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UMTV: Church Embraces Haitians


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Close to a million Haitians are estimated to live in the United States, with nearly 200,000 in Florida alone. But despite this infusion of Haitian culture in the Sunshine State, it literally took an earthquake to move similar, but separate, communities closer together. Kim Riemland has the story.


(Locator: Orlando, Fla.)

Haitian spiced chicken on a searing hot Orlando afternoon: a flavorful reminder that this ethnically diverse city is home to one of the largest Haitian immigrant communities in the United States&ellipsis;many of whom keep the wheels turning in the large hospitality industry.

This is a community that admits feeling somewhat isolated prior to January's devastating earthquake in their native country. When the Earth shook 900 miles away, their world toppled, too. Macenat Chadler remembers seeing the images on television.

Macenat Chadler, Haitian immigrant (through interpreter): "It was really sad. Almost every single church member has someone in Haiti."

But when the dust settled, something remarkable sprang from the ruins. Two seemingly disparate communities discovered each other. Laura Toshie attends church in a largely white-collar community nearby.

Laura Toshie, First United Methodist Church, Winter Park Florida: "I see some connections being made from a white, Anglo congregation in this church to another totally different culturally, a different perspective, a different part of town. Truly, there is community being built and there's hands being held and people being fed, and how much more basic can you get than that?"

Haitian pastor Reverend Thomas Toussaint has witnessed this intentional connection with his congregation at Berea United Methodist Church.

The Rev. Thomas Toussaint, Berea Haitian United Methodist Church: "They saw that we are together. We are one. You problems are mine. I want to share your problems. I want to support you. You can feel it."

Over the long haul, teams will travel to Haiti to restore a devastated children's hospital and work on other building projects.

Carol Smith, First United Methodist Church, Winter Park Florida: "Obviously, the earthquake really did open those doors."

Annie Dessau: "How do you think we're going to hang them?"

The relationship goes both ways. Nineteen-year-old Annie Dessau is from Haiti and experienced the earthquake first hand. She's now giving back to the Orlando community as a volunteer.

Annie Dessau, Haitian volunteer: "To know that you're doing something good, like you're helping others, not by talking but by putting what you say into action."

Annie hopes to study architecture, to design structures that won't collapse on the people - the country - she loves. But, in the meantime, she's just one of many who are building bridges in Orlando.

Annie Dessau, Haitian volunteer: "You feel that something has changed, you feel that your heart is like having this big smiley face on."


For more information, contactFirst United Methodist Church of Winter Park, Florida at 407-644-2906.

Posted: Sept. 8, 2010

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