Four years ago, Marguerite Berthold was standing in her yard in Port-au-Prince when the earth began to shake. She ran into her house and went up to her porch. Her house collapsed but the porch remained standing and she survived.
She spent the next two days searching for her son and fervently praying. Eventually she found him alive but with two broken legs.
On Sunday, Berthold and her son, Wongaton Villace, now 15, attended a special church service in Mattapan focused on remembering those who died and offering thanks for those who survived.
Four years after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti, left roughly 230,000 dead, hundreds of thousands more injured, and more than a million homeless, about 50 people — many of whom were in Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010 — gathered at First Christian Church Source of Grace on Blue Hill Avenue on Sunday morning.
Conducted in Haitian Creole, French, and English and infused with ecstatic singing, the service was joyful, but also intertwined with grief.
“A lot of our family fell,” said the Rev. Jean Jeune as he began the 2½-hour service.
“We have a lot of suffering in our soul, in our spirit, in our heart,” he said in remarks that were translated into English for a reporter who attended.
The congregation, packed into two rooms on the second floor of an office building, later joined their voices in a song proclaiming their faithfulness.
Backed by keyboard, an electric bass guitar, drums, and an accordion, many of the congregants closed their eyes and raised their hands above their head. Some cried.
“Four years ago, if it wasn’t for God, a lot of us would not be here,” Jeune said before another song began. He encouraged celebration of the blessings that had been bestowed but repeatedly recognized the struggle many of his congregants had endured since 2010.
“Four years of suffering” from the loss and trauma and memories of the devastating tragedy, he said.
Standing outside after the service, Berthold, in Haitian Creole, briefly recalled the horror of four years earlier — looking and looking for her son, who had gone to buy something when the quake struck.
Her sister, Rosanna Berthold, translated and then told the rest of the story: how Marguerite finally got word that her son was at the hospital with his legs broken after a brick wall had fallen on him, how he was there for four months, and how, after endless paperwork, mother and son both came to the United States in June.
“Today my sister was crying, remembering [searching] for her son. But, thank God, he’s here today,” she said motioning to Villace, who stood listening to music through earbuds.
Rosanna said both of them now live with her in Hyde Park.
Other people who attended the church service recalled their day four years ago.
Marie-Antoinette Laurent of Shrewsbury, who lost a niece in the quake, said the day was “pretty, pretty hard” for her.
Her niece was attending law school in the United States and had returned to Haiti to visit family when the earthquake struck. “She went to visit her mom for a few days and then she didn’t make it back,” Laurent said.
Coming to church, she said, and her abiding faith in God helped her deal with the grief.
“That’s the only way we can cope with the sadness and everything else,” she said.
At a church youth group later in day, students recalled the tragedy.
Winnie Petit-Frere, a 16-year-old student at the Community Academy of Science and Health, said she left Haiti for the Turks and Caicos Islands to stay with family two days before the disaster. She said she still remembers the panic of everyone trying to call loved ones in Haiti.
“I’m lucky,” she said, looking away as she recalled watching horrific images of houses collapsing on the news. “I know it happened, but I wish I didn’t remember it.”
She said that many of her fellow Haitian classmates tend not to discuss the disaster. “They just want to concentrate on their new lives and not be reminded of what’s happened in the past,” she said.
At Roxbury Community College Sunday night, a few dozen people gathered for an annual celebration of Haitian elders that coincided with a commemoration of the earthquake.
“It’s a way to reflect on what’s happened to Haiti and the lives of those who perished in the earthquake, and also to bring the community together,” said Joel Piton, 52, of Randolph.
Piton is in the Haitian-American Christian band New Life Boston, which planned to perform a few patriotic songs at the celebration. A mental health clinician and physician, he said he has returned to Haiti to help with the recovery several times in the past four years. But he still carries the tragedy with him: He lost two cousins in the earthquake.
Sitting in the back of the auditorium, Piton, who moved from the island in 1994, said the Haitian community in the Boston area remains solid and united.
“We left Haiti,” he said, “but Haiti never leaves us.”