‘You don’t have to be rich to do something’: Bishop Homicil’s Mattapan church a bastion for migrants

Bishop Nicolas Homicil at his Voice of the Gospel Tabernacle Ministry church campus on Edgewater Driver, standing in a makeshift room where he has begun temporarily housing Haitian migrants coming from the Texas border, several of whom can be seen in the background. The space, he said, isn’t much, but it is a better option for a few weeks or a month than the airport, dangerous shelters, or the streets. Seth Daniel photos.

At Bishop Nicolas Homicil’s Edgewater Drive church in Mattapan, the clocks on the wall don’t work. But time never stands still there, and neither does the 81-year-old Homicil.

He could likely fit his programming into a 20-story building if it were possible, but as it is, he has a few one-story buildings, including a warehouse, where he and several dedicated volunteers provide what they can to those in need.

Beyond spreading the gospel and worshiping in the sanctuary, Homicil runs a massive food bank, a Christian media company, a music school for children, a youth anti-violence program, and, most recently, a temporary shelter in a large room in his warehouse for migrants arriving in Boston with nowhere to go.

Bishop Homicil (second from right) runs a large food pantry from his Mattapan church, with a truck coming once a week that results in food distributions to churches and community organizations all over Greater Boston. Here, he is with volunteer Bob Bouchamp, Kimberly Dawes of the East Boston Community Soup Kitchen, and Roberthe Sterlin of Children’s Services of Roxbury.

On a recent visit by the Reporter to Homicil’s campus, formally the Voice of the Gospel Tabernacle Ministry, the Reporter talked with Homicil and members of two families living in the makeshift space.

Said the bishop: “Instead of a hospital or police station, I can take some here for a few weeks at a time and then they can go to a hotel [with the state]. Last night I received calls from eight people that wanted me to help. Some were at the airport with nowhere to go. Some were in a shelter where the city put them and with people that are mentally ill, and they are afraid for their family. This is better than those places for a short time.”

With space at a premium, the two families were chosen for the shelter because one included a pregnant woman about ready to give birth, and the other had four kids – one of whom was autistic and non-verbal.

As they ate fresh fruit, the pregnant woman and her husband relayed that they had come to Mattapan the previous evening (July 19) from Logan Airport where they had been stuck for a few days after arriving from Reynosa, Mexico.

The husband had been living in Chile, and his wife in Guyana. They were reunited in Brazil and walked for almost two months to Reynosa, which is on the south Texas border. The other family had also been in Reynosa prior to coming to Boston, but had lived in Colombia, Chile, and other countries before the journey.

Homicil introduced the 17-year-old autistic boy, who was playing with a toy, put his arm around him, and said, “This is my special boy. He will not tell you he’s hungry. He won’t ask for anything. If you put food in front of him, he will eat it very quickly. We need to take special care of him.” The boy smiled, shaken but happy for the moment.

The families don’t have much in the way of shelter amenities. There is a sofa, mattresses, and food, yet for the utterly exhausted, it is a safe space to be after many trials and finding themselves in an unfamiliar American city with nowhere to go.

Homicil said the migrant crisis is a need he could not ignore, just as he couldn’t ignore hunger during and after the pandemic, or street violence by young men without direction.

Since the crisis – which was declared a statewide emergency last week by Gov. Healey – ballooned, he has taken in 26 families while they wait for the state to place them in emergency lodgings, which are typically hotels located around the commonwealth.

“It is always very hard for me to tell some that I can’t help them because there isn’t enough space to help them,” he said.

“It is hard to see people — even pregnant women — come in front of the church with no place to go and then you can’t just look at them and say, ‘Oh well,’” he added. “This is one place where we can temporarily keep people who knock on the door and say they have nowhere else to go. This is just a transition place; but it’s better than certain shelters or the streets.”

Homicil also directed his attention to the food distribution going on in the parking lot that day – food that comes once a week and is distributed to churches in the area and community organizations like Children’s Services of Roxbury or the East Boston Community Soup Kitchen.

“What I do here, it’s from the bottom of my heart,” he said. “It’s a calling. I didn’t choose to do this…I was called to walk in this path.”

Bishop Homicil, 81, reflects on scripture in the church’s sanctuary.

Homicil said he was one of seven boys raised in the north part of Haiti near Cap Haitien. He said his mother taught all of them to serve the community, which they continue to do. He and one of his brothers, who lives in Montreal, chose the ministry of the Gospel.

“Whatever my mother and family had, we always shared it,” he said. “My mother, if she saw any kids that had no parent or didn’t go to school or were on the streets in Haiti, she took them and cleaned them up, dressed them and took them to school.”

At the age of 16, Homicil began working with the Wesleyan Church, teaching Sunday School. His passion was noted, and he was sent to train in Brooklyn with the United Methodist Church. After nearly 18 years there, and unable to return to Haiti due to the political climate, he came to Boston in 1989 and served in Wesleyan Churches until founding the Voice of the Gospel on Cummins Highway in 2001.

He arrived at Edgewater Drive in 2006 and has conducted church services and worked to meet the direst needs of the community ever since.
His church and ministry in Mattapan also serve as the bedrock 30 other churches around the world, including the newest effort in Africa’s Benin.

Whether it’s addressing the migrant emergency right now, or any other crisis that shows up at his Mattapan doorstep in the future, Homicil said he will be ready to offer what he can.

“You don’t need to be rich to do something,” he said. “You wouldn’t believe what comes out of Edgewater Drive in Mattapan. If people don’t think Mattapan can offer any good things, they are wrong.”

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