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Dialogue and Community

A letter from Jenny Bent in the U.S. on Interpretation Assignment from Haiti/Dominican Republic

November 2015

Write to Jenny Bent
Write to Mark Hare

Individuals: Give online 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,

My family and I have gone through many changes in the last several months, leaving our home and our work in the Dominican Republic and Haiti and coming to the United States. And this has led me to think about the question, “Where have we found community?”

Our family arrived in Amesville, Ohio, on June 22, very conveniently during the summer time. Our transition from summer to autumn has been easy up until now, but that doesn’t mean that moving into winter will be as easy for us. I am not looking forward to the cold. But we do have the good fortune of having very good friends in Amesville. Keila and Annika have winter clothing that came from the grandchildren of neighbors. This is particularly important because, unlike myself, the girls are very anxious to play in the snow.

Mark and Jenny led a reflection in October for youth and adults about community in the Dominican Republic and in Asheville. Photo by Samantha Gonzalez-Block.

Mark and Jenny led a reflection in October for youth and adults about community in the Dominican Republic and in Asheville.
Photo by Samantha Gonzalez-Block.

Keila and Annika started classes at the end of August in the Amesville Public Elementary School. Mark and I were worried about them at first, because of the changes in language and culture. But in the parent-teacher meetings at the school their teachers told us that it has been a pleasure to have Keila and Annika in their respective classes. As for the girls, they obviously feel comfortable with their teachers and their classmates. Keila and Annika wake up most mornings ready and eager to get up and go to school.

We can say with certainty that we have found one type of community at Amesville Elementary. The whole Amesville area has also given us a warm welcome. The middle of October we were part of an activity celebrating Haiti and the Dominican Republic. We had an incredible team of friends both from the church and from the whole community who helped us plan the evening’s program, prepare the special food, and get the church ready. A troupe of musicians from the village got together to play West African drums. The church opened its doors to the whole community and the whole community came in, supporting the church. That night was one of the moments when Mark and I could see a brilliant spark of what can be when the church and the community work together. This church clearly has important things to say and to share.

In August we began our tours to visit and present to the different churches. The idea is to share with churches in the United States about the work of Community Health Evangelism (CHE) by the IED (Dominican Evangelical Church), with whom I work in the Dominican Republic, and about the Yard Garden program of the Farmer Movement of Papaye (MPP—Mouvman Peyizan Papay), with whom Mark has worked in Haiti.

Instead of trying to convince our audiences of the importance of what we do, Mark and I set out to dialogue with them in a similar way that we dialogue with communities where are applying CHE in the Dominican Republic and in Haiti. We are intentionally encouraging the participants in our presentations to reflect in new ways on the mission of their church, on their witness to their local communities as well as on their international mission. In part we want to initiate these dialogues to create points of reference—we want the congregations that support us to understand and to know us better and we want to begin to know and understand the people of these congregations. We also would like people to see how much there is to learn from the lives of the people in Haiti and the DR—from their faith, their vision and their actions.

Mark, Jenny, Keila and Annika with hosts, Gwen and Richard Young. Gwen and Richard hosted the mission co-worker team for five days while they visited supporting churches in the Greenville area. Photo by Susan McClarty.

Mark, Jenny, Keila and Annika with hosts, Gwen and Richard Young. Gwen and Richard hosted the mission co-worker team for five days while they visited supporting churches in the Greenville area. Photo by Susan McClarty.

One of our first presentations was with 10 or 12 members of a local United Methodist Women group at the Canaanville United Methodist Church, about seven miles south of Amesville. We presented Community Health Evangelism to the group through the lens of the life of a woman named “Doña Margo.” Based on real conditions faced by women in Dominican bateys (communities of sugarcane workers) such as Batey 7, the “Doña Margo” story often evokes strong emotions. After hearing the story and seeing my slide presentation of CHE at work in Batey 7, Mark and I asked the group to reflect on what they had heard and seen and to share experiences that might bear resemblance to what they had heard.

The examples that the women shared with Mark and me gave us new insight into their lives, into the life of their congregations and also into the context of the community served by their church. It was exciting and overall very positive. One woman told us that some of what she had heard could be applied to the work that she does helping to make health services available to underserved communities here in southeast Ohio. Two women who are very active in their church’s community outreach responded differently; they shared that they felt overwhelmed by the presentation—they said it felt as if we expected them to add one more piece to their work, on top of everything they are already doing. That response was also helpful; it led Mark and me to think again about the best ways to share our ideas.

Reactions have been different in each congregation, with each event and among individuals at the same presentation. Some have felt overwhelmed, some fearful, others excited. I wonder why each person had their particular reaction; I wonder if they themselves know why they reacted as they did. To everyone who has shared with us, whatever your reaction has been, Mark and I want to say, “Thank you!” Thank you for receiving us into your homes and into your congregations. But more than anything, thank you for sharing your emotions and your concerns. Now I can say that we are starting to build a relationship—we are beginning to enter into community with each other.

If you are interested in providing some of our financial support, and have not yet done so, we invite you to begin! If you are part of a congregation that is already supporting our family financially, we invite you to consider entering into an additional relationship with another PC(USA) mission co-worker. We all need all of you! Mark will write more about that in our next letter, along with the latest news from Batey 7 and MPP.

Also, we are available for speaking in March, April and May of 2016. Please let us know if your congregation would like to set up an event. We already have a number of commitments, but depending on where you are, we may be able to include your event as part of a larger tour.

Here is our 2016 itinerary at present:

20-23 February         Pennsylvania (Carlisle Presbytery)
6-13 March                 Virginia & Maryland (Presbytery of the James, etc.)
1-3 April                      Michigan (Lake Michigan Presbytery)
9-12 April                    Maryland (Baltimore Presbytery, etc.)
24-28 April                 California (Presbytery of the Redwoods, etc.)
30 April-1 May           Washington State (Seattle Presbytery)
8-9 May                       Alabama (Sheppards & Lapsley Presbytery)
28-29 May                  Missouri (Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy)

In Christ,

The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, pp. 61, 62

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