The Unplanned Planter

By Tony Hudson

PHILADELPHIA – The rain came at the worst possible time. Every Saturday afternoon at precisely 2 p.m., the Chery family drags amplifiers and mic stands and folding chairs and extension cords out the front door of their house, loads them into all the trunks and back seats they can round up, and then they drive across town to a rented storefront in the Philadelphia suburb of Lansdowne.

This Saturday, they loaded their cars in a downpour, they unloaded in a downpour, and then after drying off, spent the next several hours turning a rented karate studio into First Haitian Metanoia Baptist Church.

Not many people see what goes on behind the scenes at a church plant. Every Saturday, Noelson Chery and his family and friends spend several hours setting up for Sunday worship. Gifts to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering helped provide them with the resources they needed to plant a Haitian church in their Philadelphia neighborhood. NAMB photo by Ben Rollins

Rain or shine, this is Noelson Chery’s weekend routine. The fact that he does it every weekend, rain or shine, is noteworthy because Noelson is already a busy man. Monday through Friday, Noelson works remotely as a university academic coordinator.

“An academic coordinator is someone who has the responsibility of guiding a student from enrollment to graduation,” he says. “I also work as an adjunct professor teaching French and Spanish. So, it’s a lot of work and it’s draining and it’s more than just 40 hours a week. Sometimes, I’m so tired I can’t even rest, let alone find time for other things.”

Noelson already had one full-time job. He didn’t need another.

It started innocently enough. Like most Christian parents, Noelson and Edna Chery wanted to raise their boys to know and follow Jesus.

“That’s why we were always in church,” Edna says. “I taught Sunday School, and my husband was a youth director. But in the churches we were in, often the children were neglected.”

It started with the kids. Noelson and Edna Chery are Haitian immigrants who discovered when they arrived in America that most of the Haitian churches in their West Philadelphia neighborhood worshiped only in Creole. For families like the Cherys, whose children lived Monday-Saturday in an English-speaking world, that was a problem. That’s why in August 2020, the Cherys planted First Haitian Metanoia Baptist Church. Now, parents and kids are making Jesus known to the second-generation Haitians in their community. NAMB photo by Ben Rollins

When Edna says “neglected,” she means this: the Cherys are Haitian immigrants, and when they arrived in Philadelphia, they found good, strong Haitian congregations there. But most of those churches worshipped in Haitian Creole, and for families like the Cherys, whose children were living Monday-Saturday in an English-speaking world, that was a problem.

“Everything was done in Creole, whether the kids could speak it or not,” says Noelson. “That created frustration for the youth, and we didn’t want our kids to come to church and just sleep. So that’s why we began to pray and ask God, ‘How could this be done differently?’”

Sometimes the best answer to a question is the simplest answer. That’s where the Cherys began—with something simple.

“I never said, ‘We’re going to start a church,’” Noelson says. “Never. We just started a Bible study here at home with our kids.”

From simple beginnings come great things. When word got out what the Cherys were doing, something completely unexpected happened.

First Haitian Metanoia Baptist Church in Philadelphia started as a family home Bible study. “That’s all it was,” says Noelson Chery. “We never intended for it to be more than that.” But when neighbors began to show up and ask if they could join in, Noelson and his wife Edna suspected God might have other plans. “People saw something they couldn’t find in our area,” Edna says. “And we were like, ‘Well, why don’t we just start a church?’” NAMB photo by Ben Rollins

“We didn’t invite him, but one parent was just passing by when we were in the middle of doing Bible study with our kids,” Edna says. “And he said, ‘Oh, you guys have a Bible study?’ And then he totally spread the word and even though they were not invited, families just started to show up at our house. Our street was filled with cars.”

The next and final step seemed almost obvious and natural.

“People were coming and saying, ‘If we are bringing our kids to Bible study, why don’t we just have church for everybody?’” Edna says. “We could see they wanted this. And we couldn’t say no, because I guess they saw something that we were able to give that they couldn’t find in our area.”

Monday to Saturday, it’s a karate studio. But on Sundays, the members of First Haitian Metanoia Baptist Church fill up this space with singing and preaching. Southern Baptist’s gifts to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering provide church planter Noelson Chery with rent, microphones, Bibles and the other resources he needs to make Jesus known to people in West Philadelphia. NAMB photo by Ben Rollins

First Haitian Metanoia Baptist Church was born in August, 2020. It’s a congregation that’s different from almost every other congregation in the Chery’s community, because not only do they worship and preach the gospel in a language their children can understand and embrace—but they also give young people unique opportunities to participate in ministry.

“We don’t say, ‘Kids are the church of tomorrow if that tomorrow ever comes,’” Noelson says. “No, the youth are a part of everything we do right now. We pair them up with adults so they can learn how to do ministry right now and their parents are overjoyed to see that. I mean, they are so proud of their children. So, for the youth, this is a training ground for them. They sing, they lead, they’re even learning about how to preach. And we see that they’re becoming leaders. God is still raising generations. And it’s amazing to see.”

Now, the Cherys and their friends have planted a Haitian church that’s making Jesus known. They’re training up young people to be the church of today and the church of tomorrow. And Noelson has a second job he didn’t even know he needed.

NAMB missionaries Noelson and Edna Chery spend lots of time walking the streets of their West Philadelphia neighborhood. They talk to people they meet about the gospel and tell them about the new church they’ve started, First Haitian Metanoia Baptist Church. Southern Baptist’s faithful giving to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering helped provide the Cherys with the resources they and their new church needed to make Jesus known to people in their community. NAMB photo by Ben Rollins

“It started with that burden of wanting to see something different,” he says. “And now, the Lord has blown my mind. God used us to start a new church that is raising generations of children, of servants, of ministers. And we would rather do nothing else but this. This is it. This is what endures for eternity.”

The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® provides half of NAMB’s annual budget, and 100 percent of the proceeds go to the field. The offering is used for training, support and care for missionaries, like Noelson and Edna Chery, and for evangelism resources.

Published March 8, 2024

Tony Hudson

Tony Hudson writes for On Mission