GRACEVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Riveted to the television when he heard of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake in his native Haiti, Jean “Junior” Jovin waited four long days to finally hear that his immediate family members survived the quake.
And then the unfathomable became real as the 26-year-old college student saw images that his mind could hardly grasp.
“You see a big pile of debris that you know is a four-story building and you know that there were a number of people that you know were going to school there,” Jovin said of his former high school. “This is just flattened down. It would have been full of students….
“I just pray to God and at least try to get an answer,” Jovin, an education major at The Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, said in an interview with the Florida Baptist Witness Jan. 18.
Although ever-mindful that “God is faithful and just, and He’s been good to my family,” Jovin said he is finding it difficult to get past the images of others who have not fared as well.
“One of my friends lost his whole family,” Jovin said. “His mom and his sisters.”
Jovin, even though relieved to hear about his own family, admits he is overwhelmed by the situation.
The youngest of four, most of Jovin’s immediate family is in Haiti. His mother, Agagathe Louis Jacques, in her 60s, and three sisters, Marie Prinvil, Nancie Jovin and Marie Lucienne Jovin, are all in Port-au-Prince.
Prinvil is well-known among many Florida Baptists as a former staff member of the Florida Baptist Convention, for the orphanage she operates in Haiti and for her ties to the Cabaret Baptist Children’s Home operated by the Jacksonville Baptist Association where she has volunteered.
“If someone told me that my mom would be living in the streets today with my sisters, I would say, ‘No way!'” Jovin said.
“Hearing they don’t have food or water, there are sick and injured people all around them and the smell of dead people, it’s just a terrible situation,” Jovin said. “Haiti was desperately not prepared for anything. We are not ready.”
Jovin’s brother, DeJean Jovin, meanwhile, lives in Jacksonville, Fla., where he is a member of Arlington Baptist Church. He was granted political asylum in the U.S. years ago.
Jovin said it is comforting to know that individuals like his host family in America and other Florida Baptists are prepared to help. “I have a lot of friends who are praying. Prayer is a powerful tool and other than that, there’s not much people can do right now.”
Still waiting for information about relatives on his dad’s side of the family and his larger extended family, Jovin said, “I have to be prepared to hear some bad news, because communication is just so hard…. I’m just hoping when I hear from them that everything will be OK.”
Patty Melvin, Jovin’s host mom in Marianna, Fla., said she and her husband decided six years ago after traveling to Haiti they should offer Jovin a home so he could study to be a teacher. Jovin served as an interpreter for the couple and three of their five sons when they were on a mission trip to the impoverished country. In addition to Jovin, the Melvins, members of First Baptist Church in Marianna, have five boys and three girls.
“He was just incredible,” Melvin said of Jovin. “We had never seen anybody who could work with kids like that.”
After a year’s wrangling with government officials in Haiti, Jovin was granted an education visa and allowed to live with the Melvin family and attend school. His plans were to return to Haiti to continue to teach, Melvin said.
When the earthquake hit, everyone at the Melvin home stood riveted around the television.
“It was almost like when the twin towers fell,” Melvin said of the shock of watching the tragedy in Haiti unfold on TV. “Junior started thinking about his family. He tried to get his family on the phone and … couldn’t get through. It was very emotional.”
The family prayed together the next morning for safety of Jovin’s family, for Haiti. There was little else anyone could do, Melvin said.
“That was the hard part because he is a very quiet person anyway and there was nothing else we could do,” Melvin said. And as word spread throughout the church and community, Melvin said the support was instantaneous. “It’s just a blessing to see how many people really, really pray for him and the safety of his mom and his sisters.”
Melvin said he and his family and church will continue to monitor the situation and pray and seek to help in any way they can.
And as for Jovin, who this week began another semester of classes at BCF, the thoughts of Haiti are “devastating” and yet he is holding on to the hope that comes from knowing the power of prayer.
“I am encouraged that people are trying to help, people who live in the U.S.,” Jovin said. “That I’m thankful for.”
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness (www.gofbw.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist State Convention.
Southern Baptists can contribute to “Haiti Earthquake Disaster Relief” through their local church or directly to their state convention, the North American Mission Board (www.namb.net) or the International Mission Board (www.imb.org):
— The Florida Baptist Convention has established a Haiti earthquake relief fund, available online at www.flbaptist.org. Donations also may be sent to Florida Baptist Convention, 1230 Hendricks Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32257. Designate on check “Haitian Earthquake relief.” For more information, call 800-226-8584, ext. 3135; or 904-596-3135.
— The North American Mission Board has set up a Haiti disaster relief fund that will direct money to state conventions and other Southern Baptists who are doing relief work in Haiti. Donations may be made online, www.NAMB.net, by phone, 1-866-407-6262, or by mail, North American Mission Board, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Make checks payable to “Haiti Disaster Relief Fund/NAMB.”
— Initial funding for the relief effort will come from the International Mission Board’s disaster relief fund. Contributions can be made online, www.imb.org, or by mail, International Mission Board, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230.
Regardless of the SBC channel, all funds received for this purpose will go to relief efforts; none will be used for administrative costs.