By Nancy Heishman
Two Dominican Brethren women share a common passion to demonstrate the love and compassion of Christ in their communities. Both are leaders of a ministry based in their own home. Each has the enthusiastic support of a minister of their local church. Their ministries were formally accepted in 2005 as new fellowships of the Church of the Brethren in the Dominican Republic, bringing to 24 the total number of congregations of Iglesia de los Hermanos (Church of the Brethren in the DR). Both women, interestingly enough, are named Minerva.
Minerva whose real name is Patria Jimenez, was cooking in her kitchen one day, ready to add the rice to a large pot of asopao stew. As she prepared to add the rice, she felt a strong urging from the Lord to go out into the street because someone needed her. Following the prompting of the Holy Spirit flows naturally from her and so she headed out of her house. As she prayerfully walked through her neighborhood she found a despondent, desperate man sitting on a bench nearby.
What flowed from her obedient listening to the Spirit is a remarkable story of ministry to a young man who was ready to murder a family member over an unpaid debt. As Minerva listened to his story and began to counsel and to pray with him, God’s Spirit moved and he was able to take significant beginning steps toward reconciliation. Minerva returned to her asopao stew with a thankful heart, continuing her prayers for his salvation.
This story is typical of Minerva’s ministry in a neighborhood of people resettled after Hurricane George devastated the San Juan de la Maguana area in 1998. She is grateful for the blessing of her home in the new neighborhood after moving from a very poor neighborhood in San Juan de la Maguana. She now has a sturdy concrete block home from which she offers love and care in an area plagued by problems such as unemployment and drug and alcohol addictions.
She and pastor Felix Arias Mateo, a member from the San Juan church and a graduate of the Church of the Brethren theological program, offer a worship service every evening to a congregation named “Maranatha.” Sometimes as many as 35-40 people fill Minerva’s small house, sitting in each room as well as outside where they can hear the enthusiastic worship by means of a small sound system.
In addition to offering the “bread of life”–the message of the gospel of salvation of Jesus Christ–Minerva and Felix also offer the compassionate “cup of cold water.” Their services to the community include first aid care, donations of food supplies to the hungry, and the services of Minerva’s microloan project of used clothes and also fruits and vegetables for sale from her home. “God is so good,” Minerva says often with heartfelt and genuine gratitude for all that God provides.
Minerva and Felix both have patience and trust also in relation to their request for a plot of land in a desirable part of the community to be donated to their church by the government. For several years this request has been pending. “When it is God’s time for us to have this land, it will come,” says pastor Felix. “In the meantime, we keep on ministering every day, building the people of God and reaching more souls for Christ.” The congregation has committed this request to God in prayer as well.
Almost four hours away in the heart of the nation’s capital of Santo Domingo, another Minerva–Minerva Mateo–ministers to her community through a new church plant called “Arco Iris,” which means “rainbow.” In the year 2000 Minerva experienced a spiritual renewal of her faith and was baptized into Peniel Church of the Brethren in Santo Domingo. Even before her baptism she offered worship services to the community from her home. Several people were converted and Minerva had a desire to begin a cell group out of the ministry. First many children began attending; then youth and adults began participating. While numbers vary in this transient community, which also is plagued by drug and alcohol problems, there are usually 25-30 people gathered every Friday night under Minerva’s carport and on her front porch.
“Arco Iris” has the support of key congregational leaders and one of the licensed ministers, Daniel D’Oleo. The Peniel church recently called Minerva to be a participant in the theological program of the church. In addition, the Peniel leadership called out a strong lay member, Miriam Ferrera, who assists Minerva and Daniel and Oris D’Oleo in the “Arco Iris” ministry, along with two recently baptized young adults.
Minerva Mateo dreams of a growing ministry. She would like to expand the programing of the congregation, focusing a Vacation Bible School-type program of activities for younger ages. She especially would like to see the recently converted youth in her ministry receive the discipleship guidance they need to be faithful in a difficult social climate. These are the pressing needs of a new fellowship, that also reflect her deep love and concern for her neighborhood.
Minerva Mateo has a listening heart, sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s prompting. She shares that recently she had to make a work-related visit to a home known for drug-related activity. She was very fearful to make the visit alone and so asked a male acquaintance to go with her. Fervent prayer leading up to the visit was an encouragement to her. However, when the time came to make the visit, the male friend could not accompany her. Determined to follow God boldly and not to succumb to fear, she headed toward the house, all the while praying for God’s help. When she arrived, to her surprise she found a group of Christian women outside the house praying for the occupants and the needs of the neighborhood. She made her visit successfully and went home rejoicing. She proclaims with a beaming face, “God is so good!”
Whether in northwest San Juan de la Maguana, or in the nation’s capital in the south, the Brethren in the DR are carefully listening to the Holy Spirit, enthusiastically sharing the love of Jesus Christ, and celebrating the love of God.
Nancy Heishman is a mission coordinator in the Dominican Republic for the Church of the Brethren General Board.