many immediate needs in Haiti, Fleurinor hopes her education and knowledge of Haiti may help her be a part of its long-term recovery.

“I think God is raising up all the Haitians who are here (in the United States),” she said. “We’ve been trying for such a time as this. This is our Esther moment. … God does still love the Haitians, and God has not forgotten about us.”

Related story

Haitians in Florida await news of family, friends after earthquake

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.