It’s Been a Journey

A Letter from Josey Saez and David Cortes, serving in the Dominican Republic

April 2020

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It’s been a journey.

So, friends, have you ever played “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” It is a puzzle where one has to find Carmen Sandiego’s destination on a map. This is how I see David and myself in Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic. We live in a subdivision known as Distrito Nacional, where 1.4 million people live within a very small area. Being from Puerto Rico, we are Caribbean neighbors, yet neither David nor I had ever visited the Dominican Republic until now (except for a brief visit late 2019).

Our appointment with the Dominican Evangelical Church and the theological institutions in the Caribbean comes with the opportunity to learn about the church’s history within the religious and political context. In our reading of the Dominican Church’s history, we have come to learn that “missionaries” from the U.S.A. and Puerto Rico came to the Dominican Republic to establish new worshiping communities. Instead of dividing up the island by denominational regions, as done in Puerto Rico and Cuba, they came together as followers of Jesus Christ bringing together Presbyterians, Methodists, Disciples of Christ and the Church of the Brethren. The Dominican Evangelical Church (DEC), since its birth in 1922, continues to grow and thrive in the midst of challenges. Today they continue to walk together towards more inclusiveness, where women, men and lay leaders work to make the DEC a denomination that is grounded in their reformed faith and contextually relevant.

In the few weeks we have been here, David and I have seen a thriving church at the national and local levels. From reading the minutes of their General Assembly, we have come to know the DEC as a denomination small in numbers, yet big in spirit. The DEC’s efforts in outreach through evangelism, Christian education, theological education and parochial schools are impressive. This denomination of 4,700 members is moving into the 21st century working hard to continue to reform and define themselves.

David and I have come to serve alongside the DEC at a moment in its history where the church has been working hard to reflect on and revise its Form of Discipline, which entails: Declaration of Faith, Social Principals, Organizational and Administrative structures and a glossary of terminology used by the DEC. Therefore, we are excited that we will be partnering with this church during such an exciting time when it moves toward a deeper understanding and definition of themselves.

We have been asked by the Rev. Miguel A. Concú, Executive Secretary, to use our skills to help strengthen the resolve of the church at a national level to continue offering Christian education. Most of this training takes place at the local church level. In addition, the DEC offers community based Christian education for children/youth, camps, and vacation Bible schools. Josey will be working with the Rev. Betania Figueroa, Director of Christian Education, to help train teachers in the use of their denominational written curriculum and other Christian education needs. Many of the Christian education efforts are done in “regional gatherings.”

David has hit the ground running as well. He has started to teach Introduction to Hebrew and New Testament to a new crop of seminary students. They are eager learners, with many questions. He also visited with the United Church of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands for 10 days with Jo Ella Holman and Valdir França. He met with the United Theological College of the West Indies and the International University of the Caribbean. Both are accredited theological institutions related to the United Church of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

Other planned travels to meet with the Presbyterian Mission Agency and Latin America/Caribbean mission personnel to Costa Rica has been postponed, as well as a trip to Cuba to visit with the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Matanzas, due to the virus pandemic precautions. It is our prayer and hope that these gatherings will be rescheduled, so we can continue our work and service with the wider church in the Caribbean. We are grateful that we can rely on wise leadership at our national PC(USA) level, which has kept us informed and given us wise counsel during this global crisis.

We arrived in the Dominican Republic on February 14, 2020. On Sunday, February 16, there were to be municipal elections, which were abruptly canceled because of computerized electoral mishaps. This has led to hearsay and uneasiness. These are the things one must acclimate to when living abroad. Yet, we are so honored and grateful that we walk alongside our partners in this, too. Prayers abound for peaceful municipal elections in the Dominican Republic and health for our shared world.

Yes, “where in the world are David and Josey?” many might be asking themselves since they last heard from us. We have just arrived and are entering a new context in the Dominican Republic. We are experiencing new challenges and learning to be flexible. We are listening quietly with open hearts and are open to seeing God’s work among God’s people. As we do so we reach out to you our Presbyterian siblings, requesting your continued prayers for us and our partners.

During this time of global uncertainty, together with all of you, we continue to affirm:

Here I am Lord
It is I Lord
I have heard You
calling in the night…

I will hold Your people
in my heart. Author: Daniel L. Shutte

Josey and David

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