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From Haiti, With Hope

November 01, 2023 - 4 minute read

Haitian National Jean-Enock Berus came to Concordia as an undergraduate from Port-au-Prince after the devastating earthquake of 2010 killed his father. Today, he serves as an associate pastor in three Lutheran churches in Los Angeles, reaching homeless people and the next generation of American students.

“Haitians have dreams, but we know our parents have no means for these things to come true,” Berus says. “Our dreams are only by faith. What Concordia did for me was give me a scholarship which brought my dream to reality. I am the first in my family to be in a college setting.”

Before his father’s untimely death, Berus’ dream was to become a civil engineer and work with his father—a stone mason—in the construction trade.

“I lost my father and it was very hard, but God said, ‘You have your plan, but you don’t know what I have in store for you. I have my dream and plan for you,’” Berus says.

Berus’ family had helped found a Lutheran church on the beleaguered island-nation, and Berus attended and graduated from Lutheran schools, where he learned to speak English well. When groups from Concordia journeyed to Haiti in 2011 on aid missions, Berus’ pastor asked him to serve as their translator and security guard, which led to a relationship and eventually an invitation to attend the University.

In the midst of loss, Berus saw the hand of God at work. For two weeks in 2011, he worked with a group of Concordia students led by campus pastor Quinton Anderson and Rev. Dr. S.T. Williams, Jr., among others. Berus translated their Vacation Bible School materials and Bible studies into French, and escorted them safely to places of ministry. Impressed by his ability and character, the group went back to Irvine, and Berus soon was offered a scholarship to study there as an undergraduate.

“When I came here I said, ‘Wow, this is God,’” he says. “He didn’t want me to become an engineer. He had a different plan for me.”

Wiliams, who is the pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran congregation in Los Angeles, became one of Berus’ major supporters, both personally and professionally. Williams’ congregation helped plant the church in Port-au-Prince where Berus’ family became founding members. Williams partnered with Concordia to bring the young man to the U.S.

“What we saw in him were his Christian ethics, which were very evident, his willingness to help in any way possible, his humility and his love for service,” says Williams of Berus, whom he calls his spiritual son.

Berus immediately began serving on the church’s worship team and spending time in the Williams’ home on weekends. At Concordia, he chose to study theology with ambitions of becoming an educator and returning to Haiti to create a curriculum for Lutheran schools there. Though his demeanor is friendly, he perceived himself as shy, so he took a friend’s recommendation to become a resident advisor for three years, “helping the community live as a community because that’s what resident advisors do,” he says.

“That was very significant for me and helped me as a leader to bring people together,” he says. “When you’re going to be a shepherd, there are things to learn.”

When he graduated in 2019, his plan changed again, as the church in Haiti had no funding to bring him back, and the country remained in chaos.

“They killed the president, and there were gangs everywhere. It’s very not safe,” Berus says. “Even my parents and pastors told me they are just surviving in Haiti. It’s not a place you can live like you live here. They don’t encourage me to come back.”

Instead, Berus enrolled in the Cross- cultural Ministry Center at Concordia, which is a partnership with Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Through that program, he began serving as a vicar at St. Paul’s, where his position is now associate pastor working with youth, in Christian education and with outreach and missions. St. Paul’s also oversees Grace Lutheran and St. Phillip Lutheran churches in the Los Angeles area, and Enock preaches at and helps operate ministries at all three campuses.

“The CMC helped me practically. As a vicar for four years I learned the congregation, got comfortable with them and reported every semester on work I did at the church,” Berus says. “This was very helpful to me, to make me the person I am now—a minister and church leader.”

He graduated in May and was ordained and installed on June 25. He is ministering to two groups in particular: homeless veterans and college students.

“I never thought I would see homeless here [in the U.S.],” he says. “That was a shock, something you only see in a third world country. So that has become a mission field. We have a vocational training center to work with veterans.”

He also wants to connect the majority- elderly churches he serves to the next generation, and so he sees the nearby University of Southern California as within the scope of his ministry plans.

“The Cross-cultural Ministry Center trained us to become missionary pastors and that’s why I see USC as a mission field for me,” he says.

Pastor Williams says Berus possesses an unusual sensitivity to cultures and language “which makes him sensitive to living in an urban community amongst various people groups,” Williams says. And as a young—and young-looking—man, “Enock is drawing a different crowd of people. They are pretty excited to see him taking off and want to rally around him.”

In the midst of all the blessings, Berus readily recalls that, “In Haiti you live daily. If you eat today, you don’t know if you will eat tomorrow. There’s no way to have a plan where you want to be in ten years. You have the dream, but you know there’s no way unless God does something. In my case it was all about God. The way God brought me through is a testimony. So no matter how hard it is, always stay positive. That positive attitude keeps me going.”

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