This article is the third in a series of four stories that celebrate Black leadership in mission through IM’s past and present. Ketly Pierre and her husband, Vital, are IM global servants working with the Alliance of Baptist Churches to serve Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic. They also teach pastors and leaders of local congregations how to start and build up a broad range of outreach ministries in their communities. You can learn more about their ministry here.
Ketly’s adventure with God began in Haiti where she was born. As a baby she became very sick, so her mother took her to the doctor. After examining her, he handed her back to her mother, declaring there was nothing he could do for her. But Ketly’s mother refused to give up on her daughter. Exhausting all other options, she took a piece of paper inscribed with Psalm 91, boiled it, and fed it to Ketly. She earnestly prayed, just as Hannah had prayed for Samuel, “Lord, if you give me this baby, I will dedicate her to you.” God blessed her faith, and she in turn raised her daughter with the fear of the Lord. Praying together and reading Psalm 91 became the foundation of a special bond between God, Ketly, and her mother.
When she was six years old, Ketly’s family moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where her father had a souvenir store. Ketly would practice her English while working in the store, as well as on trips to see her aunt in the U.S. and cousins in Canada. Though she studied at Catholic schools, she attended Episcopalian and Pentecostal churches. Being the tallest in her class and a natural leader, she made sure her classmates stayed in line and followed the rules. She also had the gift of dreams like Joseph in the Old Testament. Many people thought she would become a nun. But God had other plans for Ketly.
CALL TO MISSION
While attending the University of Puerto Rico at the age of twenty-one, Ketly found religion not making sense anymore. In her doubt, but before quitting church, she asked the Lord to reveal himself to her. One day while eating her lunch, a Christian group on campus held a service where she was sitting and invited her to attend. They focused on discipleship and evangelism by going out into the community to share the gospel. She was captivated—this was life! This renewal planted a seed in her as the campus became her first mission field.
Ketly had been attending a Pentecostal church when one day she had a dream. She saw herself worshipping at the Sunday school of the First Baptist Church of Carolina (which she had visited once). God nudged, “I am here too.” Following God’s voice, she began getting involved in their ministries (young adult and hospitality ministry, evangelism, radio station, and worship). Soon she was thriving in this new environment.
During a retreat, while she heard a talk from a missionary, Ketly had a vision in which she was speaking to a little girl in Haitian Creole (the language of Ketly’s home). She felt convicted and during the altar call she accepted it, but said: “When I am 65, I will go into the mission field.” After all, she was currently working toward becoming a professor who taught college business classes.
God confirmed her call through different circumstances, Christian brothers and sisters, and the Scripture found in Acts 26:17-18: “I will rescue you from the people and from the Gentiles. I now send you to them to open their eyes…” (HCSB). She soon discovered that her timing wasn’t God’s timing. She was “persecuted” by the verse in Acts. God persistently called, “I want you NOW.” In obedience to the voice of her Father, Ketly finally responded, “Let’s do it!”
But the idea of attending seminary did not agree with Ketly. She already had a job at the university as well as responsibilities at home. She didn’t want to count the cost of this decision. So she negotiated with God, giving him three requests she wanted met before pursuing seminary: the seminary had to be in the U.S., a full scholarship would be offered, and she wouldn’t have to go looking for it. God proved up to the challenge!
In December 1985, Ketly went with her church to La Romana, Dominican Republic, for her first mission trip. At the end of her visit, a medical mission group from Pennsylvania and Colorado arrived needing a translator. The group’s leader, Dr. Ardell Thomas, was a Board of Directors member for the Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, now Palmer Theological Seminary, in Pennsylvania. He urged her to apply.
While God was paving the way for Ketly, he also heard the hesitations of her mother. When IM missionaries Tim and Patti Long couldn’t connect with their friends in Puerto Rico, they unexpectedly ended up staying the night at Ketly’s house. While she was at work, they shared their story with her mother. Their testimony helped prepare her heart to let Ketly go to seminary and later into Christian mission.
Ketly was accepted with a full scholarship. In granting all of her requests, God made sure Ketly was where she needed to be. She graduated in 1991 with a Master of Divinity from the seminary and a Master in Economic Development from Eastern University. In 1992 she was commissioned by IM and sent to the Dominican Republic.
MARRIAGE AND MINISTRY
At the end of 1993, Ketly was to be married. However, when her fiancé realized he wasn’t called to be a missionary, they ended the engagement. Right after her return to the Dominican Republic, she traveled to Gonaives, Haiti, where she met Vital with Revelación Maranatha, a singing group from La Romana.
Following her broken engagement, Ketly relinquished the desire to marry and presented God with a list of conditions she would require before pursuing marriage again. In 1994, she went back to Gonaives and co-taught a class in economic development. After a mere three weeks of rekindling her acquaintance with Vital, he asked her to marry him! Having healed from her previous relationship and having all her requests met, Ketly felt confident in accepting his marriage proposal. They were married in 1995 and worked together in the DR until 1997.
When Vital was commissioned in 1998, they went to Nicaragua where they stayed for sixteen years. As a way to engage in the community, they started an after-school program for the local children. They also started the first Spanish-speaking Baptist church—Bethel. For three years, Ketly and Vital hosted both the after-school program and church in their home—imagine their veranda bursting with seventy schoolchildren! In time they were able to buy land and start constructing what would become a recreational center. Having no idea how to build a swimming pool, they dove right in, and God blessed their efforts. After adding a basketball court, cafeteria and daycare, their pool became the best in the area. It was a safe haven for the community to gather, and it opened doors to evangelism through church services and baptisms. During Holy Week, they saw 1,500 to 2,000 visitors! Ketly and Vital went on to three other cities, building churches and schools, and discipling new believers.
In 2015, they started to feel they had fulfilled their purpose in Nicaragua. Returning to the Dominican Republic, they continued discipling believers and lay leaders, and mentoring deacons to step into leadership roles as pastors.
TRUSTING THROUGH DIFFICULTY
For her 60th birthday, God’s theme for Ketly was “The best is about to come!” But after one year the global pandemic began. During the three-month lockdown, while Ketly spent more time with God, God was preparing her. While she suspected something was wrong in September, it wasn’t until December that she received her diagnosis: breast cancer. For someone in perfect health, this was a shock. The same week as Ketly received this news, the theme of the church service was: “The best is about to come!” Coincidence or providence? Ketly accepted the diagnosis with immense peace because she knew God had plans for her and this wasn’t a death sentence. Afterall, the best was yet to come!
Ketly underwent twelve chemotherapies, a surgery, thirty radiations, and thirteen immunotherapy treatments. She was fortunate to keep her hair (due to wearing a cold cap during treatments) and to experience itchy palms as her only negative symptom. After surgery, the doctor confirmed the good news: no cancer!
THE BEST IS YET TO COME
Ketly’s battle with cancer fortified her commitment to a holistic approach in ministry. God had renewed her soul—her thoughts, emotions, and will—and she learned that if the soul and spirit aren’t in tune with God’s will, the physical body cannot heal. The Lord is leading her to a new ministry focus—a holistic approach—coming alongside people who are brokenhearted with cancer and other sicknesses and helping them renew their bodies, minds, spirits, and souls. She also took massage classes and hopes to use prayer, massage, and anointing with oil. In addition, she will be ordained by the People’s Baptist Church in May 2022.
Ketly’s journey is an inspirational example of the amazing adventure we can experience when we surrender to God. Surrendering includes sacrifice, but through God’s faithfulness, Ketly has been a blessing to many people, churches, and communities.
Author Darshana Chetti is the daughter of Dr. Samuel Chetti, CEO/Executive Minister Emeritus of ABCOFLASH, and the niece of IM global servants to Lebanon, Dan and Sarah Chetti.
Read more from this series: