A reflection by Jay Wittmeyer, Executive Director of Global Mission and Service
On a trip to the Dominican Republic (DR) in March, members of the Mission Advisory Committee and I were greatly inspired by the work that the DR Brethren are doing to reach out into their communities.
On the first day we joined Gustavo Lendi, a pastor and current treasurer of the denomination, to visit poor families living in cardboard huts in a shanty settlement of Haiti called “Parc Cadeau.” Many children in the refugee camp were actually born in the DR but refused re-entry when they traveled to Haiti to visit relatives. Brother Gustavo, who has helped many stateless Haitians procure legal Dominican residency, is advocating on their behalf.
We were very impressed with the intentional focus of training leaders in the church. The Dominican Brethren have partnered with an Anabaptist seminary to hold classes in Brethren communities so church members can attend. Four pastors are attending university to earn theology degrees, and the denomination also hosts an annual pastors’ conference. Most importantly, elders of the church regularly travel to remote areas and provide one-day Bible studies to share Brethren beliefs and practices with low-income, poorly educated church members.
During our visit, we traveled to several city churches. There we heard stories of members working in slum areas to support youth and prevent them from getting caught in the drug culture of the Caribbean. We met a young adult who was saved from the drug lifestyle. We even met four teenagers who regularly preach in church, which helps them stay out of trouble.
We also visited a small church of both Haitians and Dominicans in a remote, mountain village. This little Brethren church has local leadership, but pastors from the city go out a few times a month to preach and teach. The community is very pleased to have a church. In total, we visited at least 16 churches and met many church members.
The last thing we did on our trip was attend the Dominican Brethren’s annual conference. Celebrating their 25th annual conference, the Dominican Brethren are forming a strong Brethren identity, and many members have grown up with it being the only church that they know.
As I reflected on our visit, I recognize the importance of effective leadership at the denominational level. Just as a local church needs individuals to serve as pastors, elders, or board chairs to lead the congregation, so also do denominations need leaders to care for the flock. Moderators motivate pastors, create unity among members, and encourage sacrifice and mutuality. They focus not only on individual members or single congregations, but on relationships between congregations and their members.
Much of the work of Global Mission and Service is focused on leadership development and supporting international leaders. We partner with them as they listen to the wisdom of their unique community, make decisions, and find a healthy balance between the social ministry of outreach and the theological ministries of teaching and spiritual growth. Whether in the Dominican Republic, Spain, Haiti, or elsewhere, the Church of the Brethren is developing leaders, planting churches, and reaching out into communities for Christ. By giving to the Church of the Brethren, you make all of this possible. Thank you for helping us make a difference around the world.