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Haitian translator becomes UC student


Obed visits with friend and KBC volunteer, Paul Dunnington, at Conley Bottom Resort on Lake Cumberland in Wayne County, Ky.

WILLIAMSBURG, Ky. - On January 12, 2010, Obed Pierre, 22, experienced something that to this day, doesn’t seem real. “I cannot imagine. I cannot believe that it was an earthquake. The earth was shaking,” Pierre said about the catastrophic 7.0-magnitude earthquake that shook his homeland of Haiti.

“When I came out it was like, foggy. It was dust off all the houses that were broken. All over Haiti, you could hear people crying, shouting, crying for Jesus. Some were crying, ‘Where is my Mom; where is my Dad?’” Pierre explained. His dark face is serious, but his bright eyes do not look away.

Pierre was a medical student at Quisqueya University in Port-au-Prince. Though he was supposed to be at school that morning, he had stayed home to prepare for an anatomy test.

“I was supposed to be at school, but if I did go to school, surely I would not be Obed today. Yeah, that’s for sure,” he said. The university was destroyed in the earthquake.

Little did Pierre know God was about to use this terrifying tragedy to do something many in his country only dream of: come to school in America. He is currently enrolled as a pre-med student at University of the Cumberlands.

Prior to the earthquake, Pierre served as a translator with several international organizations including the Salvation Army, Haitian Red Cross and the Southern Baptist Convention. After the earthquake struck, Pierre felt compelled to continue translating for those coming in on disaster relief teams, including those from the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

“My job was to go and get the folks from the airboat and take them to the guest house,” he said. Then, Pierre would make sure the volunteers had whatever resources they needed including shelter, vehicles, medication and translators, to equip them to go out and help those who were suffering.

Pierre became the personal translator for Coy Webb, disaster relief associate for the KBC. “I met Obed when I arrived in Haiti,” Webb said. “He and his cousin were our primary translators.”

Webb explained that Pierre played a vital role in the relief team’s ability to serve. “Anytime you are serving on the international field, communication is critical,” he said. Pierre assisted in not only translating, but in being familiar with the culture, helping make the best decisions and sharing the Gospel with individuals.

Webb and Pierre spent many days together. “One day I took him to my school, the medical school where I went,” Pierre said. “I took him there, and he saw the damage, and he said, ‘There is something I can do for you.’”

Since Webb had developed a close relationship with University of the Cumberlands over the years, he felt that UC would be a good fit for Pierre. Webb contacted UC shortly afterwords and, “the Lord sort of took care of it,” he explained.

Pierre was granted a student visa with virtually no effort, which is highly unusual, and by July 19, he was on a flight to the United States. While in the U.S., Pierre traveled and visited with friends he had made during the relief efforts. Specifically, Pierre stayed in Wayne County with KBC volunteers Paul and Katherine Dunnington and Joel Catron.

“They are all three very nice people. When I got over here, I spent a few days with them, and they made me feel comfortable as I was home,” Pierre said about his friends. “I was like a baby son for them, and I love them. I keep them in my heart for the way they treated me. I do appreciate them.”

Catron especially took Pierre under his wing, supplying him with everything he needed for school. “Joel Catron said, ‘Whatever you need, just let me know.’ He has taken care of me. He has given me everything that I need for my dorm and for studies,” Pierre said.

Catron feels very blessed to have Pierre in his life. “Arriving in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, we were greeted with the biggest smile one could imagine: it was Obed. Each morning when we rose for the day’s tasks, Obed’s smile was already hard at work,” Catron explained. “Even though he came from a place and time that gave no reason to smile, he chose to show God’s love…he smiled. We thank God for bringing him to Kentucky and becoming a part of our family. We care deeply for him. Our home is his home.”

In addition to school necessities, Catron supplied Pierre with a bicycle. “I love my bike,” Pierre said. He has been seen by many on campus riding his bicycle and singing loudly. When asked what he was singing, Pierre grinned. “In Creole we say ‘Chante se Priye DeFwa,” he said, which translates literally as “Singing is Praying Twice.” His eyes light up as he speaks, making it evident that this is something he is passionate about. “It’s just like singing has double power in it than praying. Through the songs are the words of your prayers,” Pierre explained. “Sometimes when I’m singing, I am just praising the Lord in my songs.”

Pierre is adjusting to life at UC, though it is not as easy as he had expected. “It is no longer about Creole and French, it is about English. All your thoughts, all your feelings have to be expressed in English. Being a translator, it’s not bad, but now, being in class as a student, it is not this easy.” Each day Pierre records his lectures, and must translate them in his room after class in order to understand. “I know I need to sacrifice more of myself. I will do my best, and I know I can,” he said.

Even though he stays very busy with his studies, Pierre enjoys playing Frisbee in his free time, and has made some close friends. Resident Hall Director and graduate student, Ben Clayton, said, “Obed has a heart for people. He is filled with love, and is always trying to help others. He is like a brother to me.”

After completing his undergraduate studies at UC, Pierre plans to further his education in medical school, and eventually become a heart surgeon. Pierre dreams of one day returning to Haiti and serving as the minister of public health. It is his desire to increase the number of doctors in Haiti, so the Haitian people can receive better healthcare. “I know that is a long way, but since I have the objective, I’ve got the goal, I’m sure I will achieve the goal,” he said.

“We hope the education will help him be able to go back and serve his country,” said Webb.

“God has used the earthquake in a miraculous way,” Webb said. Though the earthquake in Haiti was tragic, Pierre’s chance to come to America was one of those miracles.

“The only thing that I want to say to the Kentucky Baptist Convention is me, by myself, I couldn’t work it out to come over here,” Pierre said. “My life is just a purpose for God. I’m sure them willing to help me is not something coming from them, it is something coming from God.” Pierre added, “I’m sure God put them in my way, okay, so that they can help me. I am sure they are someplace in my heart and in my mind. I will never forget about them being willing to help.”