By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
ADELPHI, Md.—Englise Baptiste du Calvaire (Calvary Baptist Church) is the largest Haitian church in the Washington D.C. suburbs, drawing over 500 people weekly. Some folks come from an hour’s drive away to attend services each Sunday. The church, started by a Haitian refugee, Jean St. Ulme, recently packed their auditorium and parking lot with double its usual number for a spectacular 27th anniversary service on May 16.
The event, conducted entirely in French Creole, was a huge celebration. Folks dressed in their finest, clapped heartily, sang with gusto, danced and praised God.
“Haitians, we like to be lively,” said Gerald George, a children’s ministry worker and a member of the church for 17 years.
The special service included a variety of upbeat music by the full youth and children’s choirs, all men’s choir, and a variety of other special music and speakers.
“There is a large Haitian population here in Maryland, Washington and Virginia,” St. Ulme, pastor of Calvary, said. Many Haitian immigrants settle in the Washington suburbs. In fact, local store employees in the area often speak Creole. Calvary is the largest Haitian church in the area.
Though the anniversary brought a much larger crowd than usual, Eglise Baptiste du Calvaire has grown from it humble beginnings of less than 20 to over 500 members.
St. Ulme credits the church’s growth to God’s blessings and answered prayers as members reach out to their community.
“We evangelize a lot, share the gospel and encourage people,” St. Ulme said. “On the second Sunday of each month we go out and invite people to church.”
St. Ulme said the Sunday school is an important discipleship tool for the church.
“It is organized very well. We have 14 classes,” he said.
A group of church members prepares a breakfast every Sunday before classes.
“It’s one way of encouraging people to come early for Sunday school,” Gerald George said with a chuckle.
St. Ulme came to Maryland to minister to the large diverse Haitian population in 1981. He had been instrumental in an outreach mission in Brooklyn, New York in the late 70’s. That church began a mission ministering to Haitians in Washington D.C. and its suburbs. The Washington Church became First Evangelical Church of Washington D.C. When St. Ulme saw the need in Maryland he and his family moved to minister in the Adelphi area. They began visiting, sharing with local people and hosting Bible studies. The formal church inauguration was on May 16, 1982 with a congregation of 16 adults and three children, meeting in St. Ulme’s home.
As the church grew, they began having services in a rented space at First Baptist Church, Silver Spring. Ten years later, the congregation had grown to 250 and they moved to a local school.
When attendance swelled to over 550 in 2006, they built their current facility.
St. Ulme came to the United States in 1970. He was serving in the Haitian Coast Guard and was involved in a failed coup attempt to overthrow dictator, Francois Duvalier. St. Ulme fled to the United States.
He was saved in 1972 when the Holy Spirit convicted St. Ulme after reading his Bible. St. Ulme explained that he was raised in the Catholic Church in Haiti at a place and time when ordinary parishioners were discouraged from reading scripture because it was considered too difficult for the average person.
He had been working in a nursing home in New York, serving in a kitchen. After his confession of faith, God had different plans for him.
“God called me to the ministry of preaching immediately after I accepted Christ,” he said.
St. Ulme is a strong believer in church multiplication. He has led Calvary to plant two churches in Haiti, one in Kentucky and in California and one in Delaware called Haitian Christian Family Church.