By Irvin and Nancy Heishman
The germ of an idea began to grow when pastor Paul Mundey heard pastor Anastacia Bueno of the San Luis Iglesia de los Hermanos (Church of the Brethren) in the Dominican Republic preach at the 2005 Annual Conference. He heard in her sermon the excitement of her dynamic and resilient faith, and wondered how the church he pastors in Frederick, Md., could become involved in the mission in the Dominican Republic.
Frederick Church of the Brethren had previously sent members on mission trips to Latin America but had not connected with Brethren mission projects. Through a series of communications, we considered plans together for how a group of Frederick members could visit the DR and become familiar with the Brethren mission.
In March 2006 a group of five people from Frederick, led by pastor Bill Van Buskirk and Julian Choe, a medical doctor, visited the DR for a period of nine days. The experience was a rich blessing for the church in the DR and was personally transformative for the group from Frederick.
The group traveled first to Fondo Negro, a small congregation in the southwestern part of the DR. Church members gave them a tour of the community including the beautiful Yaque River, where many go to swim and bathe. The group also stayed overnight in the homes of congregation members, a “stretch” for the group from the US given that not all homes have indoor plumbing or other comforts.
The group offered children’s activities, sharing simple crafts like a “salvation bracelet.” This activity facilitated a clear sharing of the gospel message and yielded delightful interaction with the children. After sharing in a worship service and the overnight stay, the group headed back to the capital in preparation for spending several days with the San Jose congregation.
In contrast to Fondo Negro’s semi-desert, rural, southwest location, the San Jose church is located in the middle of a desperately poor community surrounded by abandoned sugar cane fields northeast of the nation’s capital. This type of community is called a “batey,” which means a community where Haitian immigrant workers are housed for work in the sugar cane industry. In San Jose the sugar industry has been abandoned, so residents eke out a living with limited, low-paying seasonal work in a near-by palm oil plantation.
In their planning for the trip, Frederick members had felt called to respond not only to physical needs but also spiritual needs. For this reason they planned a combination of activities designed to reach out to the whole person. As Van Buskirk put it, “The first day was physical saving. The next day was soul saving.” Even though several of the group members had participated in mission trips before, they were shaken by the desperate poverty in San Jose. Under the direction of Dr. Choe, the group was prepared for medical outreach. They had brought 100 pounds of medicine, focusing mostly on treating dysentery and parasitic conditions and offering much-needed vitamins.
While this treatment was effective in the short-term, the group realized that these problems will continue to plague this community and others like it. Parasites can be treated, for example, but if people are drinking contaminated water, they will soon have parasites again. For this reason, the Frederick church is interested in forming a longer-term relationship with the mission, specifically in the area of health. “We don’t just want to do a hit and run,” said Van Buskirk in an article in the “Frederick (Md.) News Post.”
Dominican church leaders are giving consideration to the possibility of developing a preventative health ministry in cooperation with the General Board and congregations like Frederick. There have been and continue to be a number of obstacles to overcome in developing this new program. We welcome your prayers for those working on plans for this new ministry. Let’s dare to pray boldly that God will open the way for this ministry to become a reality in 2007.
–Irvin and Nancy Heishman are mission coordinators for the Church of the Brethren General Board in the Dominican Republic.