Thursday, February 11, 2010

Haitian-American Brethren experience losses, grief following earthquake.

Haitian-American Church of the Brethren congregations in the United States have been experiencing a period of grief and loss since the earthquake that hit Haiti on Jan. 12. Many Haitian-American Brethren have lost family members in the disaster, and some have still not heard from their family in Haiti.

"We have people who have lost loved ones" said pastor Ludovic St. Fleur of Eglise des Freres Haitiens in Miami, Fla. "Many...about close to 50 people who have lost loved ones. Brothers, sisters, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, close relatives...." All of the Haitian-Brethren congregations in Florida have lost loved ones, he added.

Atlantic Southeast District currently includes five congregations in Florida whose members are primarily of Haitian background: Eglise des Freres Haitiens in Miami; Orlando Haitian Fellowship, led by pastor Renel Exceus; Naples Haitian Church, led by pastor Fredette Pharisian; West Palm Beach Haitian Fellowship, led by pastor Lucien Eliezer, and Unify Church of the Brethren in North Miami Beach, led by pastor Banon Louis.

First Church of the Brethren in Miami, led by pastor Ray Hileman, also includes a number of members of Haitian background.

On the Friday after the earthquake hit, the Miami area congregations joined together for a time of prayer held at Eglise des Freres Haitiens. About two hours were spent in singing and prayer.

"For myself only, I lost about 14 people of my close family members," said Renel Exceus, pastor of Orlando Haitian Fellowship, in a report to Atlantic Southeast District. He highlighted the overwhelming experience of loss for Haitian-Americans. "No one knows yet how many of parents or close family have died in this catastrophe. We do know thousands of Haitian people have trauma problems, and all the survival needs. (They need) immediate assistance in their basic needs. We are all affected. Please keep us in your prayers, that's all we can ask."

Some people from St. Fleur's congregation have been able to travel to Haiti to see their family following the earthquake. He himself took part in the Church of the Brethren delegation to Haiti that arrived soon after the disaster, in his role as coordinator of the Brethren mission in Haiti.

"Yes, we do need support" in Miami, St. Fleur said. He and his congregation are working to organize support for the local Haitian community. "We just need to reach them personally, to give them help," he said. He also sees a need, now that some weeks have passed since the disaster, to keep the community focused on the long-term. "We're organizing to keep them focused on Haiti."

In Atlantic Northeast District, three members of Haitian First Church of New York died in the earthquake, and many more members have lost close family, reported pastor Verel Montauban. He talked about the situation of the congregation in a phone call with denominational staff late last week.

"There are almost 75 people in this community who have had people, loved ones die in Haiti," Montauban said. "So it is a crisis.... We have had a big problem."

Some members of Haitian First Church are dealing with the knowledge that their family members in Haiti survived the earthquake but lost their homes, and are now homeless. There are still church members who have been unable to get in contact with their relatives in Haiti. And, Montauban added, "There are a lot of people who survived the earthquake, but now they have died. It is very difficult."

Haitian First also is now hosting a family assistance center for Haitians in the New York area, in cooperation with the American Red Cross and the New York Disaster Interfaith Services. The program is funded by a $5,000 grant from the Church of the Brethren's Emergency Disaster Fund. "Every day we see more than 60 to 65 people here, coming for help," Montauban said. "Some of them lost their loved ones in Haiti, they are coming for counseling."

Montauban himself has been trying to get a flight into Haiti to assess earthquake damage to a school that he helped start there, and to find out how the teachers are coping. "The people in the school don't have anywhere to sleep," he said, "they are in the street."

A neighboring congregation to Haitian First Church is Brooklyn's First Church of the Brethren, which also includes some families of Haitian background. Three families related to the church lost close relatives in the earthquake, one who died of injuries after the earthquake because she did not receive the medical care she needed. "Yes, we've been in prayer, we've been in anguish," said pastor Jonathan Bream.

The Brooklyn First congregation has been walking alongside members of Haitian descent, as well as others who are "on the fringe" of the congregation, Bream said. One affiliated member still had not heard anything from family in Haiti, as of last week.

Brooklyn First member Doris Abdullah visited Haitian First Church to have prayer with the congregation following the earthquake. "I went over to have prayer with their congregation...and it was I that came away cheered up by their prayers and good will," she said. "In the midst of so much horror within their birth land, they remain steadfast in their love of a just and merciful God."

Miami First Church, where four or five members are of Haitian background, and several more are of Haitian-Dominican background, held a time of prayer and sharing in place of the sermon during a recent Sunday morning worship service. The sharing time was "where people could talk," said pastor Ray Hileman. One member there lost up to 18 people from his extended family in the earthquake. "Beyond that the news has been fairly good" for other members of the church, Hileman said.

Miami First has been focusing on the home rebuilding effort, he added, and is raising funds with a goal of paying for two of the new homes being built in Haiti by Brethren Disaster Ministries. Members of the congregation are involved in supporting two schools in Haiti, one of which was out of the quake zone and undamaged, but the other had a building collapse.

Members of his church "dearly want to get down get there to help," Hileman said. "Our big concern, I keep hearing it time and time again, is let's stay on this--because pretty soon people are going to start to forget. Not people in the church, but others. We need to keep it before us."

Source: 2/11/2010 Newsline

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