By Irrayna Pittman, Special to the Message
[img_assist|nid=7436|title=Pastor Joseph Blanchard|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=81|height=100]Gretna – In the business section of the city of Gretna on the Westbank near New Orleans sits a small building made of brick and cement block.
Inside the small building, three rows of twelve pews each accommodate those who get to sit down during Sunday morning worship services.
Pastor Joseph Blanchard delivers the sermon in his native Creole tongue, a language familiar to some Louisianians.
The members of First Haitian Baptist Church (FHBC), however, belong to the growing community of Haitians who have migrated to the New Orleans area from regions like Florida and New York. Blanchard, himself, came to New Orleans from Haiti almost 30 years ago.
Blanchard grew up in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, but claims LeoGane, Haiti, as his birthplace.
He accepted Jesus as his Savior at a young age and began teaching Sunday School at 17. He worked diligently with the youth at his church until he moved to New Orleans. He goes back to Haiti every year, the pastor said.[img_assist|nid=7437|title=First Haitian Baptist Church|desc=A growing congregation – 240 members – at First Haitian Baptist Church in Gretna fill the small to overflowing each Sunday to hear God’s Word.|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=62]
After the earthquake in January 2010, he and his daughters went to Haiti for five days in March to bring clothing and funds on behalf of FHBC and the Association to assist local churches.
He returned to Haiti again in July for eight days to participate in a revival where 319 people trusted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. As Haiti continues its recovery process, it weighs on the hearts of many local Haitians. Blanchard said his family still lives in a tent because the earthquake damaged their home, but he sends them money for food when he can.
In 1984 when Blanchard moved to New Orleans and joined FHBC, the 1-year old congregation had 15 members.
Over the years he has witnessed FHBC’s growth and has used his evangelistic passions to fuels its growth. For 18 years he served as the choir director, worship leader and assistant pastor before becoming senior pastor.
He chuckles a little as he remembers the day the former senior pastor asked him to serve as the assistant pastor.
Blanchard said he replied to the pastor’s question with the question, “Did you pray and ask God if I should be the assistant pastor?”
In those moments he said he hesitated, as probably most people would when overwhelmed by God’s call to something bigger than themselves.
But two years later when the senior pastor left the church, Blanchard promptly stepped into the open position, because he knew God had called him, Blanchard said.
He learned to depend on God to help him do the job and to give him courage and knowledge, the pastor said.
Today FHBC has 240 members with as many as 150 adults and 60 children attending on a given Sunday.
During worship services, people stand in the overflow section along the walls for an opportunity to hear a word from God.
In addition to needing a larger sanctuary, the church could use more room for teaching the children, the pastor said.
“The church needs more space,” he said.
Ironically, next door to the church, a piece of land awaits the start of a building project. FHBC purchased the land in anticipation of expansion; however, the congregation lacks the funds to proceed.
Regardless of the limited capacity of the building, people continue to respond to the gospel. FHBC baptized seven people last year.
Blanchard said that each person baptized did more than simply make a public profession of faith.
He said, “People don’t understand.” He explained that when people respond to the invitation to discipleship at FHBC they attend classes in which Blanchard thoroughly explains genuine salvation and eternal life.
He baptizes people he feels understand genuine salvation and their decision. This year to date he plans to teach nine candidates until summer before he baptizes them. After baptism their pastor will continue to teach them God’s Word through one of the many ministries at FHBC.
Blanchard described his schedule between pastoring a church and driving a cab as a matter of fact. He said he has to work to earn money to support his family.
He and his wife have four daughters, three in college and one in the eighth grade. God’s call on his life compels him to maintain life on all fronts.
He said John 3:16, one of his favorite Scripture verses, reminds him of what Jesus has done for all of us, taking us out of darkness bringing us into the light.
As he continues to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the Haitian community in the New Orleans metro area, FHBC continues to grow.
While the added capacity to seat everybody would be nice, the overflowing overflow section along the walls of FHBC serves as a reminder of the boundless power of the gospel.
The little building of brick and cement block may catch up one day.
By Irrayna Pittman, Special to the Message