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Florida leadership conference equips Haitian Southern Baptist churches

Haitians Southern Baptists gathered last month for worship and training. Photo by Candid Studio

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. (BP) – The 500 Haitian churches within the Southern Baptist Convention are thriving and flourishing, ready to help the SBC push back darkness in the U.S. and abroad, Florida Baptist Convention (FBC) Haitian Church Catalyst John Voltaire believes.

“We are ready to help push back darkness, serve our communities and be an integral part of the family of Southern Baptists,” said Florida Baptist Convention Haitian Church Catalyst John Voltaire. Photo from Candid Studio

He saw the vibrancy of the community at the FBC Haitian Church Leadership Conference that drew 1,300 people from at least 125 Haitian churches, including Haitian-American pastors from Florida and other states.

“We are ready to help push back darkness, serve our communities and be an integral part of the family of Southern Baptists,” Voltaire told Baptist Press. “Just like every other culture, (our desire) is really to see Haitians come to know Christ, and make sure that we use that platform as a tool to continue to reach the community and the world for Jesus.”

Themed “Cultivate,” the conference focused on training and developing church leaders through preaching, teaching and 30 different breakout sessions March 18 at Parkridge Baptist Church in Coral Springs. Held annually for a decade, the conference is the largest gathering of FBC Haitian churches for leadership training in the nation.

“One of the things we always hope pastors get is to see they are not alone. They don’t have to do ministry by themselves,” Voltaire said. “There are tools and people, resources available out there for them, specifically within SBC life and specifically within the FBC.”

Haitian American pastors are largely bivocational, Voltaire said.

“They need assistance within their pastoral ministry,” he said. “Lending that extra hand to help them delegate, to help them to be able to do ministry. I know they’re passionate about doing this, but they’re not fulltime in ministry, and that takes away from how effective they could be.”

The event drew leaders from across the SBC, exhibiting a unity Voltaire appreciates. Among leaders were Florida Baptist Convention Executive Director/Treasurer Tommy Green, National African Fellowship of the SBC President Frank Williams, SBC Executive Committee Associate Vice President for Black Church Relations Charles Grant, and Mark Croston, national director of Black church partnerships for Lifeway Christian Resources.

More than 1,300 people from at least 125 Haitian churches attended the event. Photo from Candid Studio

“That showed unity,” Voltaire said, “that at the end of the day, regardless of what’s going on around the world and in our country nationally, the Southern Baptists are surely a family, and not only a family, but it’s a big family of diverse backgrounds. And I thought that was really good.”

While about 75 percent of SBC Haitian congregations are in Florida, others are in New York, New Jersey, New England, Georgia and Louisiana.

Supporting the FBC in reaching Haitian congregations is important to Southern Baptist life, said Grant, who led breakout sessions on discipleship.

“John Voltaire demonstrated tremendous leadership and mobilization to gather facilitators for the very timely breakout sessions,” Grant said. “What encouraged me most was the number of next-generation participants who desire to follow Jesus in making disciples. This conference elevated the critical task of making disciples to advance the Great Commission. The atmosphere was electrifying and edifying.

“I’m very thankful to Dr. Tommy Green and the FBC for their investment in the work of Haitian churches.”

Evens Jules, conference presenter and president of the Florida Haitian Baptist Fellowship, appreciated the diversity of topics the event covered. Jules, senior pastor of Bethel Evangelical Baptist Church in Delray Beach, led a seminar on the biblical concept of deacons.

“When we send our members, our leaders,” said Jules, “they have the opportunity to be trained in the specific area where they are working. So when we send a group of people, we know for sure when they go, they will get some specific information that they can use in their ministry.”

Haitian pastors are bilingual, and Voltaire sees this as a benefit to Southern Baptist work abroad. Florida Haitian churches partner with about 2,000 congregations in Haiti through the Fellowship of Baptist Churches in Haiti, and are conducting evangelism to reach Quebec, Canada, through a partnership with churches in Montreal.

“The fact that Haitians speak Haitian Creole and French,” Voltaire said, “Haitians can be very efficient in reaching a good part of Europe and North African countries as well, and also a good chunk of Canada.”