Pictured Above: Pastor Wilner Maxi (sitting) poses with friends at the Haitian Gala.
BOCA RATON— Florida is home to nearly half a million Haitians, and for the past 50 years Haitian Baptist churches have been ministering to the large Haitian diaspora.
To celebrate 50 years of ministry partnership between Haitian churches and the Florida Baptist Convention and to honor some of the Haitian legacy pastors, 300 Haitian pastors, their wives, and church leaders gathered recently in Boca Raton for a gala night.
Twenty pastors were honored during the celebration for their work in planting the first Haitian churches in Florida. These churches ministered to the Haitians fleeing their homeland for political and economic reasons. As they settled in Florida, many of them answered God’s call to ministry.
“I was deeply honored and blessed to watch these men of God receiving honors from generations that they have raised and served so well for so long,” said John Voltaire, Florida Baptists’ Haitian church catalyst.
Among the men who were honored were:
- Luc Dominique, who planted French Speaking Church in 1975 in response to the massive migration of Haitians in the ‘70s.
- Franck Francois, who started a house church with a group of Haitians from Freeport and Nassau in the Bahamas. The house church later became Bethel Evangelical Baptist Church of Miami.
Jacques Dumornay, who started a worship service in 1976 with a small group in Pompano Beach that eventually became First Haitian Baptist Church of Pompano Beach–a church that was considered a haven for refugees, a canteen for the hungry, a school for the illiterate, and a blessing to God’s servants.
- Wilner Maxy, who became a Christian after arriving in Florida. Maxy migrated in early 1970, and by 1973 he had given his life to Christ and joined Haitian Emmanuel Baptist Church, which he then pastored from 1983 to 2020. Under his leadership, the church grew from 300 to 1,200 adults and more than 400 children. Throughout his ministry, Maxy has worked incessantly to bring positive change to the church and the community by serving on Florida Baptists’ State Board of Missions and on the board of Baptist Health.
- Renaud Balzora, who in addition to pastoring, championed the theological education of other Haitian men and served as a catalyst for Haitian church planting. Balzora served as coordinator of the Southern Baptist Crusade of the Americas, taught as a part-time professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and helped plant 130 Haitian churches in Florida during his time as a Florida Baptist Haitian catalytic missionary in the mid ‘80s.
Among these men who were honored, the group also celebrated Christine Jean-Baptiste, who helped plant Haitian churches from 1972 to 1978. She was instrumental in organizing language camps for Hispanic and Haitian women at Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center, served as a camp nurse at youth camps, and was a Florida Baptist language representative in 1996.
“Every single one of these individuals served their community honorably with zeal and compassion,” said Voltaire. “They have fought the good fight; they kept the faith, and they deserve to be honored.”
There are approximately 350 Haitian churches in the FBC today.