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The Caribbean’s Voice of Hope

A Letter from Jo Ella Holman, regional liaison for the Caribbean Region, serving in the Dominican Republic

September 2019

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Dear Friends in Christ,

It is wonderful to receive news from your congregations and from your families and to learn of your activities on behalf of God’s reign. Thanks to each of you who have shared with me.

This past year has been extremely active for me. There are a number of new or worsening situations in the status of various Caribbean countries.

The previous positive changes in U.S.-Cuba relations have gone backwards since last summer’s changes in U.S. regulations for visits to Cuba and visas for Cubans to visit the U.S. The subsequent U.S. sanctions against Venezuela have made negative ripples of economic effects in quite a number of Caribbean nations, including Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic where I live, and as far away as Curaçao and Grenada. Many have gotten oil from Venezuela in the past and now are having to buy from other sources, which results in higher prices. Several of the countries have seen more economic hardships, and many citizens are in the streets, protesting corruption by government officials and calling for government officials to step down from their offices. Haiti had been especially hard hit with its already precarious economy. But even in the Dominican Republic, we are seeing an increase in the poverty level—by some indices, now 60% of the population lives at $1.25 per day or less.

Like many in the U.S., we have experienced record-high temperatures and lack of rainfall on the island of Hispaniola, shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, over the summer and continuing through September. The drought caused severe damage to crops and forced the slaughter of livestock where pastures had dried up. Then the tropical storms have begun with hurricane season. Even when hurricanes do not directly hit an island, the torrential rains that often accompany the storms cause major flooding in many areas. The sea levels are rising. The effects of climate change are all around us.

All of these changing dynamics affect our partner churches and their members as they try to continue their work and increase their presence and service in communities.

As PC(USA), we continue to support and accompany their efforts in as many ways as possible. I have been especially glad to see and participate in the efforts of the Dominican Protestant Church (IED in Spanish) to train local church and community leaders for more effective, empowering work in their communities through Community Health Evangelism (CHE). CHE is an outreach strategy that seeks to transform lives and communities by working in all aspects of health of individuals and communities—physical, mental, emotional and spiritual—through training, empowerment and support of community and local church leaders.

Last year in the DR, the IED’s program trained over 300 local leaders in grassroots community work. New ways of engaging at-risk groups in many communities are underway to address problems of nutritional deficits, high teen pregnancy rates, and the vulnerability of children Activities are various: from growing food in small spaces, to working with young girls on skills and self-esteem, to giving lessons in music or English and Bible stories to accompany these many activities.

In the past year, the IED also launched a national church awareness program through the various groups of the church about violence in the family, a difficult and widespread problem and particularly the murders of women by their partners and sexual violence against all ages. Through the Women’s and Men’s associations, Christian Education, and summer camps for a variety of groups, the Dominican church has begun to raise awareness within the church first and then within the communities. This year the effort continues with training, observance of Black Thursdays (an international campaign to raise awareness about violence) and an in-depth workshop for pastors and lay leaders on working with issues of violence in the church and community.

The church remains a beacon and voice of hope throughout the Caribbean in the midst of these worsening problems. Please pray for the church leaders in the Caribbean as they continue to seek to meet the spiritual and physical needs of their people. And please advocate with our own government for just policies that affect our neighbors to the south.

Thank you for your continuing support of my ministry through your prayers, messages and financial gifts. Many blessings on each of you as you continue to discern God’s calling on your lives and your communal life as the Church where God has planted you.

The peace of Christ be with you,

Jo Ella

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