A letter from Jo Ella Holman serving as Regional Liaison for the Caribbean region, based in the Dominican Republic
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The road is dusty leading into the community. It is dry here a lot and the dust swirls up around the truck as we enter the clinic yard. People walk slowly in the heat of the day, even the children don’t move too quickly. There are not many places to go anyway. A sense of hopelessness and quiet despair permeates the air. You can feel it in the way people move, in the way they look down at the ground as they walk, in the way their shoulders stoop as though the weight of the world rested upon them.
This could be any of many impoverished communities in the Dominican Republic, but this particular one is a batey, a traditional sugarcane-cutting community that began as migrant housing and gradually became a permanent settlement. The majority of the residents are Haitian or of Haitian descent. Some of the 350 families who live here are new, since the 2010 earthquake that shook the Haitian capital. But most go back many years, some a generation or two of forbearers who crossed the border in search of work and a better life. Like migrant laborers and immigrants everywhere, they endured the hardships of learning a new language, living in an unfamiliar culture, and suffering daily indignities and, all too often, low wages and mistreatment.
But, that was before…before our partner church, the Iglesia Evangélica Dominicana (IED), approved a pilot program in this community using the Community Health Evangelism (CHE) approach. The IED had already been present in this batey for many years, through a chapel and a health clinic. PC(USA) mission co-worker Jenny Bent arrived in 2012 to work in community health in the clinic. Jenny and husband Mark Hare proceeded to get to know the people of this community and to develop relationships. Mark used his agricultural skills to work with some young men to develop a community vegetable garden, incorporating techniques he had perfected in his work in Haiti. Jenny worked with the clinic staff on new health initiatives. Both Mark and Jenny speak Haitian Creole as well as Spanish. After some time there were some in the community interested in trying a different approach to problems in the community. That’s when the CHE training began.
Through the training, various groups within the community learned the Community Health Evangelism approach, which addresses “health” in its broadest terms—physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of communities around the world have used this model of developing community leaders who work within their own communities to address problems the community identifies and also grow disciples of Jesus Christ who reach out to their neighbors.
In this batey most of 2013 was spent in training various community groups, and in 2014 local leaders began to set objectives and implement activities throughout the year. By last December the local leaders could show an area of the community cleaned of hazardous material; 13 graduates of a sewing class; funds raised through community movie nights and a talent show; and new mothers educated about the legal documents needed for their babies to be legally registered. And, after a series of activities with adolescent girls and boys, not one adolescent pregnancy during 2014 in contrast to the usual high rate.
Transformation—a person at a time, a community at a time. Work continues in this community. Our partner church has begun expansion of the CHE approach to two of the most impoverished regions of the country, the southwest and the east. And, at the national level a committee of dedicated church leaders continues to plan, to support and to empower local church members in their outreach to their local communities.
Some of our PC(USA) congregations and presbyteries are supporting the CHE training in the DR and finding ways to accompany the pastors and CHE-trained community leaders in this new ministry. Mark Hare and Jenny Bent will continue their work with CHE when they return to the DR after a year of visiting our churches in the U.S. And I am continuing work with the national CHE committee and follow-up of recent trainees and planning for the future. Already pastors in the capital are asking for the urban version of the CHE training to use in the city neighborhoods.
Jesus walked with people where they were. He treated each as a whole person, addressing their physical as well as their spiritual needs. He summarized the law and prophets as loving God with our whole being and loving our neighbor as ourselves. In communities across the Dominican Republic this love is shared through this new initiative and in myriad ways through the local congregations and individual acts of discipleship.
Won’t you be part of this ministry? Please pray for these efforts, for these communities and the difficulties they face, for the trainers and church leaders, and for our PC(USA) mission co-workers who support and accompany our partner church in these efforts. If you or your congregation is not already financially supporting a PC(USA) mission co-worker, won’t you do so this year? If you are already supporting one, might you increase your contribution? It is only through your prayer and financial support that we are able to serve. Will you please pray and advocate for our ministry with neighboring congregations? I would so appreciate your help in these ways.
And may the joy and peace of Christ be with you now and always.
Yours in this journey of faith,
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 44
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