Haitian pastor, family attacked

By Sheldon C. Good, Mennonite World Review

Pastor Lesly and Bernadette Bertrand
Pastor Lesly and Bernadette Bertrand in the “mother church” of Grace Assembly Network in 2004.

A group of robbers attacked an orphanage in Haiti early on March 19, killing one person and raping another. They injured at least three others, including Mennonite Pastor Lesly Ber­trand.

At about 1 a.m., the robbers jumped over the wall surrounding Grace Children Home located in Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti, eight miles northeast of Port-au-Prince. They shot and killed the security guard and took his keys.

They then tied up three people — Pastor Bertrand; his wife, Bernadette; and the yardboy — and beat them. The robbers raped the Bertrands’ 14-year-old daughter. They took a cellphone, a laptop and some money.

Bernadette Bertrand and the girl were both hospitalized overnight. They are now receiving medical attention at home.

Esaie Bertrand, a son of the family, said in an email March 20 that the orphan children “are doing well.”

In addition to the orphanage, Assemblée de la Grâce (Grace Assembly Network) consists of 25 congregations with about 2,387 members, and seven schools. There are more than 30 pastors.

Pastor Bertrand is bishop of Assemblée de la Grâce, which is a partner in mission of Franconia Mennonite Conference of Mennonite Church USA. He has invited prayers for the situation.

Walter Sawatzky of Hatfield, Pa., a consultant with Wozo, an organization that runs a trauma-healing program in Haiti, said that Garly Michel, executive director of Wozo, planned to meet with Pastor Bertrand.

Wozo is an adaptation of Eastern Mennonite University’s Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience program. The Haitian program began in October 2010 with funds from six denominations and organizations, including Mennonite Central Committee and the Church of the Brethren.

Sawatzky said the Bertrands and the orphanage are victims of a broader trend of violence and insecurity in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area.

“The pattern I’ve seen is that the robbers will observe when there’s been contact with international people,” he said. “After the visit is done, they assume [the foreigners] left some money or that the Haitians have access to money, so they kidnap people or try to rob them.”

This is not the first time Grace Assembly Network has been targeted. In 2006 several gunmen came into the “mother church” of Grace Assembly Network and shot and killed a church deacon, severely wounded the worship leader and injured several others.

The intruders “promised to come back and kill Pastor Lesly,” Sawatzky said.

At the time, Bertrand and his family lived near the church. They later moved across town.

“Foreigners are given a wide berth when it comes to street violence or even home invasions,” he said. “The sad thing is that the average Haitian is far more vulnerable to this kind of violence, because they lack the foreigners’ greater visibility, and therefore, protection by the global community represented through occupying U.N. security forces deployed in Haiti since 1994.”

Gay Brunt Miller, who relates to Assemblée de la Grâce for Franconia Conference, said at least three conference congregations are taking special offerings for costs associated with the situation, including for the security guard’s funeral. An offering was taken at a Sister Care seminar of Mennonite Women USA held March 23-24 in Souderton, Pa.

“This incident makes me heartsick,” she said. “Please pray for Pastor Lesly and all those impacted by this brutal violation. Pray that God will heal their minds, bodies and souls, and give them courage so that they may continue to shine God’s light in Haiti.”

Gifts can be sent through Franconia Mennonite Conference, 569 Yoder Road, Harleysville, PA 19438.  Please mark your check “Haiti.”  Article reprinted by permission of Mennonite World Review.