On April 17, 2021, the Evansville First Church accepted 15 new members of the Haitian group on profession of faith. Pictured back row from right to left: Ginette Jean Pierre (mother), Victor Lorry Jean Pierre (baby), Guy Jean Pierre, Jose Gonzalez( Pastor), Jude Chalet, Jude Jr. Chalet, Eva Chalet, Judiana Chalet, Jephte S. Beaubrun. Front row, left to right: Katiana Chalet, Gleenna Jean Pierre, Payson A. Beaubrun, Kimberly Jean Pierre, Samuelle Chalet. |Photo credit: Debbie Burns
It turns out, other Haitians were following a similar path, coming from bigger cities in Florida and New York where they were experiencing a shrinking job market. In the southern Indiana area where Evansville is located, just five miles across the Kentucky state line, they found manufacturing jobs in the auto and meat-packing industries. “We’re paying less for housing and making more money,” explains Jephte, who goes by the name Simon. He works as an instructor helping businesses implement Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.
Before long, Evansville First Church Pastor Jose Gonzalez noticed that the Haitians attending Sabbath School were paying keen attention but were not really understanding the lessons in English. It was something Simon, who’s multilingual, noticed as well. When the pastor approached the group with the idea of having their own class, they leapt at the opportunity.
From there the church started ordering Sabbath School lessons in French and Creole and then offered to have the Haitian group begin worshipping in the adjacent community center.
The group became more organized with one of the Haitian families donating a piano. Microphones were purchased. Guest speakers began preaching.
In Dec. 2020, they celebrated their first anniversary and even picked out a name for the church.
A week before the anniversary celebration they asked members to pray for a name and on the day, each person wrote their preferred name on a piece of paper and put the names in a basket. They sung and prayed. Then, a child plucked out one of the folded up papers.
The group's name would be Shekinah, meaning the glory of the Divine presence of God. For Simon, it was meaningful, considering Covid and all they had been through. “God has kept us going.”
Since resuming their in-person worship last August, he says they have noticed that their numbers have dropped. “Members are staying home to worship.”
Yet, with the closest Haitian church three hours away in Louisville, Kentucky, they’re determined to stay the course. After all, they say, they have a big job to do. “We’ve seen many things trying to affect us but we’re praying for God to watch over our community.”
There are enormous opportunities for evangelizing the burgeoning Haitian population.
“We now have two restaurants and in many businesses you hear the languages spoken,” he notes. “People are coming. They’re buying houses. Evangelism will give us a big opportunity to minister to more people and we’re seeking ideas of ways in which to do it. We’re planning to print up leaflets to leave at Haitian businesses. Reaching out is the big thing for us now.”
On April 17, 2021, the Evansville First Church accepted 15 new members of the Haitian group on profession of faith. The long-term goal is to form a Haitian or French-speaking church, with French-Creole-speaking leadership.
Pastor Jose Gonzales who has been ministering at the Evansville First Church for the last two years says that he and the members are excited to help launch another church. In 2003 they birthed the Spanish church and this is a continuation of a tradition of welcoming emerging immigrant groups.
Although this good news comes with mixed feelings, Pastor Gonzales admits.
“We want to reach out to all the people groups and with this we’re separating. It would be nice to keep everyone worshipping together but we understand the need to worship in the native language.
“I’m glad to see that we are able to get the gospel message out into the community. It’s the spirit of Evansville [First Church] to get the gospel to the community.”