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The Emmanuel Research Review is a publication of the Emmanuel Gospel Center, and features articles, papers, resources, and information that we believe are helpful and relevant to urban pastors, leaders, and community members in their efforts to serve their communities effectively.
Welcome to the first edition of Emmanuel Research Review, a publication of the Emmanuel Gospel Center. Our intent is to publish articles, papers, resources and information that we believe will be helpful and relevant to urban pastors, leaders, and community members in their efforts to effectively serve their communities. Please let your colleagues know about The Review. In addition to the email version, The Review is available in print by request, and is posted on our website: www.egc.org. To subscribe, click on the subscribe link at the bottom of our homepage. (It is our policy to never release personal information to anyone. Your information will be safe with us.)
We value your input! Let us know how we can be of service to you. And please feel free to send us your comments, suggestions for topics to be discussed, as well as ideas for further discussion about any of the information presented here. Our hope is to facilitate dialogue about these important topics to increase mutual understanding and support fruitful collaboration.
Rev. Jay Broadnax, Director
In this issue:
The nation of Haiti celebrated her 200th anniversary in January this year, 2004. Because of this event, we decided to focus this first issue of the Emmanuel Research Review on Haiti, and, particularly, to tell the story of the growth of the Haitian church community in Boston. In addition, you will find several research weblinks that may provide much useful information on Haiti.
The History of the Haitian Church in Boston: 1969-2004
Rev. Dr. Soliny Védrine has been more than an eyewitness to the growth of the Haitian Church in Greater Boston. For two decades he has been in the forefront of pastoral leadership as the number of Haitian churches in Boston has grown from none to over 50 today. In this narrative, he recounts the events and names many leaders God has used to build a network of thriving Haitian churches in Boston.
Christians in Haiti and Boston Celebrate Haiti's Anniversary of Independence, while a new wave of violence continues to gain momentum
Emmanuel's Haitian Research Library, discover this valuable collection of print resources in Boston's South End
Haitian Research Resources on the Web, an annotated reference list for anyone wanting to learn more about Christianity in Haiti, as well as general information on the nation itself
EGC's Haitian Ministries International, what the Emmanuel Gospel Center is doing to serve Haitian Christians in Boston and beyond
Haitian Statistics, useful facts about Haiti and Haitian populations in the U.S.
by Rev. Dr. Soliny Védrine
Pastor, Boston Missionary Baptist Church, 1973-present
Director, Haitian Ministries International of the Emmanuel Gospel Center, 1985-present
It is often said that the Haitian presence in America is as old as the country itself. Haitian soldiers from the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) were brought in to help American soldiers in the War of Independence and were involved in the battle at Savannah, Georgia, in 1775. Among the soldiers was Henry Christopher, the second emperor of Haiti in the early 1800s. American businessmen took the short trip to Haiti to do business and often bought Haitian slaves when commercial slave ships were late arriving from Africa. One such slave was Pierre Toussaint, a famous barber of New York City, who often used his meager revenue to care for the needy of his community. Over the past few years, the Roman Catholic Diocese of New York has considered pursuing canonization for Toussaint.
Haiti declared its independence in 1804, and for the next 150 years Haitians would come to America mainly for business or pleasure, though from 1915 to 1934, because of its own political instability, Haiti was practically a U.S. colony controlled by Washington. However, it was in the 1960s that Haitians’ interest in this country began to be noticed. New York became the point of attraction. By the late 1960s, a few Haitians began to infiltrate Connecticut, Boston, and New Jersey; many of them were maids working in private homes, hospitals, and nursing homes. Believers among them began to organize home prayer meetings that later led to established churches.
The leaders of the First Haitian Baptist Church report that by 1969 a prayer group developed in the Dorchester area. Soon a church formed and a visiting young seminary graduate was called to be its first pastor. Conscious of its Haitian blood and heritage, it called itself L’Eglise Baptiste d’Expression Française de Boston (The French Speaking Baptist Church of Boston). Thirty-three years later, the same pastor, Rev. Verdieu Laroche, still ministers there, and the small group has become the largest Haitian church in New England. The church holds tightly to its traditional Haitian activities, yet is fully aware of a new Haitian-American generation that hardly understands French or Creo1e, feels at home in the English language, leads its worship services in an American style, and refers to its congregation as the First Haitian Baptist Church of Boston.
By December, 1972, as a young Dallas Theological Seminary graduate, I, too, arrived in Boston to minister to my fellow Haitians, whose numbers were rapidly growing. During the winter months, I would visit family after family, sharing the Gospel and my dream to start a new church. With my wife, Emmeline, and a dedicated helper by the name of Lucien Jean-Pierre, I organized prayer meetings that started to draw a growing crowd. Afraid of falling into debt, we avoided the high cost of renting a hall for a regular Sunday morning worship service and shared the facilities of an American church Sunday afternoon for the meager charge of $40 a month for about eight years! But later on, difficulties arose, and, reluctantly, I found myself buying a dilapidated former funeral home that defied repairs; yet our Haitian congregation called it home for eleven years. Then we demolished it to erect in its very place the first Haitian-built church building in New England, now known as the Boston Missionary Baptist Church, at the cost of $1.2 million.
In 1975, the news spread that a Pentecostal pastor had arrived in town. He had recently graduated from a Church of God school in Jamaica, had the blessing of some churches in New York, and rented a hall on Blue Hill Avenue in the heart of the Haitian community. Soon the hall became too small, so the group bought a large garage which they transformed into a church. Rev. Othon Noel and his wife, Rev. Marie Lourdes Noel, became the first team ministers in town, founding and developing the Haitian Church of God of Boston, mother church to some 25 others.
So was the trend in those pioneering years. From time to time we would hear of a new prayer group, or a new church. But those were years of instability. Haitians would come and go. You could not count too much on your congregation; many were being hunted by the Immigration Service, whose jails were always full. Others unhappily discovered in the worship service former enemies from Haiti, who, according to them, should be on their way to hell. Still others left because they had not found in Boston the easy jobs they had heard about. And everybody, pastors and congregations both, thought they were here only for a short time—until the Duvalier regime back home would be over. The common view held that Haiti was the paradise, and saints and sinners would return there. But suddenly something unexpected happened.
By 1979, thousands of Cubans were leaving Cuba by boat for the shores of Miami. Some thousands of Haitians joined the movement. Every single week, we would hear some report: some who arrived safely were held in the famous detention center in Miami, others had perished at sea after days of agony, and yet a few others were rescued from the sea and brought to a hospital. The Cubans were welcomed and granted asylum for a political reason (fleeing a communist country). The Haitians were jailed or deported for fleeing their homeland for economic, not political, reasons. Haitian activists called it “injustice.” A Roman Catholic priest, Father Jean-Juste, would come even to Protestant meetings asking politely for the permission to share his view for a better treatment of Haitians. Organized marchers chanted the slogan: “What do we want? Amnesty! When do we want it? Now.” Father Jean-Juste lost his position in the church, but his dream came true in November, 1986, when President Reagan signed the Amnesty Law.
During that boat people period, Miami became the focal point for immigration. The Haitian population grew rapidly. As the Immigration Service processed thousands of Haitians, many joined friends and relatives in the popular communities of New York, Boston, Chicago, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. Soon churches started to grow, and new churches were planted. In the Boston area, Rev. Thomas St. Louis and his wife Rev. Esther St. Louis founded and developed the Universal Church of God, which later changed its name to New Covenant Church of Cambridge. Pastor Exinor Paul Fevrier started what would become the Haitian Evangelical Church of Somerville. Pastor Ogando started his Brockton ministry. Rev. Michel Louis came to Dorchester, Rev. Jovin went to Hyde Park, Rev. Daniel Marechal to Malden, and Rev. Arthur Demosthenes to Waltham. But many Haitians complained that the boat people situation was a byproduct of bad politics and bad economics in the homeland under the Duvaliers. The common opinion was that the Duvaliers must be ousted so that Haitians couild be cleansed from international shame and humiliation. And finally their wish came true, but the worst followed.
As the year 1985 came to an end, heavy clouds gathered over Haiti. As you listened to the news, you could feel that the storm nearing. On February 7, 1986, President Jean-Claude Duvalier, his family, and close friends, were put aboard a United States military plane and shipped to France, never to return. In the hours, days, weeks, months and years that followed, Haiti would undergo the most gruesome calamities ever heard in her history: a long line of political leaders would overthrow each other; thousands would take vengeance against their former enemies by arresting, killing and burning them in the open air; stores of key businessmen suspected of connection to the former regime were looted or burned down. Many religious leaders were persecuted for not having spoken against the old regime—for having tolerated it. Some died. Some fled their homes and their churches. Others leaders took refuge in the U.S., and many members followed them.
Once again, the churches were crowded, and new churches sprang up in many communities. U.S. missionary organizations in Haiti, which formerly complained of ministers leaving the field, now began to take a leading role in relocating newly arrived workers all over America. In Boston, the Nazarene Church took the lead. The small work started by Rev. Lazare Mathurin began to grow under Rev. Daniel Marechal and then expanded rapidly with the arrival of key leaders such as Rev. Pierre-Louis Zephir and Rev. Wilguymps Charles.
Some Haitians did return to Haiti, but they could hardly stay for long. Beside the spirit of vengeance against former political foes, a new social problem arose, the Zenglendo. These were bands of gangs which harassed and killed returning immigrants to get rich quickly. Even peaceful residents were at risk. As a result, many in the Haitian Christian Diaspora developed a spirit of fear about going to Haiti and began to put down deeper roots in America. Pastors started to buy church buildings instead of renting. Others thought of building, but by now the cost of real estate had soared to prohibitive levels. And suddenly the churches became aware of a new challenge: a rapidly growing generation that carried Haitian blood in its veins, but whose minds and feeling were no longer Haitian, but American. This generation felt uncomfortable in the church of their mothers or grandmothers, leading to a new era.
In the mid-1980s, Samuel Laborde (now a pastor in Florida) and some youth leaders at the First Haitian Baptist Church of Boston began to organize youth conventions that attracted participants from near and far. Many of them were young adults who had a thirst for fellowship and a hunger for a word from God that would meet them right at their cross-cultural hang-ups. In 1988, Mrs. Emmeline Védrine started organizing children’s conventions that attracted hundreds of children from a few local churches. When the Védrine’s church, the Boston Missionary Baptist Church, got more involved in the construction of its new sanctuary, and the congregation had to move temporarily to a new location, the children’s movement slowed down. Yet, quietly, within the same church, two youth groups were developing: one led by Mrs. Myreille Daniel, and the other by Mr. and Mrs. Eliezer Romeus. While the latter kept its ministry mostly within the church, except for choir trips to Canada, the former became, little by little, a community ministry.
By 1993, Mrs. Daniel held the first youth congress at Boston Missionary Baptist with the participation of youth and youth leaders from various local churches. It is said that about 800 were in attendance. The next year’s attendance grew to between 2000 and 3000 young people, and large halls had to be used. Mrs. Daniel and her successor, Mr. Samuel Louis, soon created new activities for the youth with speakers and worship leaders who understood their language, their culture, and their issues.
The new generation of Haitian-Americans began to feel at home in traditional African-American churches, whose subculture they had been sharing for many years. New Covenant Church in Mattapan and Morning Star Baptist Church, also in Mattapan, became their new havens. Again, new churches arose to respond to the new challenge: Mrs. Daniel and her husband Paul founded the North Shore Missionary Baptist Church. At the same time, new programs arose in mainline churches with youth concerts, youth camp, youth seminars, and youth services in English. At Boston Missionary Baptist Church, we give the youth one Sunday a month. On that day they join the adult service, lead the program in their own language and style, and the youth minister preaches in English. For the rest of the month, the youth have their own English service in the church basement. The encouraging news is that many of the new generation members confess that, at heart, they are true Haitians, but they face different needs than their fathers and mothers and must be ministered to in a different way. Among those who understand them and minister to them besides those mentioned above may we add Maestro Donald Laroche, Mr. Joel Jocelyn, Miss Marie Elene Védrine, Miss Martha Florence Védrine, Rev. Jean Michelet St. Fort, Rev. Marc Simeon, Miss Ketsia Noel, and Miss Rachel St. Louis.
In looking back over the growth of the Haitian church in Greater Boston, we see that the number of churches kept increasing over the years as follows:
year 1 1969 3 1973 16 1985 54 2004
During that period, the Haitian population in Greater Boston grew from a few hundreds to about 70,000 today. The church population grew from a few scores to about 15,000, distributed among 54 churches, scattered over a 20-mile radius. Yet, we also know that a high percentage of the population has heard the Gospel through the faithful work of radio programs, such as Echo Evangelique, Christ est la Response, Christ est le Chemin, L ‘Heure de la Priere, La Voix de l’Evangile a Boston, etc. Also, many have heard through the large crusades in Boston organized every year by a coalition of pastors since 1993, and attended by as many as 2000 to 3000 people. Countless others have heard through some 40 to 50 annual revival programs held by churches large and small bringing in fiery preachers, often from the homeland. Christ’s truth is still marching on, and we’re sure He’ll give the victory.
The Boston experience has spread to many other places, especially among the Haitians of the Bahamas, where teams of Haitian Christians from Boston spend a week in Nassau providing both spiritual and medical help to the Haitian exiles there.
In 1998, I was led by God to initiate a new movement: “The Global Vision of Protestantism in the Haitian Milieu,” a gathering every five years of key Haitian church leaders worldwide to reflect on the status of the Gospel in their locality, and especially in the homeland (see Vision Globale).
To God be the glory,
Rev. Dr. Soliny Védrine,
Haitian Christians Gather for the 200th Anniversary of Haitian Independence
January 1, 2004, marked the 200th anniversary of Haiti’s independence. In 1804, Haiti became the first black republic and the second independent nation in the Western Hemisphere. Under the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the first successful slave revolt defeated the French colonial armies.
Under French rule the slaves were not allowed to eat Soup Joumou or squash soup. After independence, eating Soup Joumou became a traditional way of celebrating the anniversary of independence. This January, while some Haitians celebrated the anniversary of independence the traditional way by eating their Soup Joumou, other Haitians in Boston held a 12-hour fast to pray for their native country. In Boston, Rev. Dr. Soliny Védrine spoke at a Protestant church gathering which marked the historic milestone. Also, newly appointed Archbishop O’Malley led a special service in Creole at Holy Cross Cathedral.
In Haiti, 100,000
Christians gathered in a sports arena in the capital of Port-au-Prince to
celebrate the 200th anniversary and to dedicate the country to Christ. The
celebration in Haiti was sponsored by HAVIDEC, a cooperative movement of all the
major Protestant churches, denominations and organizations. This collaborative
organization is seeking to bring about a spiritual deliverance of Haiti on the
occasion of its 200th anniversary. The program at the gathering included
singing, Scripture reading, and reports from the Haitian church both at home and
abroad. World Vision’s leader in
Haiti spoke on the history and independence in light of the Bible. Also, Joe
White, a Promise Keepers evangelist, spoke on “Who Christ Is.” Rev. Chavannes Jeune, Coordinator of HAVIDEC, chose representatives
from all walks of life—from lawyers to street sweepers—to symbolize the unity of
the Body of Christ and the importance of everyone in God’s plan for Haiti. These
representatives and a great many pastors came forward for the dedication
“Thanksgiving was then given to God for the liberty believers have in Christ. This was followed by the reading of a formal statement carefully prepared by a group chosen by HAVIDEC composed of Haitian evangelical theologians and attorneys in which the country was dedicated to God the Creator who sent his Son as Lord and Savior.”* Haitian leaders see their effort as a spiritual battle against the forces of darkness, including voodoo, and, in this case, spiritual victory was evidenced by the conversion of thousands during the celebration event.
Now, just weeks after this joyous gathering, Haiti is seething again from rebel attacks against the Aristide government, again putting the welfare of tens of thousands of Haitians in jeopardy as food supplies and services are being affected, and rebels reportedly hold a dozen towns. By mid-February, the international community was calling for Aristide to end the violence and promote a plan for peace in Haiti, while violence continued to escalate. On February 29, Aristide left the country. Troops from the U.S., Canada and France are now arriving in Haiti to try to maintain the peace as leaders in Haiti and worldwide wonder who will lead the nation now.
* Jim Uttley, “While Some Haitians Protest, Others Praise God’s Goodness: A New Revolution has Begun for Haiti’s Third Century,” Assist News Service, 8 January 2004, 2.
The Haitian Research Library of the Emmanuel Research Institute
Thanks to the tireless efforts and generous donation of Marilyn Mason, the Emmanuel Research Institute is able to make available to the public the resources of the Haitian Research Library. This collection includes many reports, periodical articles, news articles, dissertations and other printed resources. Most of the ten doctoral dissertations deal with issues of concern to Haitian American immigrants. From the Washington Office on Haiti, the library has a very extensive series of the publications of the Haitian News and Resource Service. The Haitian Research Library covers topics like Haitian immigration to the U.S., Europe, the Caribbean, Canada and to specific areas in Florida, New York and Massachusetts (Boston). There are extensive reports on Haitians and U.S. immigration issues and policies.
Coverage includes elections, human rights, and recent history in Haiti. Other articles deal with economic, social and health conditions in Haiti and the development efforts to address needs in these areas. Some material covers the art, culture and history of Haiti. The collection also contains useful information on religion in Haiti and the Haitian American community. The collection is available for study at Emmanuel Gospel Center, 2 San Juan Street, Boston, by appointment. Contact Rudy Mitchell at 617-262-4567.
EGC's Haitian Ministries International
Rev. Dr. Soliny Védrine, Director of EGC's outreach to the Haitian community, was hired by EGC in 1985 at the request of Haitian church leaders to help strengthen and support the work of Haitian churches in Greater Boston.
In the past 35 years, the number of Haitian churches in Boston has grown from none—there were two Haitian Bible studies in 1968, but no churches—to 54 in 2004. And the Haitian churches in Boston are still growing; some churches are looking to expand to larger facilities. At one Haitian church for example, there were 15 people baptized last fall, five of whom were under the age of 18. According to Martha Védrine, a Haitian youth worker and Rev. Védrine's daughter, churchgoing, for Haitians, can be merely a cultural expectation. But there is an exciting, new climate of faith. "We're developing a culture where faith is personal," she says.
Rev. Dr. Védrine continues to provide support, guidance, coordination, and vision for Haitian church leaders internationally. EGC's Haitian Ministries International seeks to support the growing desire in the Haitian community to work together in both spiritual and social areas:
For more information on EGC’s Haitian Ministries International, contact Rev. Dr. Soliny Védrine at 617.262.4567.
Haitian Research Resources on the Web
Contains information on the recent conference (Nov. 2003) and its speakers, as well as the background history and vision for the gatherings. The topics and material from the 1998 Vision Globale conference are also included.
- Bible Gateway Creole Bible – a searchable version
- (find link) Bible Data Creole Bible – direct access to any chapter in the Creole Bible
A Christian Vision for Haiti in its Third Century / Haiti Vision Du Troisieme Centenaire. This website presents the vision and specific outline of detailed objectives and plans by a collaboration of Christian organizations to impact Haiti for Christ as the country begins its third century.
The HaitiCentral website in general has many annotated links on a variety of subjects. Under the Religion section there are five pages of church and ministry links, many annotated.
Haitian Christian radio website that makes broadcasts available through the web. It also has news items, links, and other features of general interest.
This very extensive, alphabetical directory provides links and brief descriptions of Haitian related websites on a variety of topics.
This online book is one of the series of country studies produced by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. It is an “attempt to treat in a compact and objective manner the dominant contemporary social, political, economic and military aspects of Haiti.”
This is an extensive listing with links to electronic texts in Creole. It also includes Haitian Creole language related resources (for example on literacy).
An online clearinghouse on ministry to the Haitian Diaspora. Includes a Journal of Haitian Ministry with some useful content though the textual layout is poor.
The Trinity College Haiti Program (Washington, D.C.) has created this attractive website with good basic historical and general information on Haiti and Haitian Americans. It has excellent snapshot profiles of the Haitian American communities in Atlanta, Delray Beach, Detroit, Washington, and Boston.
The official website of the Republic of Haiti and the Embassy in Washington.
A basic table of resource organizations which provide services to Haitians in Greater Boston. Includes brief descriptions and addresses and phone numbers.
Florida 233,881 Greater Miami 158,011 New York (state) 160,319 New York CMSA* 204,561 Massachusetts 43,576 New Jersey 39,902
*New York CMSA (Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area) includes parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Other New England States (Mass. listed above):
Other States with significant Haitian populations:
Number of Haitian
Americans in the U.S.: 548,199
Other estimates give the number of Haitian Americans as 2.5 to 3.0 million
Emmanuel Research Review, copyright © 2004-2011, Emmanuel Gospel Center. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint any or all of this newsletter, contact , Senior Researcher, by e-mail or write to us (address below).
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PO Box 180245
Boston MA 02118-0994
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