12 May A UB Haitian Church in Central Pennsylvania
Art Page (right), senior pastor, Salem UB church (Chambersburg, Pa.)
For several years, Salem UB church hosted a Haitian ministry in “The Chapel,” the smaller of the two buildings on our campus. Most of the Haitians are migrant farm workers who practically live on our doorstep in migrant worker camps. They come to do fruit-picking in the area. We had been longing to impact this community for Christ.
The Haitian ministry grew and thrived. Last summer, we helped them take the next step. They are now called “Salem Haitian Congregation.” They hold multiple services each week in a rented facility in downtown Chambersburg, closer to where most of the Haitian community lives. They use the lower level of a Lutheran church.
The pastor is Gener Lascase, a Haitian who arrived one fall to do fruit-picking at the migrant camp next to our church. He speaks English well, and started attending Salem. Gener, an ordained minister, indicated a desire to minister to his own people. We let him lead a small Bible-teaching service for Haitians. That grew into a worship service, prayer service, Sunday school–a lot of services on our campus during the week.
This continued for three years. We ran out of room. Another problem is that Salem is located well outside of town, and many of the Haitian people had difficulty getting there. Relocating to downtown Chambersburg solved both of these problems.
They hold a Friday night prayer meeting, a Saturday afternoon Bible study, Sunday morning Sunday school and worship, and Sunday night worship. Pastor Jason Bakker, the associate pastor of Salem, and I take turns preaching the Sunday night service. They use the Haitian Creole language, so when Jason and I preach, it’s translated.
They are very committed and joyful, and outwardly expressive. It makes the rest of us feel pretty lukewarm. They have vibrant services with a lot of singing, testimonies, and very long prayers. They can sing the same song for ten minutes. It’s not Pentecostal, but in the direction of charismatic.
Salem Haitian Congregation has 30-70 people at most services. We still get a bump in the fall, when new Haitians arrive from Haiti or Florida to pick apples. A lot of Haitians have moved into Chambersburg permanently, and are seeking employment outside of fruit-picking. We estimate that about 500 Haitians live in Chambersburg.
Salem established a Haitian oversight board, and we provide a lot of mentoring and guidance. We’ve provided food and furniture for Haitian families. Some of their kids come to Salem’s youth activities. We are also collaborating with them to rebuild a church-based school in Haiti which was destroyed by the earthquake. Pastor Jason has made a couple of fact-finding expeditions to see how things are going.
Pastor Gener is very friendly, warm-hearted, and hard-working. He’s a tent-making pastor, working fulltime in a factory in Chambersburg. He and his wife, Aurora, have five children ages 10-18. He ministers all the time, basically for very little pay. The Haitian church gives Salem a certain amount of money each month for rent, and part of that is turned over to him as salary.
So Salem has planted a church! For now, the Haitians operate under Salem’s umbrella as a congregation within a congregation. We hope and pray that in the next few years, they will become a fully functioning United Brethren church in their own right.