Jason Francoeur: Howard University’s First RUF Intern

Jason Francoeur and his family relocated to Florida from Kenscoff, Haiti, and Jason is proud of his roots. Despite his age, he already has a breadth and depth of experience serving in the church from preaching and teaching Sunday school, to choir directing and managing communications. After graduating from Florida Gulf Coast University he headed to the nation’s capital to continue serving the church in a different capacity.

Jason grew up in a Christ-centered home and credits his father with his earliest spiritual formation. Every night for about an hour starting at 9:00 PM, he learned how to pray, worship, and read his Bible through his dad’s tutelage during family worship. If not for him, his current leadership skills and aspirations to be a pastor and even the centrality of prayer in his life would not be what they are today. As a kid, sometimes family worship seemed to drag on, but those times ended up being deeply formative. 

Upon moving to Naples, Florida, his family got connected with the large Haitian community and began attending a Free Methodist church. Every Sunday, they would spend virtually their entire day at church four to five hours in the morning and then again from 7:00 until about 10:30 in the evening. They got a short break in the afternoon to go home, eat, and get in a quick nap between services. Jason recalls, “They always say for a Haitian child, their main life is ‘lekòl lakay legliz,’ which is ‘home, church, and school.’”

After being baptized at 13, Jason quickly began serving with the young adult ministry. As many minority churches are often under-resourced and lack the volunteer manpower bigger, better-resourced churches do, they called on youth for assistance. Jason’s involvement began with the request to assist in Sunday school one Sunday. But when the teacher left for college, Jason became the new teacher. Although it was sprung on him, he accepted the call and continued teaching for a few years.

While still in high school, that same church gave him opportunities to preach, something unheard of in the PCA. Such opportunities helped fan into flames both the gift and the desire to preach at as early as 15, leading him to discern early a call to the pastorate. 

Towards the end of high school, a pastor he met at an event introduced him to a non-denominational majority Black church and offered him an opportunity to be mentored. After Sunday school at the Haitian church, Jason would drive to attend the other church. He went back and forth for about a year and a half, until he finally committed exclusively to the Black church. He’d started to feel something was missing at the Haitian church. Even though they had really loved and cared for and nourished him well, he had plateaued in his understanding of the gospel there.

His first taste of a Black church, he explained, felt like a BET movie. The difference he saw there, however, taught him that Black people weren’t a monolith. During his three-and-a-half years at that church he got more opportunities to preach, but this time for pay through love offerings. One Sunday after preaching, a member of the congregation came out to his car and gave him an envelope with $100 in it to thank him for blessing them.

After a while, however, he started to feel again that something was missing and noticed that same tendency toward legalism in the preaching he’d noticed in his Haitian church. It was then that his friend, Widbens, invited him to Covenant Church of Naples, a bigger, predominantly white PCA church in the Suncoast Presbytery. Widbens had earlier introduced Jason to Reformed theology and the teaching of R. C. Sproul, John Piper, and Paul Washer. 

When he first walked into Covenant, he could find no one who looked like him. He described it as “a sea of white people.” At that time, there weren’t more than five or six Black people out of a congregation of roughly a thousand. Early on, people even thought he had come to the wrong building, as there was a Haitian church next door. But it wasn’t long before Jason was captivated by how clear the teaching was at Covenant and how Jesus was at the center of every single message. Despite feeling like an outsider, he felt like he’d finally found what he’d been missing at the other two churches, a deeper understanding of the gospel. A few months later, he became a member.

As he made the transition to being a minority at church, one white family in particular welcomed him in. They invited him, and Widbens and his wife, over to their home after the morning service. Jason and his friends didn’t leave their house until 5 or 6 in the evening. He remembers, “It was just a really great time of fellowship. For them to invite me into their home the first time they met me and want to know me this deeply just made me feel really cared for.”

Jason first began volunteering with the youth ministry then the production ministry then eventually got a job at the church doing social media and video and photography. Although those were areas he’d had no prior interest or gifts in at the time, God somehow still gave him those as a way to serve.

His increased involvement gave him greater insight into the church and its culture. Challenges surfaced around Black Lives Matter, George Floyd’s death, and the subsequent protests. At the same time, Jason started taking classes at FGCU about race and race-related topics and getting more informed about what was going on. These classes helped put words to his experience. While helpful in some ways, he also saw that some of what was being said in these classes were not biblical. This made him seek out the PCA’s stance on race and justice and reconciliation and made him curious about what the people at his church thought about these topics. He began to notice that people saw him differently and it changed how he felt about himself and shook up his sense of belonging.

Eventually, one of his mentors introduced him to Irwyn Ince. After sharing some of his challenges and frustrations and loneliness with him, Ince told him about the reconciliation and justice conference happening in January 2020, and his church paid for him to attend. This was a pivotal point in his experience in the PCA, where previously he was unaware there were Black pastors in the denomination. After the conference, he was introduced to several other Black men in the PCA. The pandemic provided a good opportunity to get time with these men and so he actively sought them to learn about their experience over Zoom. What he learned really helped him to see that God was active everywhere. In the Black church, the Haitian church, the Spanish church, and both in and outside of America — God is still reigning.

His campus minister, also recognizing his gifts and call, told Jason he could see him in DC learning under Russ Whitfield and Cyril Chavis. Cyril Chavis recently started the Howard Reformed University Fellowship chapter where Jason will spend the next two years as Howard’s first RUF intern before attending Reformed Theological Seminary.

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