At the Crossroads of Contradictory Worlds

By Jean-Fritz Guerrier ’18 M.Div.

I am sitting alone in my office. The near-silence is profoundly unusual. No one else is here at the moment—it is a federal holiday. I’m catching up on work as a nonprofit executive. I try to get comfortable in my lumbar-support chair, an elusive dream that my back pain obstinately refuses to fulfill. 

Nevertheless my here-and-now self is joyful and hopeful. I have many reasons to exhale optimism. Our organization has just resettled the largest number of refugees in its history. My daydreaming soul is already visualizing those newly arrived immigrant families blossoming after so much grieving in their previous difficult circumstances. My mind conjures a film of refugee prowess and future success: school awards, business ownership, community improvement projects, election to state house or Congress, new inventions, contributions to international relations. 


I purposefully pursued a degree from both an evangelical seminary and a liberal divinity school. Throughout my ministerial career, liberals have accused me of being a conservative, and conservatives have warily assumed I am a liberal. I don’t know whether I should cry or laugh about it.

Now my imagination flies to my other office, some 50 miles from where I sit. There, I am the minister of a historic mainline congregation located in one of the highly prized shoreline towns of my state. I ponder a personal irony: for many years, I never wanted to join the clergy. As a child, I had personally witnessed the soul-shattering suffering of several ministers in my family, so I thought I wanted to stay out of the “family business.” I hid from my call to pastoral ministry until I ran out of options. 

Streams of Hope

I discovered that being a minister brought an exponential amount of joy into my life. I’m allowed to be involved in the most important moments—the happiest and the saddest—in the lives of church members. There is no higher privilege than to be entrusted to the lives of my fellow human beings and try to offer a personal example of a faithful Christian life on a daily basis. 

I begin now to think about that weekly ecclesial opportunity and task: a theme for the next Sunday sermon. I realize once again that my happiness comes from my most serious acts of service. I am still excited about a recent joyful encounter: my first meeting with about 20 residents in a nursing home near the church. I took a leap of faith by talking about joy at that place so closely related to human suffering and death. I will never forget the stream of hope on the faces of the residents when I told them that joy could flourish anywhere, including in a long-term care facility. The subject of indestructible joy is certainly worthy of a sermon.

These days, I can see a personal eschatology, to use that weird theological expression, unfolding before my eyes: this is a period of personal fulfillment as well as a time of deeply sobering reflection as we all face the complications and crises in our world. Wait a moment! What am I doing in the office today? After all, it is a holiday! I should be home spending quality time with my family. I wonder what this says that I feel obligated to come to an empty office at a time when I could be in a park with my baby girls. As I take a desperately deep breath, eyes closed, I detect the lights of optimism running away from me. A dark veil of pessimism and frustration shrouds my being. And I face once again that I am a conflicted person, my very soul made of a fabric of contradictions.

Geopolitical Angst

I was born in a little Caribbean country called Haiti, and still have loved ones there, yet some of my immediate family have been in the U.S. for four decades. Though I was raised, went to college and worked for a short time in Haiti, I completed several graduate studies in the U.S., where the bulk of my work has taken place. Two daughters were born in New Haven, Conn., as I was completing a Yale graduate degree.

My strong ties with both countries are at the heart of an enduring internal conflict, which reflects the geopolitical relationship between them. Right now, powerful gangs are controlling important parts of Haiti while kidnapping citizens for ransom and carrying out execution killings. We know that Haiti’s economic and political elite are partly responsible for this mess. It is also common knowledge that the guns that kill the citizens of Haiti mostly come from the U.S. I wish higher education institutions and think tanks in this country would encourage more scholars to research the human and socio-economic costs of the American military-industrial dominance over individual countries or groups of countries. 

I know that the average American tends to believe the U.S. is a force for good in the world. Yet I have personally witnessed the devastating impact of an omnipresent and all-powerful U.S. embassy over a country like Haiti, and I believe that this country would be more helpful to the world if we understood better the complex consequences of U.S. foreign policies on other countries’ citizens as well as our own. While I enjoy my purchasing power in this country, I feel guilty knowing I can afford cheap goods partly because of the mistreatment and underpayment of foreign workers or even the persistence of child labor. 

Sitting in my holiday-quiet office, I recognize that I am who I am today partly because I have been able to leverage my internal contradictions to forge a vocation. This does not mean that I have been able to “solve” those contradictions. However, I have learned to be at peace with them, and navigate through them in my decision-making. As an example, when I decided to become a minister, I purposefully chose to pursue a degree from both an evangelical seminary and a liberal divinity school. As a result, throughout my ministerial career, liberals have accused me of being a conservative, and conservatives have warily assumed I am a liberal. I don’t know whether I should cry or laugh about it. This does not mean that I do not have core Christian values. I believe those values are strong enough to continuously engage, understand, and love people with strongly different worldviews.

At Home Everywhere

My acceptance of others is due in part to my strong relationship with two countries that I deeply love—an experience that has involved several cycles of culture shocks and reverse culture shocks. I don’t have too many social boundaries. I feel at home everywhere even though I carry a strong sense of in-betweenness. I have been an assistant dean, a college professor, a faculty dean, a banker, a consultant, a minister, and a nonprofit executive. I was raised in a large Haitian church in Haiti, belonged to Anglo-European churches in Arizona and Illinois, was ordained by an African American church in Connecticut, and currently pastor an Anglo-European church. My motto is to connect with others at all times, working at the crossroads of different worlds. I am me, but I am also they. Because I am intentional about this, other people tend to engage me as well. And so the conversation goes on despite our differences.

I believe society must create safe spaces for healthy conflicts and disagreements to play out. Unfortunately, those spaces have been shrinking in the U.S. Ethical issues are only solved properly when we allow people to disagree, maintain conversations, and be willing to accept the codification of viewpoints that are different from ours even while hoping that one day our worldview might prevail. I am scared for the future of the U.S. and the world, because so many laws and practices now pertaining to ethics—race, wealth distribution, religion, sexual orientation, and war—strive for a total rejection of the opposite side and a perpetual victory for one side. Societies tend to disintegrate when significant segments of the population feel that their views have been so marginalized that they have nothing to lose. My hope is the U.S. will change course. But now, it is time for me to go home, and play with my girls! 

The Rev. Jean-Fritz Guerrier ’18 M.Div. is Human Resources-DEI Director at Integrated Refugee & Immigration Services in New Haven, Conn., and is pastor of Flanders Baptist and Community Church in East Lyme, Conn. Besides a YDS degree, he earned a Master of Arts from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and an M.B.A.  from Southern Illinois University.