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Former Haitian church leader safe, but homeless

The Rev. Raphael Dessieu is safe but homeless after the Jan. 12 earthquake. UMNS photos courtesy of Caryl Kelley, Florida Conference.

A UMNS Report
By Jenna De Marco*

Jan. 15, 2010

The Rev. Raphael Dessieu said he is alive, but homeless.

Dessieu, the former president of the Methodist Church of Haiti, sent that message in an e-mail on Jan. 13, a day after a 7-magnitude earthquake struck the island nation.

“My family and I are alive, sleeping in the street, as home and items are all gone. It is not safe, so please pray,” he wrote.

The Rev. Dionne Hammond, associate pastor at East Lake United Methodist Church in Tampa, shared Dessieu’s message with the Florida Annual (regional) Conference communications staff. She visited Dessieu in Haiti in November 2009 on behalf of the Florida Conference.

Dessieu’s house was near the widely publicized, and partially collapsed, presidential palace in Port-au-Prince, Hammond said.

Many in the Florida Conference know Dessieu. He and Florida Conference Bishop Timothy Whitaker signed the Haiti/Florida Covenant in 2006.

The Rev. Raphael Dessieu
(right) and Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker sign the Haiti-Florida Covenant in 2006.

Dessieu has been waiting for a work visa that will allow him to serve as pastor of Faith Community Haitian United Methodist Mission in Tampa. Whitaker appointed Dessieu there in July 2009, but lacking a work visa has stalled his arrival, Hammond reported.

Prayer vigil offers hope

Hammond preached at a “Hope for Haiti” prayer vigil on Jan. 14 at Wellspring United Methodist Church in Tampa.

Hope is what Haiti will need in the coming days and weeks as the country faces the implications of being unable to attend to those who have died, said Patience Nave, secretary of the Haiti/Florida Covenant. Nave said her numerous trips to Haiti have taught her that many Haitians take their burial practices seriously.

It is difficult to imagine, Nave said, “how hard it is for these people who have such a strong sense of family to leave their dead relatives in the streets.”

Frustration continues

As news of the earthquake spread around the world, Julie Fleurinor felt a sense of frustration about what she could do to help. Fleurinor, who was born in Haiti, attends Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Chicago. She traveled to the Caribbean country with Nave in 2008.

“The hard thing about this is that I feel so helpless,” she said.

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Although there are many immediate needs in Haiti, Fleurinor hopes her education and knowledge of Haiti may help her be a part of its long-term recovery.

“I think God is raising up all the Haitians who are here (in the United States),” she said. “We’ve been trying for such a time as this. This is our Esther moment. … God does still love the Haitians, and God has not forgotten about us.”

*De Marco is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

Media Contact: Kathy Noble, 615-742-5441 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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