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A Different Kind of Tent Revival
Image: John Pendygraft / St. Petersburg Times

"Get ready for Sunday," an aid worker warned. "They like to put white people up front, next to the blaring speakers."

He was not exaggerating. Ushers took a group of visiting American Christians to the front of the Baptist church as a deafening six-piece band led a crowd of several hundred Haitians in praise songs on a sweltering summer day.

There were no pews, water fountains, or projection screens. The congregation squeezed onto crowded benches beneath an open tent as a generator hummed in the background. Like many of Port-au-Prince's churches, this one didn't exist a year ago. Sitting in the middle of a tent city on what used to be Haiti's only golf course, it is a child of the earthquake.

"Some pastors died. A lot of churches collapsed in the earthquake," the tent church's head pastor, Jean F. E. St. Cyr, explained. His was one of them: its walls are ruins, its congregants scattered.

On January 15, three days after the 7.0-magnitute earthquake rattled the country to bits, St. Cyr started leading services in the rain and mud. It was supposed to be a few days of worship amid tragedy. But the congregation is becoming a permanent fixture. St. Cyr put down gravel to contain the mud. A group of American friends sent him a tent for shelter. The church is easy to spot with its large white tent nestled near neighboring residential tents, some made out of plastic tarps, sticks, and strings.

The camp, overseen by actor Sean Penn, houses about 50,000 people. Outside the church, women sit on stools and do each other's hair, bathe children in metal bins, and many flock to visiting Americans to ask for food.

St. Cyr is eager to describe his large tent as not just a church ...

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A Different Kind of Tent Revival
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October 2010

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