A letter from Jenny Bent
in Haiti/Dominican Republic
Mark and I are writing today as Community Health Evangelism (CHE) trainers for Batey 7. Our work is part of the health program of the Dominican Evangelical Church (IED for its name in Spanish). It is now close to two and a half years since the PC(USA) assigned Mark and me to serve the people of the DR by supporting the IED in their mission to their own people.
Since the middle of 2012 we have been working in Batey 7 using the strategy known as Community Health Evangelism. CHE is a strategy that integrates all of the elements that affect a person—the spiritual and emotional needs, the physical, and the social. We are not talking about planting a church or eliminating poverty. This work is more profound than that. We are dreaming of the renewal of the intimate relationship of each person with God, with themselves, with their neighbors, and with their environment.
Two of the essential components of a CHE program are the Community Development Committee and their CHE volunteers. The committee is made up of leaders chosen by the community to head up their program of integrated development. The CHE volunteers are the persons who actually carry out that program, encouraging their neighbors to participate in activities that benefit the whole community. During each visit the volunteers share a lesson that focuses on the spiritual. For all of this the CHE volunteers need training and educational materials that are appropriate to the culture and experiences of Batey 7.
The day before yesterday, at 9 pm, Ardell Graner, our friend and fellow mission worker from the United Methodist Church, came back to our house in Barahona with Mark and me from a training center located in Batey 9. We had just finished two and a half days working with the CHE volunteers from Batey 7. In that workshop Ardell helped us facilitate a process in which the young volunteers developed the materials needed for their work. When we arrived home we were exhausted, but we had in hand many sheets of newsprint that were covered with prayers, biblical citations, reflections and testimonies written by those youth. Our minds and our hearts were, and still are, troubled—overwhelmed by the abundance of knowledge that the CHE volunteers shared with us.
In this workshop we had 10 subjects that the Community Development Committee has selected as being fundamental for change in their community. Our first step was to separate the youth in small groups of three. Then they chose two of the topics and wrote out definitions within the context of Batey 7. Next we reformed them into groups of four and each of the new groups chose one of the topics on which to develop a lesson. They had to look for a biblical text related to the topic and write a short reflection. We also asked them to include a personal testimony related to the topic, coming out of their life experiences. They included prayers and even the greetings that they will use as they enter into neighbors’ homes. After they finished working as groups of four, we divided them again into groups of two, and then finally had them develop lessons individually.
For the first two lessons that the youth wrote, in the groups of four and the groups of two, the youth role-played the visits they will make to the homes in Batey 7 to share the respective themes. Each of the role plays turned out very differently. In one, the family visited turned out to be devoted Christians. In another, there were signs of a dysfunctional father. Another family asked the visitors to stop the lesson because the father found it offensive. The most amazing part about this creativity was that it was completely improvised by the youth themselves. After each role play the rest of the group offered suggestions to the creators of that lesson on how to improve their presentation. One thing that amazed us was the participants who showed no signs of interest at first ended up by showing sparks.
At the end of the workshop we held an Agape Celebration, a LOVE FEAST—the celebration of fraternal love, which is part of my tradition as a lifelong member of the Moravian Church. We shared the sweet bread and the hot chocolate as symbols of fraternity and unity. And we asked them if they were willing to respond to the challenge that Jesus presents to them in Matthew 10:5-9, the challenge to take their knowledge and their capacities to their neighbors, to transform their community. The youth responded with a resounding, “Yes.” We asked them if they truly believed that what they have within them is worth much more than silver and gold. Again they responded, “Yes.”
As we were planning we had doubts about how the workshop was going to develop. Would the youth really be able to write about their lives and their relationships with God clearly? They were able. Would they be able to present what they write clearly? They did it again and again in the role plays. Would they use what they learned in their communities? In front of each other and us they said, “Yes.” What Mark and I thought would be most difficult seems to becoming reality.
In closing I invite you to read and reflect with us on the passage from Matthew that we shared with the youth. How often have we believed that wealth and material goods will resolve poverty and afflictions? How often have we come into a community like Batey 7 and told them what is best for them? Stop with us for a moment. Let’s listen to our brothers and sisters. They have all the wisdom from their community to create a new reality.
Thank you to all our friends who sustain our mission here. We continue to covet your prayers and we deeply appreciate your support. And please share our gratitude to our Creator for bringing Ardell and the youth of Batey 7 together. Keep her and her husband in your prayers as well.
The 2014 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 48-49
Read more about Mark Hare and Jenny Bent's ministry
Blog, Batey 7 and the Good Samaritan Clinic: http://jennybent-pcusa.blogspot.com/
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