As a cold winter rain was falling in Salisbury, Maryland, the members of First Haitian United Methodist Church came to worship. It was their normal Sunday morning worship service but since the earthquake of January 12, nothing was ever going to be normal again. Many of the members have lost family and friends who live in Haiti and many more have been waiting to hear from people whom they have lost contact with in their mother country. Their part-time supply pastor happened to be in Haiti at the time of the earthquake and members were greatly comforted to learn that he had finally been in touch with his family and was safe. The service was being led by the lay leaders of the church. About 100 people gathered in a small building that the members purchased from a printing company 10 years earlier and remodeled it into a place of worship.
I arrived at the church expecting a scene of grief and devastation but was heartened to find a group of people who had hope; hope in the Lord for comfort and strength. The entire congregation speaks French and Creole. Some are also fluent in English, however the worship service was conducted entirely in French. The singing was loud and joyful. I asked one of the English-speaking members what they were singing: “We have no troubles for God is here” she whispered. These words were fulfilled as they were being sung.
When I was introduced to the congregation by the lay leader, Faubert Baptiste, he spoke one sentence in English for my benefit and then a sentence in French for the congregants. “We have never had a bishop here,” he said “we are glad you have come.” With Faubert’s help, I offered words of consolation and support. When I announced that I would be reading from the Psalm 46, everyone immediately took out their Bibles and rose to their feet.
“God is our refuge and strength a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea….the Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.”
Following my comments another lay member, Lucien Jendy, came forward to bring the sermon for the day. He read from Matthew 24: “As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the building of the temple. Then he asked them ‘you see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you not one stone will be left here upon another, all will be thrown down.’”
He explained that every word of the Bible is true and that our earthly buildings and our lives are temporary. He stressed that in life we will have suffering but those who endure to the end will be saved. “We must not lose faith but have hope in God,” said Jendy. His sermon was met with many “Amens.” The service ended with a spirited prayer and the passing of the peace.
I shook hands with the congregants after the worship service, including no small number of children and teenagers, all dressed in their Sunday best. Warmth and respect flowed from their hands to mine. They expressed the desire to go Haiti to help it rebuild and to search for people who are lost. One of the most difficult aspects of this ordeal is not knowing the fate of many who are missing. A faith-filled and determined people are making plans now to visit Haiti as soon as they are allowed to come. They will also be raising money for the UMCOR relief efforts and offering the most valuable resource of all: prayer.
Bishop Peggy A. Johnson