Pa. Haitians care for those in need back home

Philadelphia pastor 'a messenger from God to my devastated people' after Hurricane Matthew

Dec 5, 2016 by and

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PHILADELPHIA — As a people who have known and survived tragedy, Haitian members of Solidarity and Harmony Church stand ready to minister when hardship strikes in Philadelphia as well as back home.

Hurricane Matthew provided the latest opportunity.

Pastor Bernard Sejour — who planted the church for the Hai­tian community as part of Mennonite Church USA’s Eastern District Conference in 2009 — spent a week in Haiti in October. He provided emergency relief and comfort after Hurricane Matthew in his home town of Dame Marie.

Pastor Bernard Sejour, in white shirt, visits with people of Dame Marie, Haiti, who received relief kits. — Bernard Sejour

Pastor Bernard Sejour, in white shirt, visits with people of Dame Marie, Haiti, who received relief kits. — Bernard Sejour

“I could have gone to Haiti on my own,” Sejour said, “but going as part of my church made the ministry about all of us, not just me. We feel like we are a church in mission.”

Deacon Jocelyne Clement calls Solidarity and Harmony an “ambulatory church.”

“We minister to Haitians not just in Philadelphia but in Haiti as well,” she said.

Each Sunday children bring $1 for the Social Assistance Fund.

For Haiti relief, Sejour collected more than $4,000 in donations, including $250 from the children’s Social Assistance Fund offerings.

Vietnamese Mennonite Church in Philadelphia donated $2,500.

When Sejour arrived in Dame Marie on Oct. 21, he found all the houses on the coast had been leveled and the roads blocked by protesters outraged that the mayor had provided no assistance. They were at the point of rioting.

The agitated youth at Dame Marie resented Sejour’s presence, but the adults knew him and convinced them to let him speak. He asked what they needed. In spite of their angry complaints about being ignored, he got them to make a list of their immediate needs, which included rice, beans, oil, drinking water and water-purification pills, plus soap, bedding and tarps for making temporary shelters.

Sejour promised to bring food and hygiene supplies the next day and said he would talk to the mayor about providing tarps — if they stopped blocking traffic. They did. The next day he delivered relief to 40 families with the list of things they requested.

Sejour met with the mayor, who knew about his connections to Dame Marie. Sejour advised the mayor to listen to the people even if he could not solve all their problems. The mayor provided tarps in the next few days.

“I feel like I was a witness, a messenger from God to my devastated people,” Sejour said. “They said that I was the only one who had helped them and had done that with respect. I found joy in seeing their joy.”

During the first week of November, Solidarity and Harmony held a seventh-anniversary celebration. Much of the three-hour worship service was dedicated to congregational singing. The hymns were a tangible treasure, a powerful way of coping with life’s tragedies.

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