THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
In 1999, St. Michael Lutheran Church in Ft. Myer's, FL sent its first short-term team to Santiago, Dominican Republic. The initial purpose of this trip was to do some repair and construction work at the Home of New Hope, an institution for children with developmental disabilities. It soon became apparent that the team would be able to do more work than was required at the Home of New Hope -- and that led to making contact with the Genesis School. The Genesis School was a small somewhat desperate school with over one hundred students who were children of working single parents. These children had no birth certificates, which made them ineligible for public education. The Genesis School provided a basic education, religious education and two meals a day in a small, rented two-bedroom home.
St. Michael's has continued to send mission teams to Santiago every year since 1999. These teams have built sidewalks, tables and desks. They've painted. They've facilitated Vacation Bible Schools and they've shared the love of Jesus with many, many people. And God has blessed this relationship between St. Michael's, the Home of New Hope and the Genesis School. Much has happened in the last six years. The Genesis School is in a new building and now educates over 200 children. A second school was constructed in 2007 in the community of Palmar Arriba near Santiago -- and over 100 children attend school in that new facility.
This initial outreach opened a whole new chapter for Lutherans in the Dominican Republic. In 2003, St. Michael's contacted Bethesda Lutheran Homes and Services in Watertown, WI on behalf of Home of New Hope, whose teachers were eager for continuing education for teaching children with developmental disabilities. Bethesda graciously provided grant money and facilitated that continuing education.
Out of this was born a vision -- a vision of planting a Lutheran Church in the Dominican Republic that would be very evangelistic, sharing the love of Jesus and bringing people into a living relationship with him. This church-planting effort includes intentionally reaching out to, welcoming and supporting families with members having developmental disabilities.
This vision has led to a very creative, first-of-its-kind partnership between CALMS, LCMS World Mission, LCMS World Relief, Bethesda Lutheran Homes and Services, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (IELB) and St Michael's Lutheran Church. The ministry partners support and encourage national workers and three expatriate missionaries: Brazilian pastor, Rev. Walter Ries who focuses primarily on the church planting, LCMS missionary, Danelle Putnam, who focuses on the human care ministry, and Rev. Ted Krey, who focuses on leadership development.
The ministry partners meet at least twice annually with the missionaries and national church workers to review progress and help determine next steps. More and more, the national workers are becoming part of the decision-making process.
Each of the partners provides leadership in specific areas of ministry. For example, CALMS helps design strategic short-term mission projects to assist the missionaries and emerging national church. CALMS helps with seminars and consults with missionaries and national workers to help move the work toward the agreed goals.
Bethesda provides leadership with the outreach to people with disabilities and their families. LCMS World Relief and Human Care provides development guidance and funding for human care work. LCMS World Mission provides ecclesiastical oversight and counsel regarding church planting and leadership development. St. Michaels Lutheran Church provides funding and encouragement to the school staff at the two schools it supports.
The Dominican Republic: The Country
The Dominican Republic consists of the eastern two-thirds of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, which lies between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. Slightly more than twice the size of New Hampshire, the country is tropical with little seasonal variation in temperature. However, there is a great deal of seasonal variation in rainfall. The country has rugged highlands and mountains interspersed with fertile valleys. The Dominican Republic lies in the middle of the hurricane belt and is subject to severe storms from June to October.
Some 25% of Dominicans are considered below the poverty level, according to the World Bank. And the current unemployment rate is 16.5%. In addition, the inflation rate is 27.5%. Taken together, this makes the Dominican Republic a very challenging place for the vast majority of its people to live.
Adding to the economic challenges facing the country, destitute Haitians fleeing poverty and violence continue to cross into the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic is also a major trans-shipment point for South American drugs destined for the US and Europe.
The population of the Dominican Republic is 8.8 million people. The median age for the country is 24 years old -- meaning that half the population is younger than 24 and half is older. Average life expectancy is 67. About 1% of the population -- some 88,000 people - are living with HIV/AIDS.
CALMS works in partnership with the Venezuela Lutheran Partnership, a mission society based in Minneapolis, Minnesota and with the Lutheran Church in Venezuela (Iglesia Luterana de Venezuela - ILV), to support the efforts of the national Lutheran congregations in that country.
The ILV has growing congregations in the states of Anzoátegui, Monagas, Bolívar, Sucre, Carabobo, Lara, Barinas, and Aragua and in Caracas, the capitol. The ILV also has a number of mission outposts in the states of Maracaibo and Cagua.
The ILV is the result of mission work done by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod beginning in 1952 through the present. For many years, the ILV’s partner organization, "Cristo Para Todas Las Naciones - CPTLN" (The Lutheran Hour) in Venezuela, served as a key resource providing creative media to assist in outreach to non-Christians in Venezuela and in many other countries in South and Central America.
The ILV has a very good theological education program that has prepared many workers not only for the Lutheran churches but also for other denominations. There are three schools in Caracas, Maturin and Puerto Ordaz.
One remaining missionary couple, Dale and Sandra Seville, provide counsel and guidance for a major human care ministry that includes a working farm that provides needed jobs and income to rural congregations.
The ILV also has a bi-lingual short-term coordinator who assists CALMS with logistics for teams visiting the country. The church also has a guest house in the hills above Caracas to house volunteers visiting the country.