Iglesia de los Hermanos (Church of the Brethren) in the Dominican Republic held its 2012 Asamblea on Feb. 24-26. The annual assembly was “really positive,” said general secretary Stan Noffsinger, who attended along with Global Mission and Service executive Jay Wittmeyer and mission liaison Daniel d’Oleo.
Two Brethren leaders from Haiti represented l’Eglise des Freres Haitiens (the Haitian Church of the Brethren). The two countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, and many members of the DR church are of Haitian background. Also at the assembly were workcampers from Atlantic Northeast District led by Earl K. Ziegler, a long-time supporter of the DR church.
Following the Asamblea, Wittmeyer met with DR church leaders to talk about the microfinance community development program of the Dominican church, and a meeting also was held with a leading Haitian-Dominican pastor to hear concerns for those of Haitian descent living in the DR.
Noffsinger also spent time with the Los Guaricanos congregation, and visited in the homes of church members. Wittmeyer and d’Oleo accompanied the workcamp group to San Jose de los Llanos, where they worked on a building project in cooperation with the Sabana Torza congregation.
Both at the Asamblea and in his visits with church members, Noffsinger reported seeing evidence of a mature church that is “engaging society, leading to spiritual and community transformation.” He praised the DR Brethren for publishing a transparent and fully audited financial report this year, and expressed admiration for the combination of evangelism, church planting, and peace work that is being carried out in various congregations.
He lifted up the example of the Guaricanos congregation and its five preaching points. The Guaricanos church has a goal of expanding that effort to 10 preaching points, Noffsinger said, and is deliberately planting in communities where there are social issues that need to be addressed. One preaching point, for example, is in a neighborhood marked by gun violence, prostitution, and gambling. Even as they do evangelism at a weekly open market, the Guaricanos Brethren also have held weapons swaps in which they offered food to people who turned in their guns. Noffsinger said, “There is critical need in that community, and they are reaching out to affect the lives of the people.”
Wittmeyer and Noffsinger both commented on seeing the effects of the global recession on the DR’s economy, which is “dismal” in Wittmeyer’s words. In part, this results from a decline in tourism, he said. There was a decline in attendance at the Asamblea because of economic difficulties among church members, he added, as many were already surviving on subsistence wages. “They’re facing the same kinds of things (as American Brethren),” he said. “Staggering increase in the price of gasoline, increases in the price of food.” During the trip, the American church leaders noticed that the price of gas in the DR had risen above $7.50 per gallon.
At the Asamblea, Ziegler preached the Sunday morning sermon from Philippians 3, and called on the Dominican Brethren to press toward the mark, with the goal of following Jesus. “The worship at the Asamblea was outstanding,” Noffsinger said.
Business items included a “clean” and independently audited financial report. Noffsinger said that at the invitation of the executive committee, the auditor presented his credentials and the audit in person, and answered questions. Also, each congregation reported how much it is giving to support the ministries of the national church.
Wittmeyer reported that the Global Mission and Service office is giving a grant of $20,000 to the church in the DR for the year 2012. The money will help rent properties for congregations, and support the Dominican Brethren in holding outreach events like Vacation Bible School, but will no longer be used to pay salaries for pastors.
In other business, Ariel Rosario Abreu, pastor at Los Guaricanos, was chosen moderator-elect. Isaias Tena, co-pastor of the San Luis congregation, is serving as moderator.