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Haitian pastor opens church to victims

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (BP)–He couldn’t find the words to pray. He could only sing.

Haitian pastor Ronel Mesidor had left his Port-au-Prince office at Compassion International, a Christian child advocacy ministry, at 4:30 p.m. Jan. 12 to drive to his home in nearby Carrefour. Before he was halfway there, the 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck, claiming the lives of more than 150,000 people.

Dusk soon settled over the chaotic city. Shocked and grief-stricken people, crumbled buildings, crushed cars and dead bodies made streets impassable, so Mesidor continued home on foot.

Feeling his way through the darkness and devastation, Mesidor, pastor of Concord Baptist Church, sang every song that came to mind while walking during what he described as the longest night of his life.

“First, I tried to call my family on my cell phone,” Mesidor said in Creole through a translator. “It was difficult because communication was down. I also tried to call the church, but I couldn’t reach anyone.”

It was the next morning before Mesidor arrived at his church in Carrefour, a Port-au-Prince suburb about 12 miles south of the capital. He heaved a sigh of relief when he found his wife Manise there, unhurt. He soon learned his five children were OK as well. Miraculously, the church and his house, located on the same block, were intact.

But the earthquake has taken its toll on the 250-member Concord congregation. Eight church members died as a result of the disaster, leaving four children orphans. In addition, 100 members suffered broken bones, 130 homes were destroyed and 45 damaged.

People who had lost their homes soon began arriving at the church — they had nowhere else to go. Manise, a nurse, turned the Mesidor home into a clinic to care for the injured. When space ran out, the pastor opened the church.

“I think God left us alive for a special reason,” Mesidor said. “Because these people need someone to take care of them.”

Carrefour is known as a dangerous place to live because of gang violence and other crime. Plus, nearly 4,000 inmates escaped from a nearby prison damaged in the earthquake. But Mesidor has noticed a change in the community since Jan. 12 — people are more subdued. Regardless, these are the people the pastor is dedicated to serving.

“I still believe we should show them the love of Christ,” he says. “Once they understand who God is, they will know how to love others. This is why the church is here.”

People continue flocking to the church in search of medical care, food and a word of encouragement. It has become a hub of grassroots relief activity. One of the pastor’s friends with medical experience is treating people in the makeshift clinic set up in the sanctuary. Manise helps prepare food for all the workers. And church members help clear rubble around the building.

Relief has started to arrive from other sources as well. Dominican Baptist and Southern Baptist assessment teams have visited the church and delivered supplies.

International Mission Board missionary Dawn Goodwin, who has worked with Mesidor, says the church is being used as a distribution center for supplies sent by Baptists in the Dominican Republic. It is one of several churches the Dominican Baptist Convention is assisting following the quake.

“He’s extremely organized,” Goodwin says of Mesidor. “On his own, he sent people out to seek information from all these other churches” in and beyond the epicenter — such as damage to churches, church members’ homes, injuries and deaths.

“He’s a young, up-and-coming leader in the convention [Baptist Convention of Haiti],” Goodwin continues. “He goes out of his way [to help], not just for his own church…. He’s very self-sacrificing.”

The Mesidors have 12 additional people living in their home now, including four children they’ve taken in. Three are orphans of deceased church members. And 20 people are sleeping inside the church, 40 on the church grounds and others in the Mesidors’ car or on their porch. But they all have a place to call home. Each night, Mesidor leads a small worship service.

“Every night we meet together and tell jokes,” Mesidor says, to find comfort and relieve stress. “And after that, we pray and sing together.”

Mesidor says he believes good can come from this tragic earthquake. More than anything, he prays that Haitians will find hope in God.
Tristan Taylor is a writer for the IMB in the Americas.

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