Haitian fellowship, Florida Baptists to open migrant center in Mexico

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TAPACHULA, Mexico (BP) – Haitian Southern Baptist pastors are spearheading work to open a welcome center and two churches in Mexico to serve throngs of migrants who often risk their lives to get there.

Pastors Keny Felix, Jackson Voltaire and David Eugene conducted a fact-finding trip to Mexico March 9-13, consulting with Mexican Baptist pastors, delivering humanitarian aid from Haitian pastors in Florida, meeting and encouraging migrants, conducting evangelism and assessing needs.

Haitian migrants joyfully received Florida Baptist Haitian pastors on a trip to establish a migrant welcome center and plant two Haitian-language churches in Mexico. Standing in the rear, at right, is Miami pastor Jackson Voltaire.

Many individuals that we encountered, they were coming from churches that we knew in Haiti, churches that we know their pastors,” Felix, senior pastor of Bethel Evangelical Baptist Church in Miami, said of the migrants. “But they’ve been on this journey for quite some time and have been unable to find opportunities to gather and be fed spiritually.” 

In the works are a humanitarian welcome center in Tapachula – a gateway at the Guatemalan border – for migrants of all nationalities, and Haitian-language church plants in Tapachula and Monterrey near the southern U.S. border, Felix and Voltaire told Baptist Press.

The Southern Baptist Convention National Haitian Fellowship, led by Felix, and the Florida Haitian Baptist Fellowship, led by Voltaire, are initiating the work that to date has the support of the Florida Baptist Convention (FBC) and the National Baptist Convention of Mexico, the pastors said.

“We wanted to take the initiative and start it and then tell our partners this is what we see, this is what we would like to do, and how you can partner with us,” said Voltaire, lead pastor of the multisite Grace Connection Baptist Church in the Miami area.

The Haitian pastors appreciated the opportunity to help the migrants who’ve made treacherous journeys, often en route to the U.S., from several global locations.

“We understand, and are understanding more and more,” Felix told Baptist Press, “that God has placed us here in the United States, and yes we have an obligation to our brothers and sisters who speak the same language, who look like us, who have the same roots, but we also have a responsibility to all nations.”

Haitian pastors, including from right Jackson Voltaire, Keny Felix, and at left David Eugene, meet with Mexican Baptist pastors Genaro Alfaro, second from left, and Natanael Ramirez Villagran, center, during a trip to Tapachula and Monterrey, Mexico.

The Tapachula welcome center will assist migrants at Mexico’s southern border and also serve as a destination for short-term mission trips for Florida Southern Baptists, including Haitians. The pastors are working with Mexican Baptists in planting churches in Tapachula and Monterrey that could serve as assignments for Haitian-language missionaries.

Migrants in Tapachula often have no provisions and complain of Mexico’s processing backlog as they seek work visas and permission to travel north through the country. Several times in the past year, thousands of migrants lost patience and began walking north through Mexico on foot, the Associated Press has reported.

Felix, Voltaire and Eugene met a group of migrants of several ethnicities who had traveled the 1,100 miles from Tapachula to Monterrey en route to Texas. About 200 migrants were living in a makeshift shelter composed of what resembled small storage units with no windows, electricity or running water, and only doors for ventilation.

The pastors delivered supplies including clothing and toiletries.

“What touched us the most was ultimately the receptivity that they showed us,” Felix said, “in realizing that there are people who are thinking about them, there are people that are concerned about them.”

The migrants longed for spiritual care as well as physical necessities. One woman made it clear as she spoke to a man who asked the pastors for money.

“Her response,” Felix said, “was, ‘Man, what we need is not money. We need prayer. That God would open doors, that God would break the cycle that we are in.’”

The pastors prayed with the woman and others, leading about seven to Christ.

“You could just sense the happiness and the pain that many of them have dealt with,” Felix said, “having to leave their homeland because of violence, because of insecurity, because of the various issues that led them to make this challenging decision.”

Haitian Baptist leaders believe God will continue to multiply their work in Mexico, fulfilling a need driven by the many migrants who decide to establish residency in Mexico. The fact that some Haitians arrive in Mexico already multilingual, having spent perhaps years in South America before continuing their journey to Mexico, will help the work of planting multiethnic churches there.

“We’re talking about planting Haitian churches,” Felix said, “but I see that Haitian churches will be there, along with their Mexican brothers and sisters, to reach out to the wider country as a whole and can glorify God by the sharing of His love and the Gospel.

“That’s what really excites us,” he said. “We’re at the beginning, we’re putting the blocks together, but definitely what God will continue to do as we collaborate together will definitely be tremendous.”

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ senior writer.

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