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March 12, 2009
“All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord” (Psalm 22:27a).
MISSION AND DISASTER RESPONSE NEWS
1) Dominican Brethren celebrate 18th Annual Conference.
2) Arroyo Salado Church construction project begins in the DR.
3) Brethren disaster project in Haiti is close to completing five homes.
4) Storms compound misery in Haiti.
5) Brethren staff express concern about Darfur, southern Sudan.
DENOMINATIONAL BOARD MEETING
6) Mission and Ministry Board to address budget parameter.
1) Dominican Brethren celebrate 18th Annual Conference.
“Without faith, it is impossible to please God!” (Hebrews 11:6). With this challenging theme, moderator José Juan Méndez opened and guided the18th Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren in the Dominican Republic. The conference was held at a Nazarene Church campground in Los Alcarrizos in Santo Domingo, Feb. 20-22.
Two new congregations were received into the denomination and prayer was held for five new preaching points. The 74 delegates also approved a new constitution for the church, elected leaders for the national board and other positions, approved the 2009 budget, and dealt with some challenging issues of discipline.
Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission Partnerships for the Church of the Brethren, presented plaques to national leaders recognizing their excellent work during the past year and led the delegates in a closing service of bread and cup communion.
Pastor Jorge Rivera, associate district executive for Puerto Rico, in Atlantic Southeast District, presented a moving tribute following a time of silence in honor of the late Guillermo Encarnación for his many years of service in the DR, Puerto Rico, Texas, and Pennsylvania. Also representing the Puerto Rican Brethren was Severo Romero. The Church of the Brethren in Haiti was represented by pastor Ives Jean and Altenor Gesusand, a church deacon.
Nancy Heishman, director of the Church of the Brethren’s theological education program in the DR, led morning Bible studies on the theme of faith, utilizing the talent of some of her students as co-teachers.
Irvin Heishman, co-coordinator of the DR mission for the Church of the Brethren, commented, “It’s a joy to see the Dominican church emerging from several difficult years with such vitality and health.”
To view a photo album from the Asamblea, go to http://www.brethren.org/site/PhotoAlbumUser?AlbumID=7127&view=UserAlbum
2) Arroyo Salado Church construction project begins in the DR.
For over a year, Arroyo Salado Church of the Brethren in the Dominican Republic has been holding worship services in the open air “ruins” of its old building. The government condemned and tore down half of the old church building to make way for improvements to the highway that runs in front of the building. The remains of the old building formed a rough “band shell” that the congregation has been using for outdoor worship in good weather.
Pastor Cristian Aquino Encarnacion expressed excitement that the construction of the new church and parsonage is now finally underway. The work is scheduled to be completed within 90 days. The project is being supervised by a local contractor with the work being carried out by laborers and a number of volunteers from the Arroyo Salado Church. Church members are cooking meals for the workers over an open fire at the work site. The construction cost of RD $2,000,000 pesos (about US $58,000) will be paid in full with funds given by the government to compensate the national church for the loss of its old building.
The national leadership of the Church of the Brethren in the DR now requires that title for land be obtained before construction is authorized. This explains why it took over a year to find land suitable for the reconstruction of the Arroyo Salado Church. In addition, there was a high demand for every available lot, because many other homes and businesses in Arroyo Salado were also forced to relocate due to the road project. However, once land was found, the process of obtaining clear title for it took several additional months to complete.
This emphasis on getting clear title to the land represents a change in policy for the Dominican Brethren. As a result, work teams from the Church of the Brethren in the United States wanting to come to the DR to help with building projects may find that projects need to be delayed until clear title to land is obtained. This is a much lengthier bureaucratic process than the relatively quick title transfer common in the US, however new Dominican laws have reduced the process of title transfer to two to three months if no complications are found.
The change in policy by the Dominican church has been made because the church has run into some difficulties with church buildings built on land without title. In the DR, it is possible to purchase land with a simple notarized hand-written sales contract. While these contracts are common and recognized as legal, the practice is nonetheless risky since former owners or their heirs may still have some legal claim to the property. In addition, these hand-written contracts are notoriously riddled with errors, adding to the legal vulnerability of the current owner.
— Irvin Heishman is co-coordinator of the Church of the Brethren mission in the Dominican Republic.
A series of reports from the new Church of the Brethren disaster relief project in Haiti are showing swift progress, with five homes already nearing completion. The project was initiated earlier this year by Brethren Disaster Ministries and the Church of the Brethren Haiti Mission following the destruction caused by last Fall’s hurricanes.
Jeff Boshart, who is serving as Haiti Disaster Response Mission Coordinator, has provided the progress reports. He is working in Haiti with Klebert Exceus of Orlando, Fla., who serves as Haitian consultant for the project. The project is funded by a grant of $100,000 from the Church of the Brethren’s Emergency Disaster Fund.
The five homes close to completion are in the Fond Cheval area, a mountainous region near the town of Mirebalais. The area was heavily affected by the storms, and also is served by one of the Church of the Brethren preaching points as well as a Brethren-related school.
The five homes are “nearly finished except for one final outer coating,” Boshart said. Fifteen more homes are to be worked on in Fond Cheval. In addition, a “house-by-house selection process” is being carried out to identify families to be served in the Mont Boulage area, where Boshart and Exceus received a list of 34 families affected by storm damage, have made 28 home visits, and have selected 21 houses for work. The project is budgeting $2,000 for each house.
“The personal stories of these families are all too familiar in Haiti,” Boshart reported. “A family of six children can only afford to send the first three to school. A widow who had one whole side of her home collapse has moved away and hopes to come back if her children will help her rebuild. Young couples with no education and several children who have little hope for ever moving beyond subsistence living…. In general these families have one or two beds, some sleeping mats, a few cups and bowls and silverware, three or four chairs, and a few bags of clothing.”
The project is working close to a school started by a Brethren preaching point in Fond Cheval, Boshart reported. “School fees at the small school started by the Brethren preaching point are only about $13 for the year but there are still families that can’t afford to send their kids,” he said.
With the unemployment rate at around 60 percent, many Haitians are desperate for work. The families being served in Fond Cheval are taking part in the building work, Boshart said. Recipients of homes carry water from a distance to mix the cement, and also help transport sand and other building materials. Also, some laborers will be paid for their work.
When the home repairs get started in Mont Boulage, villagers who are not being served will be paid in food and cement to do the heavy work. They will be responsible for their own home improvements. As the hurricane response progresses, Brethren Disaster Ministries will endeavor to bring in small groups of US Brethren to work with local Haitians once volunteer housing, safety, and transportation are definite.
In another aspect of the project, Boshart has met with a doctor and pharmacist connected with IMA World Health to talk about cooperative work to provide medicines and support to a hospital and clinic near an area flooded in last year’s storms. Boshart and Exceus also met with Church of the Brethren members in Gonaives and others in need of rebuilt homes in that area, as well as with an ecumenical pastor’s group that may work with the Brethren through a micro-loan program. They visited people who are living in homemade tents in Gonaives following the storms and flooding.
The pastors in Gonaives “shared that things are slow to return to normal,” Boshart reported. “Some people are starting to move back into their homes…. Typhoid and malaria continue to be present in high levels…. UN food and water deliveries have ended…. Those who haven’t left the city to live with families or move back into flooded out homes are living under homemade tents made out of bed sheets and tarps and what pieces of plastic they can find. We went to visit these tents and it is really tragic.”
“It will be quite a challenge,” Boshart said of the Church of the Brethren project in Haiti, “but the Haitian people are no strangers to hard work and sacrifice and seem to be eager to get going.”
Brother Klebert Exceus paints a grim picture of life in Haiti: “The local people are saying that anything God can do for them is ‘too good.’… Many think it would be better to die than to live because what they are doing is not truly living.”
He described the situation further:
- At a school with 200 children and three teachers, the students spend five hours a day in class with no food or water.
- A person who sells things in the local market earns about $25 each year.
- Since the hurricanes, 10 percent of the population in the target area has been forced to beg for a living.
- Families eat once a day, and depend on what they grow in their gardens.
- Children sleep on dirt floors on mats made from banana leaves.
- A typical small house has two rooms for a family (average size seven members).
- Women walk three kilometers to fetch a bucket of water, which they carry on their heads.
Exceus, a Haitian consultant, and Jeff Boshart, Haiti Disaster Response Mission Coordinator, are doing much of the legwork and planning related to the hurricane response on behalf of Brethren Disaster Ministries.
The Brethren Disaster Ministries hurricane response includes micro-loans of $200 per person to purchase livestock. When these loans are being repaid, the recipients will provide an offspring of the animal with the money so that other people can be helped.
At the Esperance Clinic in Gonaíves, doctors are preparing a proposal of needs. They lack medicine and they do not have a laboratory. Normally, the clinic receives 75-100 sick people each day at a fee of approximately $3. Since the hurricanes, the clinic is receiving 300 patients per day without charging.
Brother Klebert, accompanied by an engineer and two Brethren pastors, selected 20 homes to repair in the village of Fond Cheval, in the Mirebalais area. This will be a model plan that will serve as a guide for other similar interventions. He reported that the local government official had tried unsuccessfully to obtain help for the village from other sources, but “he believes God
intervened, as the Church of the Brethren sought him out,” he said.
“I’m praying that God will bless the Church of the Brethren which is helping the poor,” declared
Brother Klebert. “The people in Fond Cheval say God’s visible hands are supporting them.”
The work of Brethren Disaster Ministries is made possible by the generosity of individuals and churches who support the Emergency Disaster Fund. Our prayer is that, through our combined efforts, more and more vulnerable people in helpless situations will be touched by heavenly grace as our vision and stewardship grow.
— Roy Winter is executive director of Brethren Disaster Ministries. This article originally appeared in the “Bridges” newsletter.
Following the issue of an international arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, Church of the Brethren staff related to mission and disaster relief have expressed concern for the situation in Darfur and in southern Sudan. The International Criminal Court announced the warrant for the arrest of the Sudanese president on March 4 on war crime charges over the conflict in the Darfur region.
Some aid agencies have been expelled from Sudan or have had their licenses revoked, reported Roy Winter, executive director of Brethren Disaster Ministries. “There is much concern about an expanded humanitarian crisis” in Darfur, he said. However, he added that the work the Church of the Brethren is supporting in Darfur through ACT International is continuing at the moment.
Upon the announcement of the warrant, Sudan revoked the licenses of 10 of the largest aid agencies providing humanitarian services in Sudan, “thereby putting at extreme risk millions of refugees and internally displaced Darfurians,” according to information from the Sudan Advocacy Action Coalition, provided by Brad Bohrer, director of the Church of the Brethren mission in Sudan.
The coalition said that according to the United Nations, the affected groups include Action Contre la Faim (a famine relief group), Care International, CHF International, International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps, both the French and Dutch branches of Medecins sans Frontieres (or Doctors Without Borders), Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam Great Britain, Solidarite, PATCO, and Save the Children Fund of both the United Kingdom and the US.
“Larger aid organizations have to register with the Khartoum government to function in Sudan, but the Church of the Brethren does not since we are partnering with a Sudanese organization, so we are not affected directly at this time,” Bohrer said. The Brethren mission has begun a partnership with Reconcile International in southern Sudan, where a first short-term Brethren mission worker–computer consultant Bibek Sahu–has been working.
Bohrer relayed a number of prayer requests from Reconcile, including request for prayer that the reaction across Sudan to the arrest warrant for President Al-Bashir would be peaceful. “Please keep the people in Darfur in your prayers,” said a communication from Reconcile staff. “They are going through tremendous suffering now that the government withdrew most of the international aid agencies from the area in response to the arrest warrant.”
Reconcile has successfully opened its Reconcile Peace Institute (RPI) with 30 students coming from areas of high inter-ethnic conflict, many having been traumatized themselves. Additional prayer requests from the organization have to do with RPI students and their personal situations. “Pray for us as we help them to experience the healing needed so they can serve as agents of peace as they return to their communities,” said the Reconcile staff letter.
“While the Darfur situation is not directly affecting the program of Reconcile, violence from the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group continues to affect the people in and around Yei,” Bohrer said. “Recent attacks by this group have forced many people out of the villages around Yei and to seek shelter in the city. Some participants in the Reconcile program have lost family members to this violence and to the kidnappings.”
Reconcile staff reported that students in the RPI program have been affected by the recent violence, one having had a brother killed on Jan. 1 by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and another having lost his father, who was killed, and his mother, who was abducted, in an LRA attack last week. This past weekend the LRA attacked the village of Luthaya, at the outskirts of Yei, killing five people and abducting two. “Hundreds of people…were sleeping in the town square,” reported Reconcile staff. “Pray that the reign of terror being carried out by the LRA may cease.”
Bohrer also announced the creation of a new Reconcile website through the work of Brethren mission worker Bibek Sahu. “Part of our work with Reconcile was to create a new website for them. The old one had become unworkable. I’m excited to announce that the site is up and working,” Bohrer said. Go to http://www.reconcile-int.org/ to view the new website.
Finances will top the agenda at the March 14-16 meeting of the Church of the Brethren’s Mission and Ministry Board. The denominational board will meet at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md.
On the board’s agenda are an overview of the financial situation of the Church of the Brethren, and an expected decision to revise the denomination’s budget parameter for 2009. Also under review will be the 2009 budget for Annual Conference, a revision of the denomination’s by-laws, an update of the Ministerial Leadership Paper, a proposal to establish a new Children’s Ministry area within the Caring Ministries of the Church of the Brethren, and a number of reports.
Following the close of the board meeting at noon on March 16, the Church of the Brethren Leadership Team and the Annual Conference officers will hold meetings through the morning of March 17.
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