Monday, April 14, 2008

In Memory of Julio Laporte: Pioneer Haitian Baptist Pastor in the Bahamas

This weekend, my wife and I received word from the American Baptist Haitian Alliance that Pastor Julio Laporte has recently passed away. While the official press release from the American Baptist News Service (see below) emphasizes Laporte's accomplishments as a Haitian Baptist pastor in the United States, those of us in the Bahamas also remember Laporte as one of the first pastors to serve Emmaus Baptist Church in Nassau, the oldest Haitian congregation in the Bahamas. Laporte's tenure at Emmaus, which lasted from 1968-1973, was the subject of an interview that my colleague Charles Chapman conducted with Laporte last summer and will be available when the forthcoming issue of the American Baptist Quarterly is released in the next few weeks.

Laporte's pastorate coincided with the first significant waves of modern Haitian migration to the Bahamas back before the overwhelming influx of migrants had made immigration the pressing social crisis that it is today. During Laporte's ministry in the Bahamas, most Haitian migrants chose to attend Roman Catholic mass at the handful of parishes where it was offered in Haitian Creole and, when Laporte left Nassau for New Jersey in 1973, there were only two or three other Haitian Protestant congregations besides Emmaus. Since then, Haitian Protestantism has made significant inroads into the Bahamian religious milieu and, today, Nassau alone is home to at least twenty-five or thirty separate Haitian Protestant congregations.

In addition to his pioneering role as a Haitian Baptist pastor in the Bahamas, Laporte’s life and ministry illustrate an important development in twentieth century global Christianity—the increase in non-Western missionaries serving in former missionary sending countries. Beginning his ministry as a pastor under the supervision of the American Baptist Home Mission Society (ABHMS) in Haiti during the 1950s, Laporte concluded his ministry as a commissioned missionary of American Baptist National Ministries (formerly ABHMS) over five decades later. As the Christian church continues to decline in North America and Western Europe, we will no doubt see an increase in two-thirds world missionaries, such as Laporte, serving in former missionary sending countries.

While my wife and I did not know Pastor Laporte well and, indeed, only had the opportunity to meet him personally on one occasion, we are thankful for the way that God has used him to minister in Haiti, the Bahamas, and the United States during a half-century of change and migration.

ABCUSA: American Baptist Home Missionary And Former National Ministries Staffer Dies

VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 04/14/08) - Rev. Dr. Julio Laporte, former national coordinator for Haitian Ministries at National Ministries, American Baptist Churches USA passed away on April 10. He was 73.

A leader among American Baptist Haitian congregations, Laporte served the Haitian American Baptist community through National Ministries from 2000 to 2003. During that time he supported Haitian churches through pastoral training and networking opportunities such as annual conventions, monthly pastoral meetings and more.

National Ministries' Executive Director Dr. Aidsand F. Wright-Riggins III remembers Laporte as an "esteemed elder" among Haitian Baptists in the United States and Haiti. "He was an effective urban pastor," Wright-Riggins says, "as well as a voice of advocacy for Haitians and a bridge-builder between National Ministries and the Haitian Alliance and congregations."

Most recently Laporte served Bethel Haitian Baptist Church in East Orange, N.J., as pastor. During the 1980s and 1990s, when there was an influx of Haitian refugees in New Jersey, Laporte provided pastoral support to the resettlement effort and, in some cases, sponsored refugees in conjunction with his church.

Laporte also worked as a social worker for the Essex County Welfare Board in Newark, N.J., and as a health representative in offices of the New Jersey Health Department in Trenton and Newark. Early in his career, he pastored local churches in the Bahamas as well as Haiti.

Commissioned as an American Baptist home missionary in 2001, Laporte was ordained in American Baptist Churches USA in 1958 and held a Ph.D. in Christian education and a master's degree in theology, both from Lighthouse Christian College in Beebe, Ariz. He also held a B.D. from Theological Baptist Seminary in Limbe, Haiti.

Laporte is survived by his widow, Rev. Dr. Anne-Rose Laporte, who currently serves Bethel Baptist Haitian Church, and six children. Prayers for the family and friends will be appreciated.

Services are scheduled at Bethel Baptist Church, 320 Springdale Ave., East Orange, N.J. 07017-4532; (973) 673-1731: the viewing on April 18, 6 - 9 p.m., and the funeral on April 19, 9 a.m.

Andrew C. Jayne American Baptist Churches USA Mission Resource Development

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