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28270: Hermantin(News)Haitian pastor remembered for his humanity (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Posted on Mon, Apr. 10, 2006

Haitian pastor remembered for his humanity

Palm Beach Post

WEST PALM BEACH - Even driving his car down the street, the Rev. Franck Francois was always ready with a helping hand and an uplifting sermon.

When Francois moved to Delray Beach in 1980, he could recognize those who had just left Haiti by the way they walked, and he always was willing to help with immigration documents or health care. When he happened upon someone in need, he would offer them a ride, said Pastor Emmanuel Philogene, who knew Francois from the Haitian Evangelical Crusade Association.

''He would stop his car and help them and at the same time, preach the Gospel to them,'' Philogene said Saturday. ``You could see preaching the Gospel was his life.''

Francois, the founder of Bethel Evangelical Baptist Church in Delray Beach, died March 29 of liver cancer. He was 65.

On Saturday, about 2,500 of those Francois touched recognized his life during a memorial service at the Palm Beach County Convention Center.

The service drew friends from around the country and from Haiti and France. It was broadcast over the radio in Haiti, as his sermons once were.

Francois began his career as a pastor in Haiti, where he was sent to the ''hardest places,'' said Pastor Felix Saint Louis, who took over a Miami church Francois started.

''The only weapon was the trumpet Pastor Franck and I played together,'' Saint Louis said.

Francois' love of music was recognized at the service, where mourners heard songs from a youth choir of more than 100 and a chorus of women from local churches.

Most at the service knew Francois from the Delray Beach church he started in 1980. Only 14 people attended his first church service at his Swinton Avenue home. As his ministry grew, he became a resource for immigrants who sought advice on education and jobs.

''His idea was to be a survivor,'' said Andre Desronvil of Boynton Beach, a parishioner at Francois' church since he left Haiti in 1985. ``He was always busy helping people.''

Though many at the service noted that Francois was ''a father to everyone,'' his own children sometimes struggled to comprehend his devotion to the church and to the community.

After a long day of work, Francois and his first wife, Elna, would head to the church, baffling his children, who missed his presence at their games and school activities, said his daughter, Marjorie Collins.

''We always felt left out because the ministry was their life,'' she said. We were kind of closed-minded as children about this great man that passed away.''

Only later did she understand how he had touched so many people and spent his life following his faith, Collins said.

''When I was listening to the radio station and they were talking about my father, I was like, who are they talking about ... my ordinary father?'' she said.

The service was attended by more than a dozen pastors, who noted Francois' role in sustaining a group of Haitian churches and forming connections between Haitian and white churches through a local Baptist group.

''What we miss was the look he had under his glasses,'' said Philogene, referring to Francois' habit of peering over his spectacles, able to see people without their noticing.

Speakers emphasized, however, that Saturday's service was a celebration.

''My father is not in this casket you see before us,'' said his son, Franck Francois Jr. ``He is with God, his Creator, in heaven, smiling down at us.''

Pastors told mourners that the best way to remember Francois' life is to keep his church alive.