This story was supported by the Pulitzer Center.
By Ervin Dyer
It’s Saturday afternoon in the Port-au-Prince community of Delmas 75. The music ministry of Rendez-Vous Christ Church is practicing, belting out the high-energy Hezekiah Walker gospel song, “Every Praise.” Throughout the church there’s a buzz of activity as young adult men, all members of the church, install electrical lines, lay down flooring, check on the multimedia technology, and pray in the corners. They are laying hands on the very church that has laid hands on them. They are giving back to the church that gave many of them new hope and new direction to stand strong in the battle against inequality and corruption.
Rendez-Vous Church is nearly four years old and one of the fastest-growing churches in Haiti. It began in Delmas in 2016, in an empty house on a wide dirt road adorned by the bougainvillea blooms. Although it opened some years after the earthquake, its roots can be traced back to that time, when its founder, Julio Volcy, was inspired to help young Haitians and travelled to Haiti from Florida repeatedly to offer assistance.
When Rendez-Vous Church opened, its congregation consisted mostly of 40 young men who were alumni and students of Haiti Teen Challenge, a program that reaches out to those broken by addiction, abandonment, and abuse. Today, it’s a multi-site church whose more than 2,800 members represent a mosaic of Haitian life. It’s a church that provides education and health services to those that even the government fails to reach.
It’s not just young men who flock to Rendez-Vous. Young women come, too. They wear jeans and tennis shoes, have body piercings and wear their hair in dreadlocks and other contemporary Afrocentric styles. They unashamedly bring with them their Bibles in Haitian Kreyol and their pasts, unafraid of being judged for struggling with poverty and other life challenges.
In Haiti, more than 80 percent of the nation is Christian. But many churches can be very traditional and youth and others can be ostracized for not wearing suits and ties and proper dress. To be a Christian, you have to look like a Christian, with attire typically informed by conservative Western ideas of what’s acceptable.
These practices pushed youth away from churches. For the young people graduating from Haiti Teen Challenge, this was not a good thing. They needed the support of a community and a disciplined life of faith to encourage their overcoming. Without that support, there were left vulnerable. Continue reading