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Haitians praise God in aftermath of quake

Haitians praise God in aftermath of quake

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Haitians praise God in aftermath of quake

By Erik J. Alsgaard | Jan. 25, 2010 {1129}

ORLANDO — Jean Francois carries himself with a quiet dignity. An elderly Haitian gentleman, Francois is a member of Emmanuel Haitian United Methodist Mission in Orlando.

Jean Francois was among the members and guests attending the service. Four of his children died in the quake. Photo by Erik J. Alsgaard. Photo #10-1380.

Early on Jan. 12, Francois said, he talked by phone with his son in Haiti. His son needed money so his children could go to school. Francois said he would send the money. They never spoke again.

Early that evening, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck near Port-au-Prince, killing an estimated 150,000 people, according to Associated Press reports, and reducing neighborhoods to rubble. Francois’ son and three other children were among the dead.

It is a story that is all too familiar among Florida’s Haitian population.

That shared tragedy brought members of Francois’ church, along with visitors and clergy from churches throughout Orlando, together Jan. 20 to pray for each other and the Haitian people.

They also praised God.

“In Jesus, I’m fine. I’m fine,” the Rev. Eliantus Valmyr said to the nearly 100 gathered — even though several of his cousins in Haiti had yet to be located.

“I have some family members, some cousins, in Port-au-Prince, but I don’t hear nothing from them,” said Valmyr, who has served as pastor at Emmanuel Haitian Mission for 14 years. “I don’t know what happened to them. We call; no answer.”

The Rev. Eliantus Valmyr preaches while a translator behind him offers the sermon in English. Photo by Erik J. Alsgaard. Photo #10-1381.

While dealing with his own situation, Valmyr is also trying to help members of his congregation and their family and friends cope in the aftermath of the quake. Along with Francois, several members have lost loved ones.

Valmyr says he relies on his strong faith in God and Jesus Christ to help him fulfill that call.

“As pastor, I am showing my congregation that I am standing with them,” he said. “And the congregation is showing all the support we can to our people.”

Maggie Raymond, a member of the Haitian congregation, attended the service with her 2-year-old son, Jochanan. She said it was a chance to bring people together to praise the Lord.

“People are in tears, crying, because they’ve lost their relatives,” Raymond said. “It was great to see other people from other congregations come together.”

Connection offers strength, hope

As people went to the front of the sanctuary to offer their witness and testimony, prayers were lifted as each one spoke. Dozens of people from outside the Haitian community also offered their support.

The Rev. Bob Bushong, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in Winter Park, attended, representing the wider United Methodist community. He also offered the benediction.

Two-year old Jochanan Raymond peeks out from the hug of his uncle, Jeanrene Desir. Photo by Erik J. Alsgaard. Photo #10-1382.

“Some of you many have seen the most recent issue of Time magazine, a special edition, and the title says, ‘Haiti’s Tragedy,’ ” Bushong said before offering the closing prayer. “They didn’t get it right. It’s humanity’s tragedy. Tonight, all of us gather here to worship because our hearts are united with the hearts of the Haitian people in their suffering and in their pain and also in the hope that is present through faith in Jesus Christ.”

Support from United Methodists throughout the connection helps keep him going, Valmyr said.

“We give thanks to United Methodists because they show us that they care about us, about the Haitian people,” he said. “We love that. They are connecting with us.”

‘God’s hand at work’

Harold Nicoleau also attended the service. He said his heavy heart has been buoyed by his faith.

“My sister-in-law in Haiti lost her house, but they are alive,” said Nicoleau, a native of Haiti and lay supply pastor at Taft United Methodist Church. “A dear friend who I went to school with perished, along with her daughter and her granddaughter. Three generations of women died that Tuesday.”

Members and guests pray during the service. Photo by Erik J. Alsgaard. Photo #10-1383.

Through it all, Nicoleau said, he has seen God’s hand at work.

“The Lord himself told us to cry with those who are crying and rejoice with those who are rejoicing,” he said. “Now is not the moment of rejoicing, but it is a moment of reflections and prayer. The outpouring of love and compassion that we have seen, not only from our brothers and sisters from The United Methodist Church, but from all the church organizations and all the nations on the earth, tells us that God has something to do with it, because only God can put an army of ‘ones’ out there to help and to rescue and to care for the victims of this earthquake.”

Nicoleau said he told his congregation the Sunday after the quake that there is a reason for everything in life. And even in the midst of a terrible tragedy, you can still see God at work.

“Last Sunday we sang, ‘Further along, we will see Jesus,’ ” he said. “We don’t have to wait for days or weeks or months anymore, because right after the earthquake, I’ve seen the victims, the ones that are not dead, they come out of the rubble glorifying God, giving thanksgiving, worshipping God. This is one of the most beautiful answers to a calamity I’ve ever seen, and I wonder, ‘Isn’t that God working?’ God is good.”

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

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Alsgaard is director of communications for the Florida Conference.