The international group of Brethren who were at the historic peace church conference in Latin America, which took place in the Dominican Republic, spent time during a small group session to be in prayer for the Brethren in the DR. Represented in the circle were Brethren from Haiti, the DR, Brazil, the US and Puerto Rico. The DR church has been suffering a difficult time in recent years. Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
The Church of the Brethren mission in the Dominican Republic and Iglesia de los Hermanos (the Church of the Brethren in the DR) have been facing financial and administrative problems in recent years. The program in the DR did not receive a clean audit report in its most recent annual financial audit, reported Global Mission Partnerships executive director Jay Wittmeyer.
“We’ve been working toward a clean audit and have been getting closer to that goal,” Wittmeyer said.
One of the main problems has been the intermingling of the microfinance community development funds with church funds, he reported. A large amount of money is outstanding in uncollected or unrecoverable loans given as microloans. Another problem has been undocumented expenses. Also donations from US congregations have gone directly to Dominican congregations without an accounting through the national church, and the practice has led to conflict.
The remaining amount in the community development fund, about $84,000, has been returned to the US, Wittmeyer said. The amount of outstanding, uncollected, or unrecoverable loans comes to more than $52,000, according to the audit. From 2001 to 2009 the fund received grants from the Global Food Crisis Fund totaling $515,870. The grants from the GFCF also provided support for salaries and program expenses of staff managing the microloan program as well as the loans.
Global Mission Partnerships has been making efforts to improve administration of the program in the DR, sending former Nigeria mission workers Tom and Janet Crago to work with the financial system for several months. The couple helped arrive at a recommendation that the community development program be registered outside the Church of the Brethren.
Irvin and Nancy Sollenberger Heishman, who finished up as mission coordinators at the end of 2010 after close to 8 years in the DR, worked hard to facilitate a clean audit and establish accountability structures, Wittmeyer said. They also encouraged stewardship and encouraged the DR church to overcome issues of dependency on the US church. In addition, Brazil mission coordinator Marcos Inhauser has been helping engage in the conversations with the DR church, in particular on spiritual growth.
“We’ve been working to get the microloan program registered” as a separate nonprofit in the DR, Wittmeyer said. “We don’t have that program running yet but we’re working on it.”
At the root of the problems is that “Global Mission Partnerships tried to set up institutions that were beyond the capacity of the local church to administer,” Wittmeyer explained. “In fact, they were institutions that were beyond the Global Mission Partnerships’ capacity to administer.”
Iglesia de los Hermanos has begun to recognize and deal with issues of administration and accountability, he said, chief among them financial accounting practices and conflicts of interest caused when leadership functions such as that of moderator or pastor have been combined with functions ordinarily associated with a church staff or treasurer. The church also has been dealing with power struggles among leadership.
At this year’s asamblea, an audit report was presented that Iglesia de los Hermanos also must begin making annual audited financial reports to the DR government. The church was registered in 2003 but has yet to make a report. Most of those in attendance at the asamblea had not been aware of problems with administration of the church or that its registration might be in jeopardy, Wittmeyer said.
“At the asamblea I saw signs of strength and growth in the church in the DR,” he said. “There were a number of contributions from congregations to the national church body, and questions about how to set that amount. It was a good conversation and showed people taking ownership.” Another strength of the church is its strong support for Haitian immigrants and evidence of Haitian-Dominican equality within the church.
Global Mission Partnerships plans to move away from a long-standing practice of directly paying the salaries of Dominican pastors. The shift is necessary to help the church in the DR become self sufficient, Wittmeyer said, as he acknowledged that many US Brethren who have lived or worked in the DR will have continuing legitimate concern for the people’s needs.
“The Church of the Brethren wants to help support the ministries that address poverty and provide for needs like clean water, schools, help with immigration issues, theological education, etc. But this needs to be done in ways that are both accountable and build the capacity of the church.”
For questions about the mission in the Dominican Republic contact Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission Partnerships, 800-323-8039 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
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