When the Faith of Our Fathers Collides with the Culture of our Children

While it is the nature of teens to consider their parents to be “out of touch” and the nature of older people to complain about the younger generation, the biblical mandate to pass the faith on to our children becomes extremely difficult in immigrant communities where younger people rapidly assimilate into a culture very different from their parents’. While this is not a new issue, to those experiencing the conflict, it is an issue that seems to threaten the very future of their faith.

In July, 2008, Drew Winkler, a Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary graduate, began working at EGC with Pastor Soliny Védrine, director of EGC’s Haitian Ministries International, sharing concerns, praying, and thinking about vision together. Because Drew has always had a heart for youth ministry, he was especially attentive to issues related to Haitian youth. One issue that grabbed his attention was the apparent growing divide between first generation Haitians (those who were born in Haiti and immigrated to the U.S. as adults) and second generation Haitians (children of first generation Haitians, born and raised in the U.S.).

Second generation Haitian youth don’t feel incorporated into their parents’ Haitian churches, and many of them look for other churches where they feel more at home. “Sometimes these youth will attend a non-Haitian church, such as Jubilee Christian Church in Mattapan, a predominately Black church that has many Haitian congregants. Other times the youth will leave the church altogether,” Drew says. Drew began discussing his concerns with his wife, Sherly, a 1.5 generation Haitian (someone born in Haiti but raised in the U.S.) and with their 1.5 and second-generation Haitian friends. He began to watch for the issue wherever he went.

In May 2009, Drew got the green light to begin in-depth research as part of his work at EGC. Drew jumped into the work with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of plans for doing focus groups and conducting other forms of research, but all this was shelved once he realized that before he could study the Haitian community, he needed to first build strong relationships with Haitian pastors and leaders, both stateside and abroad. So Drew shadowed Pastor Sol, met with local Haitian pastors, and last year, accompanied Sol on trips to The Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, meeting Haitian leaders and youth there.

At the end of the summer, Drew began helping a local Haitian pastor with English language needs. In the process, Drew unexpectedly learned more about the perspective and values of first generation Haitians. Like many first generation Haitians, this pastor’s focus is to help Haitians come to the U.S. and understand the culture, find jobs, and learn how to become a part of society. The church’s work with the youth in their congregation focuses on helping newcomers and their children understand the language and navigate the school system. Drew’s understanding of dynamics in the Haitian church in Boston began to deepen as he worked with this pastor. “Even though we didn’t specifically talk about the second generation, just seeing the pastor’s focus and vision was really eye-opening,” he says. “There was definitely a need in his church which they were meeting.” But Drew was concerned that the church was unintentionally overlooking the needs of second generation Haitian youth.

Drew meets often with a young Haitian man working in the church community. They talk about issues they encounter, and especially first and second generation issues. “Because I have the unique perspective of being inside and outside, I’m able to help him think through decisions he’s making,” Drew says. “I can also challenge him by saying, ‘Hey, this is what first generation leaders are upset with, and you’re not purposely doing it, but this is how it can be taken.’”

After more than a year building relationships, Drew was ready to revisit some of the goals he had when he began, like organizing focus groups, or gathering leaders. But then came the earthquake, and the priorities for ministry suddenly changed. It is too soon to tell where Drew will go with this research. Meanwhile, he continues to build relationships with Haitians of all ages as they daily respond to the new pressures brought on by January’s tragedy.

by Grace Lee