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It was the spring of 2018.  

A Haitian gentleman visited our church and sat in on my Sunday School class. After class, as I was getting ready to preach during our worship & celebration, this gentleman came and introduced himself to me.  

Gesley Jean-Louis is a believer and follower of Jesus Christ. Gesley had moved to Florida from Haiti about a decade earlier. He, with his wife Celianie and their two children, live in Lehigh Acres, just east of Fort Myers, Florida. They had begun a Bible study in their living room with the hopes of establishing a new church for Haitian immigrants. They were praying and asking the Lord to provide a partner and a space where they could plant this new church. 

Allow me to take you back even further, it was 2014.   

My wife, Kelly, and I were living in East Asia with our three kids. We were serving there with ABWE. It was becoming apparent that our time in East Asia was coming to a close. Before moving halfway around the world, I had served the Lord as a pastor in Michigan, and I assumed that the Lord would lead us back to a church in Michigan. As I began to think about a renewed pastoral ministry in the US, I could not deny the burden that I had gained through my years of cross-cultural ministry in East Asia.   

The Burden for Cross-Cultural Ministry

The Holy Spirit laid upon my heart a burden to cross cultures without necessarily crossing any borders. I knew that in Michigan there are many opportunities to do that as communities are flooded with immigrants from other nations.   

The specific burden was to assist a new church plant, specifically an ethnic church plant that would be able to reach the growing number of immigrants in whatever geographic area the Lord led us to serve.   

I’ll admit that I initially assumed that it would be a Spanish-speaking ministry, and that assumption grew even more firm in my mind when God led us, not back to Michigan, but to Daniels Road Baptist Church in Fort Myers, Florida. Here in Fort Myers there’s no shortage of requests from Spanish-speaking churches to rent space at our church, but my burden wasn’t to rent out space. The Lord laid it on my heart to assist in a new church plant.   

When Gesley first approached me, asking if we could provide a space for them to establish and grow a new ministry, I was hopeful, but I also feared that this was just another request to rent space. While this dear brother in Christ does speak English, it is not his mother tongue, and so communication was a bit hindered in those days.   

I agreed to pray about this possibility, and I talked to the deacons of Daniels Road, proposing this: “If Gesley and Celianie were to become members of our church, could we begin to work with them to establish a Haitian Ministry of Daniels Road Baptist Church with the long term goal of helping them become an independent Baptist church.”   

Thankfully the deacons were supportive and excited about my proposal. Now I just had to present that proposal to Gesley. We met on a Saturday afternoon at Starbucks. He brought with him his whole resume and showed me his qualifications to lead a ministry as a pastor. I shared with him my proposal, still not sure if he was just looking to rent space and fearful that he would have no interest in joining the membership of our church. I was pleasantly surprised when he smiled and looked to the heavens as he told me that that’s exactly what he and his wife, Celiane, had been asking for in prayer.   

Soon after this, we presented Gesley and Celianie for membership at our church and introduced to our church this new vision for a Haitian ministry. Since that time, we have experienced many ups and downs in this effort.  

Growing Pains

Just as the Haitian ministry was gaining a lot of traction news began to break of this new virus that was reaching pandemic levels. While COVID did not have the same impact on us in Florida as it did in other parts of our nation, it did slow things down for a while in the Haitian ministry.   

But with the Lord’s help, we overcame that setback and saw the Haitian ministry begin to grow again. Then in September of 2022, we took a direct hit from Hurricane Ian. Our area was devastated by the powerful impact of that storm, and I feared that it might be another setback for the Haitian ministry. Thankfully my fears were unfounded.  

We had planned a clean-up day at the church the Saturday following the storm. Our property had only minor damage, but hundreds of limbs were down all over the parking lot and with all the debris there was no way that we could hold services on Sunday or do any distributions to assist the community without clearing the parking lot. We have had work days in the past where a strong contingent of our Haitian brothers and sisters showed up and worked hard, but on that day following Hurricane Ian, the partnership of our Haitian brothers and sisters and all their commitment to cleaning up our church property did not go unnoticed.   

Bridging Language and Cultural Barriers

We have tried to unify the Haitian ministry with the English-speaking ministry of our church, but due to the language barrier and the cultural distinctiveness, it’s been difficult. We celebrate communion together two or three times a year; we have had meals together and done special events together, but we had never seemed to be able to overcome the language barrier and cultural distinctiveness until the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.   

Then things began to change. The language barrier is still there and the cultural distinctiveness has not gone away, but more and more we are seeing our church embrace the oneness in Christ that we have with our Haitian brothers and sisters. 

There have been challenges. Most notably with children’s ministries. Every Sunday morning, we see a caravan of baby strollers coming down the walkway toward our Ministry Center. The sheer number of Haitian children has brought tremendous growth in our children’s ministry, but we have had to overcome the challenge of not having enough children’s ministry workers, especially in the nursery.  

Thankfully, we have seen some of the Haitians step up and assist in those ministries. They have become members of Daniels Road and gone through the required background checks. They have been a blessing to us as they are working side by side with us in these important areas of the ministry.  It’s also, we hope, helping to prepare them for the challenges of children’s ministry when they do become an independent church and grow out of the space they presently occupy on our church campus.  

Preparing Future Leaders

As we hope to train children’s ministry workers from the Haitian Ministry, we are also hoping to help train and equip men to serve as deacons and as elders/pastors so that, hopefully, once they become an independent church, they will have a team of pastors to oversee the ministry and a group of deacons to serve in that church. 

Another future challenge is how we address the needs of the second generation. Moms and dads, grandmas, and grandpas, may have immigrated to the US, but sons and daughters were either born here or are being educated here, and so their English is often as good as, if not better than, their parent’s mother tongue.  

For now, we have some of their teens sitting in our English-speaking service every Sunday because they are not able to easily follow along with the Creole service going on in our Student-Ministry Center where the Haitian brothers and sisters presently gather on Sunday mornings. As we are actively working toward the Haitian ministry becoming an independent church, we are wrestling with what to do about the second generation, those sons and daughters and grandchildren who are far more English-speaking than they are Creole-speaking.   

We are praying that once the Haitian ministry becomes an independent church and outgrows the space they presently occupy on our campus they will be able to find a place to meet that is close enough to our church property so that we can continue to minister to the second generation. There is also the possibility of the new Haitian church adding a second, English-speaking, worship service.  

Recognizing God’s Blessings

We have seen the blessings of God in this effort. I was asked recently by Ray Brandon from Every Ethne if we had a church member who was fluent in both English and Creole who could help us with communication as we take steps to help the Haitian Ministry become an independent church.  

Not very likely, right?   

Well, as it just so happens, the Lord brought a young man named David to us a couple of years ago who fits that bill. He is one of those second-generation Haitians who was born and raised here in Florida. Until he told me of his Haitian heritage I had no idea.  English is his first language, but he is also fluent in Creole. You can’t tell me that God didn’t send David to us for such a time as this. 

I appreciate your prayers for us as we navigate the process of helping the members of the Haitian Ministry of Daniels Road Baptist Church become an independent church.  I’d also like to encourage you to prayerfully seek a similar opportunity in your area.  

In these unique times, there are needs across America for more Haitian-Creole-speaking churches as well as Spanish-speaking, Arabic-speaking, Chinese-speaking, Russian-speaking, and so on.  

How could God use you to plant a much-needed ethnic church to minister to the growing number of immigrants in your area? 

Michael J. Banks was born and raised in the south/central part of Michigan.  He came to faith in Jesus at a young age and committed to serving his Lord as a young teen.  A graduate of Cornerstone University and Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, Mike has served as lead pastor in three churches in the U.S. and has assisted in church planting by providing theological education to church leaders while living in E. Asia.  He adores his wife, Kelly, whom he was blessed to marry in 1989.  Mike and Kelly have three adult children and one daughter-in-law and presently reside in Fort Myers, Florida where Mike is serving as lead pastor of Daniels Road Baptist Church.

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