The Florida-Georgia District of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod is hard at work supporting many outreach-based congregations, one of which is Salem Haitian Lutheran Church in Lake Worth, FL. Salem Haitian is the church home for many Haitian immigrants in the Lake Worth area. Read on to learn more about Salem’s unique outreach base and the effective means this congregation uses to draw people into the love of Christ.
By Rev. Dave Tabor
If you drive down Dixie Highway in Lake Worth, FL, you will come across a peak roof building with a cross on top. The building looks like an IHOP restaurant (which it was in a previous life) but the roof is painted a different color and the sign out front reads, “Salem Haitian Evangelical Lutheran Church.” The congregation formed 10 years ago as a result of the mission of Our Savior Lutheran Church of Lake Worth, FL. Over five years ago, with the help of The Lutheran Church Extension Fund the church property was purchased and converted from serving pancakes to serving the Lord. Today, under the leadership of Pastor Elie Louissaint, this International House of Prayer houses a 200+ member congregation.
There are almost one million Haitian immigrants living in Florida, many of whom have made South Florida their new home. Haitian people are very family-oriented and depend heavily upon their church for support in the American culture. Salem Haitian Evangelical Lutheran Church tries to minister to the Haitian community by serving as a community resource for the neighborhood.
Pastor Louissaint and his volunteers have an active program of evangelism that reaches out into the community by serving the needs of the community. It is not unusual to find Pastor Louissaint and some of his volunteers knocking on doors and calling on neighbors in the community to invite them to activities at the church and to find out what problems they might have with which the church might help. Problems with immigration, housing, and food are all concerns that the church addresses in its ministry to the community.
Immigration needs are referred to the local office of Lutheran Services of Florida, which has funding to help new immigrants find employment. Additionally, Salem has a small grant that provides assistance and counseling to those in need of housing by helping first time buyers secure funding, by providing classes in home ownership, and by helping needy families with their rent. Food is purchased and distributed from the church to those in need during the weekend.
Because music plays an important role in the cultural heritage of Haitians, Salem has opened the first Haitian music school sponsored by the LCMS. Five choirs enhance services each Sunday. Salem’s choirs also visit other Lutheran churches on Sundays to share their voices with those congregations. 40 students are studying everything from voice to various musical instruments. A small tuition is charged and grants make up the difference in the funding needed to sustain the program.
Visitors attending Salem find the liturgy familiar but for the language, which is French or native Creole. Salem holds two services on Sunday: one in the morning and another in the evening. As part of its evangelistic mission, Salem broadcasts its evening services live on a local radio station to better serve the people in the community.
Another tool of evangelism that Salem employs is home prayer groups. These groups are used with the fringe communities from the church. A member of Salem hosts the evening prayer meeting in his or her home for approximately 30 or so people, including children. Refreshments are always served (it’s part of being a good host or hostess). The group is made up of current members of Salem and the guests these members invite to attend. All of the nonmembers’ names are recorded and each then receives letters and phone calls from Pastor Louissaint and his volunteers inviting them to other church activities. Pastor Louissaint and his volunteers will often also visit these potential new members in their homes to establish a direct relationship with them and to let them know that they are welcome at Salem.
Last year, Salem acquired a 4,000 square foot, two-story building adjacent to the church building. This building was acquired through the assistance of The Lutheran Church Extension Fund and is used to house the music school. Space is also made available to a Hispanic ministry, and at one point Salem provided space to a community group that serves the needs of 25,000 Mayan Indian people living in the neighborhood. Salem also has additional plans to open a preschool program using space in the new building and in the church building, which would serve approximately 60 preschoolers.
It is the hope of the Florida/Georgia District to help Salem and other churches like her become self-sufficient over time. Overall, God has richly blessed the outreach and ministry of Salem Haitian Lutheran Church, the IHOP turned into a growing House of Prayer.
Rev. Dave Tabor is a consultant to the Mission Function of the Florida-Georgia District assigned to several inner city immigrant mission churches in South Florida – Haitian and Hispanic speaking congregations.
thESource is published on the Web by LCMS District & Congregational Services-Youth Ministry. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, 1333 South Kirkwood Road, St. Louis, MO 63122-7295; 1-800-248-1930; www.lcms.org. Editor: Gretchen M. Jameson; Assistant Editor: Dawn Cornelius-Gaunt; Layout: Gretchen M. Jameson. VOL. 1 NO. 7 April 2004.