In February 2016 when flames roared through Beraca First Haitian Baptist Church in Haines City, the congregation, with no insurance coverage, lost everything — everything, that is, except for its faith in God and its partnership with Florida Baptists.
The building and all contents were a total loss. Thankfully, although there were people in the building at the time of the fire, no one was injured, and no lives were lost as the fire raged.
On the Sunday morning following the Tuesday evening fire, the congregation met on the church lawn, with the church’s charred remains seeming to steel their resolve to move forward under God’s leadership.
The church had known hardship before; it had been damaged extensively by Hurricane Jeanne in 2004.
“The building is burnt. But we are not defeated,” pastor Fritz Paul told those who had gathered, according to local news reports.
“We serve a living God. We serve the most powerful God. We know our God will provide, so there is no defeat for us,” said the pastor.
In the coming days, much of God’s provision for the church would come through the support of Florida Baptists.
NorthRidge Church, Haines City, which had helped launch the Haitian church years earlier, opened its doors and heart to the church without a home. Beraca First Haitian Church met in NorthRidge facilities as its church home was being rebuilt.
“It has been our heart to support their ministry, and this was an opportunity to put faith into action. It was our heart and desire that since the church burned without any insurance coverage, this could help alleviate further financial stress upon the congregation,” said NorthRidge senior pastor David Myers.
“This was our opportunity and I believe our God-given responsibility to love our daughter church,” he said.
NorthRidge members could empathize with the Haitian church’s experiences. Like its daughter church, NorthRidge Church had lost everything in a fire in 2007, although NorthRidge Church had insurance coverage.
Grateful for its comfortable “home away from home” at NorthRidge, the Beraca congregation still needed significant funds for its rebuild.
Again, Florida Baptists were there to help. The church rebuild was made possible by a loan from Church Growth Investment Fund, a subsidiary of Florida Baptist Financial Services. Church Growth Investment Fund is a registered investment fund in the state of Florida that offers investment in certificates of participation (like time certificates and savings accounts) and uses the funds to make loans to qualified churches affiliated with the Florida Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention, said Michael Rhine, director of church finance for Florida Baptist Financial Services.
In April 2017, approximately 14 months after the devastating fire, Beraca First Haitian Baptist Church had reason to celebrate. It flung open the doors of its new building and offered praise to God for seeing them through their tough days.
The Haitian church’s first worship service in its new building was “a great celebration to honor God for all His goodness towards them,” said John Voltaire, Florida Baptists’ Haitian church catalyst.
“Pastor Fritz is a true man of God who understands that sometimes the greater the suffering, the greater the blessing in ministry,” he said.
The pastor, he said, was was “very grateful for the grace of God and the support of the Florida Baptist Convention” after the ferocious fire.
Today, there’s no looking back for the Haitian congregation.
“They are excited and look forward to continue serving God while impacting their community,” said Voltaire.
By Margaret Colson for the Florida Baptist Convention