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574: First Haitian Baptist, Fort Myers, Florida
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First Haitian Baptist Church, Fort Myers, Florida
Mystery Worshipper: Pelerin.
The church: First Haitian Baptist, Fort Myers, Florida.
Denomination: Baptist.
The building: It's an unassuming, rectangular building, with a plain white exterior. Inside it is well-lit (almost
The church: As may be obvious from the name of the church, this is a Haitian church. Members seem to be mostly immigrants from Haiti and their children. The service was in Haitian Creole and French. Though large, the community appears to be quite closely knit and very friendly. Everybody seemed to know everybody else quite well. And it was a pleasure to see a lot of younger people in church.
The neighbourhood: The neighbourhood would be regarded by more affluent types as being "on the wrong side of the tracks" in Fort Myers. It is a lower-income area, with a large immigrant population. It's far more ethnically diverse than the other areas of the city: for example, Spanish is a big help in navigating some of the local stores, restaurants and taquerias.
The cast: I have no idea. I forgot to ask. I'm sure the preacher was introduced, but I didn't catch it. The man pointed out to me as the regular pastor was not preaching that night (to my relief because I had a difficult time understanding his Creole when he gave announcements). The man who preached that night was a guest preacher according to my pew-mate.
What was the name of the service?
I think it was called "Service d'evangelisation" – Evangelical or Evangelism service. This was their regular Sunday evening worship.

How full was the building?
This place was packed, with every pew seemingly full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Did they ever! First when my friend and I came in and sat down, several people walking by stopped by to greet us and to make sure we knew the service would not be in English. They were always pleasantly surprised to find out I knew Creole, and many people stopped by to chat for a few minutes. I had been to this church once a year and a half ago and someone remembered me from that visit, and greeted me warmly. During the sermon, a girl offered to sit between me and my friend and translate (we accepted – my Creole is good but not that good). As well, when I wasn't able to find what we were singing in the song book, a kind gentleman would find it for me. This was probably the warmest and friendliest greeting I have ever received in a church in Florida.

Was your pew comfortable?
Very comfortable – nicely padded, just right.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Friendly and chatty – people were greeting friends and family warmly, and coming by to meet me and my friend.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
I missed it. I was so busy translating for my friend and explaining what was going on that I completely forgot to note down the opening words. It was something to the effect of "Let us pray and ask God to bless this service" (in Creole of course). Then we prayed.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
It was a bring your own Bible and song book affair. A psalm and a reading from Luke were taken out of a French Bible. The songbook was "chants d'esperances" (songs of hope), a compilation of about 6 different smaller songbooks from Haiti, each of which seems to have its own Creole orthography which can be confusing. Some songs that we sang were in French, and some were in Creole (a fairly even split). Many people had also brought their own Creole Bibles. I borrowed a chants d'esperances from someone for the service.

What musical instruments were played?
Piano, drums and two guitars.

Did anything distract you?
Many, many things. The aforementioned bathroom arrangement, incredibly adorable little girls (Haitian mothers do the cutest things to little girls' hair) and a chubby baby right next to me. Also, it started to get uncomfortably warm with so many people in there. Something that I still haven't gotten used to, and still find distracting is the fashion in which the musicians accompany the singing groups (and from my experience this is typical in Haiti too). The musicians are quite able, but I don't think they rehearse the songs ahead of time. The singers start and then the musicians join in, playing by ear. It takes them a few bars to find the right tempo and key, so there are always several seconds of cacophany before it settles in. It's hard to explain – you have to hear it to understand. It takes some getting used to.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Cheerfully joyful in the Lord: enthusiastic singing, clapping when appropriate, hands in the air sort of worship. The people in the congregation were not self-concious about singing with gusto (being obsessed with excellence in performance can cause problems, in my humble opinion). And it was loud.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
30 minutes exactly.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – There were a some points I disagreed with but on the whole he was very engaging, and used the "call-and-response" style in places to great effectiveness. He made sure he paraphrased the reading into Creole, and made good use (not overuse) of repetition.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The grace of God. He preached on the passage about the prodigal son from Luke and used that as a model to illustrate the goodness and greatness of God's grace.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The friendliness and warmth of the community, and how open and inviting people were to having someone of an obviously different background come and worship with them. A foretaste of the New Jerusalem.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I harboured some feelings of bitterness while I was wondering why "my" church does such a horrible job of welcoming strangers in general, let alone someone of a different skin colour. Also it got really warm with all those people packed in there, and I started to worry about how sweaty I was.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We didn't get the chance to look lost. Several people chatted with us and invited us to come to their regular Sunday morning service and the pastor invited us to a special event that was taking place that Saturday night (someone's anniversary party I think). I was also complimented several times on my Creole skills, including being told I speak Creole like a Haitian which made me blush. It was patently untrue, but it made me feel good.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No coffee – it was already 9:30pm at this point. People were heading home. Time for bed.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I won't make this my home church because I'm not a Baptist, but I certainly plan on visiting regularly.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, definitely.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That I accidentally left my Bible there and I need to go get it back.
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