Being the Good Neighbor

A letter from Mark Hare and Jenny Bent, serving in the Dominican Republic and Haiti

August 2017

Write to Mark Hare
Write to Jenny Bent

Individuals: Give to E200356 for Mark Hare and Jenny Bent’s sending and support

Congregations: Give to D506419 for Mark Hare and Jenny Bent’s sending and support

Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery).


Dear Friends,

I just spent the last three hours reviewing dozens of photos that Jenny and I have taken over the last three or four months. I saw community members in Batey 7 and Casandra, Cacique and Jaquimeyes thoroughly engaged in the workshops and other projects they themselves had planned. It was very encouraging. I was able to see, for example, Marlenny in Batey 7 joyfully entertaining a gaggle of children so that their mothers could participate in the nutrition workshop the committee had organized. Both Jenny and I are living and working with mental blinders on, so focused on keeping up with the day-to-day program that we have no time to see the bigger picture. Thank you for your part in the joy of discovering that that there has been some method mixed in with our chronic madness.

As many of you remember, Jenny and I are now both serving with the Dominican Evangelical Church (IED are its initials in Spanish). Together with our daughters, Keila and Annika, we live in the southwest Dominican Republic in the city of Barahona. We work with marginalized communities and neighborhoods in the Barahona area, helping to develop the IED’s community development initiative known as Community Health Evangelism (CHE).

A good starting point that we use to help communities begin to understand CHE is Matthew 10:5-10:

5These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’c 8Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers,d cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

9Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.’

Jesus sent his disciples out with no physical resources, and yet in verse 8 says, “You received without payment; give without payment.” So we ask community members, “With nothing physical to offer, what were the disciples offering ‘without payment?’” Responses vary, but eventually we come down to the fact that they were simply offering themselves. In Mark, we clearly see that the results were significant. Immediately after the disciples finished this inaugural ministry, over 5000 people rushed to follow Jesus and the disciples when they recognized them as they moved out towards a deserted area together (Mark 6: 30-33).

This story is powerful, but as mission workers, Jenny and I often feel the expectation that we should be bringing something more tangible — projects that people can see and touch. And perhaps we have confused ourselves. Perhaps Christ sent his disciples of the first century with one idea, and he sends his disciples of the 21st century with another. Turning to Matthew 22:37-39, we find this:

37[Christ] said to him,‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

Here, too, we find Christ faithfully reminding us that we are called to demonstrate our love for God and our neighbor by freely giving out of the unbounded gifts from our hearts and minds and souls. Mark 12, verse 30 also adds “… and all your strength.”

CHE is about being present with people living in very difficult situations and challenging them to believe that God has in fact given them all that they need, in their hearts, their minds, their souls and in their very beings, to begin being the good neighbor. Loving God, themselves and those around them and working to make their lives better.

Specifically, serving here in the Barahona area, Jenny and Keila and Annika and I are called to be present with the people in the communities of Batey 7 and Jaquimeyes as well as in the Barahona neighborhoods of Casandra and Cacique. We work to help community members focus on what is best about where they live and who they are, and then develop plans for making what they already have better. In Casandra, for example, community members consistently cite the pleasure they have living with the natural beauty of the area, a hillside landscape with many trees and a gorgeous view of the ocean. But municipal trash collection is non-existent for much of the community because the steep, dirt-surfaced streets make it impossible for municipal dump trucks to come through. So the CHE facilitators, Bellanira and Andreina, have made trash one focus of their health work.

What Jenny and I do to help these movements is provide training that helps participants identify their own resources, organize their planning processes more efficiently and then reflect on the results of each action they take. We also challenge them to develop and verbalize their vision for their communities, and we accompany them in the projects they choose that help move them towards that vision. As called upon, we also provide knowledge from our respective training —agriculture from me, and health-related information from Jenny. We also help link them to others who can provide training and technical resources that we lack.

Authentic change comes in odd spurts, often when we are looking the other way. But there are also verifiable aspects of a healthy CHE process. Before we finish this term of service at the end of 2019, we hope to see all four communities with stable committees. We hope to see them meeting on their own on a regular basis planning activities that they carry out using their own resources efficiently. We hope to see them supported by a substantial group of community volunteers who also carry out regular activities such as Bible studies and home health visits. We are utterly dependent on God’s grace and the Holy Spirit to make this a reality.

We very much do need for you to pray for us as we strive to be faithful and, as my Mom loves to say, consistent with our best. Jenny and I are also very grateful for the financial support you provide every month. We are so very aware that we are able to serve here because you believe in what we are doing. But we also want to challenge you to learn more about CHE. Chances are the Holy Spirit is waiting for an opportunity to blow through your community in ways that you may never have imagined. There are many ways to open the space for that work; the discipline of CHE offers some tools that can be very helpful. Check it out!

Also, check out our blogs for more information about the work we are doing. After editing all those photos, I plan on putting together several posts, including one about participating in an agricultural conference in southern Haiti.

Please read this important message from Jose Luis Casal, Director, Presbyterian World Mission

Dear Friend of Presbyterian Mission,

What a joy to send this letter! As Presbyterian World Mission’s new director, I thank God for your faithful support of our mission co-workers. The enclosed newsletter celebrates the work you made possible by your prayers, engagement, and generous financial gifts. We can’t thank you enough.

After I began in April, I met with mission co-workers and global partners and was blessed to see firsthand the mighty ways God is working through them! Our global partners are asking us to help them move forward with life-changing ministries. Because of your support, we can say “yes” to these creative and exciting initiatives.
I write to invite you to make an even deeper commitment to this work. First, would you make a year-end gift for the sending and support of our mission co-workers? We need your gifts to end the year strong. With your help, we filled two new mission co-worker positions and plan to recruit for others. The needs in the world are great, and World Mission is poised to answer the call to serve.

Second, would you ask your session to add our mission co-workers to your congregation’s mission budget for 2018 and beyond? Our mission co-workers serve three-year or four-year terms. Your multi-year commitment will encourage them greatly.

Our mission co-workers are funded entirely from the special gifts of individuals and congregations like yours. Now more than ever, we need your financial support.
In faith, our mission co-workers accepted a call to mission service. In faith, World Mission sent them to work with our global partners. In faith, will you also commit to support this work with your prayers and financial gifts?

With gratitude,

Jose Luis Casal

P.S. Your gift will help meet critical needs of our global partners. Thank you!

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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