Pastor Junior Antoine on stage at Shalom Tabernacle of Glory evangelical church, in front of a congregation that grew rapidly after the earthquake two years ago.
Pastor Junior Antoine on stage at Shalom Tabernacle of Glory evangelical church, in front of a congregation that grew rapidly after the earthquake two years ago. Jason Beaubien/NPR
On Jan. 12, for the second anniversary of the devastating earthquake, thousands of people flocked to the Shalom Church in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The "church" is just a plywood stage under a patchwork of tattered tarps.
The crowd was so large that it spilled down a muddy hill toward a tent camp for earthquake victims. Most of the singing, swaying congregation were so far away they couldn't even see the podium.
The evangelical mission now claims to have more than 50,000 members and one of the most popular radio stations in Haiti.
This church is a product of the magnitude-7 quake that destroyed much of the capital. Father Andre Muscadin formed it because he says God had told him there was going to be a disaster. A few days later, the quake hit. In the aftermath of the quake, Shalom grew rapidly. Muscadin says many Haitians turned to religion for strength and assistance.
But why did they turn to his church in particular?
"Because we have God here," he says.
He also has an extremely powerful radio transmitter that broadcasts his evangelical message and music across the country.
Muscadin says miracles occur at the services. For example, people who were blind are now able to see, he says.
The mute are all of a sudden able to speak. People injured in the earthquake can walk again.
Parishioners also say they've seen miracles occur in front of them at Shalom.
The services last for hours and involve a succession of preachers. On a recent Sunday, pastor Joseph Josier, in a black suit and a purple shirt, delivered a passionate sermon.
With determination, courage and conviction, he told the congregation they could have everything they wanted. A central message at Shalom is that if you give to God, God will give back to you. He'll give you money, a baby, a husband, a new car.
Shalom is a powerful fundraising machine, asking for donations during the services, online and over the radio.
Muscadin won't say how much revenue he brings in, but he proudly declares everything he's built has been built by Haitians. Amid the millions of dollars in international aid that's poured into Haiti after the quake, Muscadin says his rapidly growing ministry is funded by lots of small donations from church members.
Hope On The Radio
There are no formal tools to measure radio audiences in Haiti. Muscadin claims that Radio Shalom is now the most popular station in the country.
Richard Widmaier runs the well-established commercial broadcaster Radio Metropole in Port-au-Prince. Widmaier says last year a survey by the U.S. Agency for International Development found Shalom to be the most-listened-to station in Haiti.
"To tell you the truth, I was shocked myself because I had never heard of Radio Shalom," he says.
Widmaier says the religious broadcaster has become a powerful force in the country.
Shalom Church claims to have more than 50,000 members.
Shalom Church claims to have more than 50,000 members. Jason Beaubien/NPR
Jeff Berard, who played keyboard during a marathon Sunday service at Shalom, says his radio is tuned to Shalom "24/7."
"They're bringing a lot of people using the radio to bring people back to Christ ... people who didn't have hope any more," he says. "They give them hope."
After the earthquake, he says, a lot of people felt lost and abandoned. Berard says the appeal of Shalom is that Muscadin understands the plight of ordinary Haitians, and his church has become a refuge for them.
"A lot of people lost their homes, living under tents. As you can see, the church is under a tent right now. So trying to serve God even though you don't have anything, it's really a tough thing to do," he says. "As you can see here, people are just giving themselves to God, even though they don't know what they're going to eat after."
As the recent Sunday mass at Shalom built to a crescendo, some people in the congregation were swept up completely by the service. The pastor called for sinners to come forward and give themselves to Christ, to be born again.
Screams punctuated the singing. A large woman in a white dress holding a baby started to shake violently. Ushers grabbed the baby out of her arms before she collapsed in the dirt. Other people started fainting throughout the crowd.
They were battling evil spirits, the pastor said, and the evil spirits flew out of their bodies when they collapsed. When they came to a few minutes later, they were cleansed, he said.
Then the members of the Shalom congregation slowly file out from under the tarps back into the quake-ravaged streets of Port-au-Prince.