MIAMI (FLBaptist)—As 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.”
The 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.”
Marcellus 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.
And 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.”
“I 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.
The 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.
Now 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 original sanctuary.
The 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.
But 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.
For 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.
“This 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.”
The 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.”
Eugene 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.
“God 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.”
Eugene, 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.
In several years after the encouragement from Emmanuel Pastor Wilner Maxey, he felt God calling into him into ministry to lead the congregation.
New 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.
But 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.”
If churches are not made available to second generation Haitians, Eugene predicts that they will leave the church totally or migrate to American churches.
“It 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.”
Also 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.
Now 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.”
And for the 300 young adults joyously worshipping each Sunday, New Vision is instilling a Kingdom identity in Christ.
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