Editor’s note: In Manna 85, we featured the testimonies of voluntary African ministry workers, recounting their experiences of God’s amazing grace and guidance during their missionary work in the continent. This time, we focus on the ministry in the Dominican Republic, overseen by the General Assembly of the United States (USGA). Despite obstacles, the field is evidently ripe for the harvest; may the Lord raise up more willing workers.
Liliana Ventura—Baldwin Park, California, USA
Dates of Trips: Between 2010 and 2014
For His merciful kindness is great toward us,
And the truth of the LORD endures forever.
Praise the LORD! (Ps 117:2)
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I bear testimony of the Holy Spirit’s work among believers and truth-seekers in the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican Republic (DR) in the Caribbean, was where Christopher Columbus first landed when he arrived in the Americas in 1492. Since its colonization by European explorers, the country has developed slowly; it continues to be ravaged by poverty, natural disasters and corruption. Anecdotally, most heads of household make approximately USD 100 a month to feed a family of four. Many live in slums made of repurposed aluminum or wood, with no electricity or running water.
The True Jesus Church has a church building located in San Pedro de Macoris, on the southeast coast of the island, and a prayer house in the capital, Santo Domingo.
I started traveling to the DR in 2010 as a Spanish interpreter for Chinese- and English-speaking preachers. Since then, I have been to this lovely island nation a handful of times and I have discovered that the weather is warm, but the people are even warmer.
As volunteer mission workers, we often think we travel to the DR to give our time, our talent, our knowledge, our kindness, our work, our wealth. However, the truth is that we go there to receive. Every time I visit the DR, I return with a cup overflowing with testimonies and thanksgiving.
On my first visit to the DR, in 2010, with Preacher Jason Hu, I witnessed the baptism of Brother Floro’s two young children, Ariel, aged three at the time, and Marielis, aged seven months.
Ariel was terrified when he was taken to the edge of the water. Although he lived on an island, he had never been in the sea. He clung to the preacher and his assistant, crying and screaming as if in great pain. Nevertheless, he was able to calm down long enough to be baptized, and he emerged from the water with an inexplicable glow. Praise God, his fear had vanished, replaced by joy and laughter! He might be too young to understand, but he had likely experienced the pure joy of redemption in the spiritual realm. How else could we explain such a drastic change in behavior and demeanor? Surely, the grace of God brings peace beyond understanding into the hearts of those who love Him and become His children through water baptism (Phil 4:7).
Despite challenges of poverty, hunger, lack of educational access, and shortage of healthcare options, the children in the DR love Bible stories. On one occasion in Santo Domingo, with Preacher Steve Hwang, a college student volunteer and I came across a group of five children, all aged between four to seven.
They were curious about the chinitas (Chinese girls) visiting their community. When we explained we were from a church and were there to visit our church brethren, they asked if we knew any Bible stories. Soon, we were sitting on the street, teaching a religious education class! The children’s eyes lit up when they recognized Bible characters and they sang the hymns we taught them with gusto.
Who could have known that a routine visit could suddenly turn into an opportunity to share the word with children? Without a doubt, God loves little children, and yearns for them to know Him and receive His truth (Mt 19:14).
Every trip to the DR brings opportunity to practice the qualities of a good and faithful servant. From past visits, I have learned humility, diligence, and patience. During one of my most memorable trips, I learned the power of kindness.
We often associate kindness with being friendly, considerate, in a passive manner. However, the meaning of kindness in the Bible (חֵסֵד, checed, Hebrew: “loving-kindness; steadfast love; grace; mercy; faithfulness; goodness; devotion. ... Biblical usage frequently speaks of someone ‘doing,’ ‘showing,’ or ‘keeping’ checed.” ) refers to a zealous force that complements mercy and love. This form of active kindness is what I learned, firsthand, on this particular trip.
Kindness of the Poor
The believers in DR are profoundly kind and generous, despite their financial and material limitations.
Brother Floro and his family prepared a typical Dominican soup and dessert for us. Brother Borges and Sister Ramona insisted that we have lunch at their house, preparing for us a banquet with enough food to last them a month. Brother Huang gave up two bedrooms in his home for us, while he made do with a small bed in the living room.
As I witnessed every member’s kind and generous offerings, it felt like I was watching the widow giving her only two coins over and over again (Mk 12:41–44).
Kindness of the Rich
Moved by photos of the DR members’ simple Sabbath lunch of bread and butter, a brother from the church in Queens, New York, USA, sent funds to buy his DR brethren a sumptuous Sabbath fellowship meal. This brother had never met them. Yet, the DR members could feel his love for them, across the thousands of kilometers, and were very grateful for his kindness.
Members in more developed countries may consider themselves wealthy, living with all the convenience and abundance our hearts could desire. Yet, our abundance in possessions is often accompanied by our lack of faith, love, and kindness towards one another. From this spiritual perspective, our DR members are wealthier, demonstrating Christ's loving kindness in their lives.
Kindness of the Almighty
Sister Ramona's turnaround is a further testament to God's kindness. I recall how she stubbornly refused water baptism for so many years. I remember the anger and defensiveness that characterized her former self whenever we visited her and her husband, Brother Borges. She never smiled. During this trip, she was so different. Ever since she received the Holy Spirit the previous year, she had become gentler, and happier. God had turned her heart of stone into one of flesh. She had overcome her earlier philosophies and was intent on being baptized.
When asked why she had changed so drastically, Sister Ramona answered, "I can no longer remain blindfolded now that I have seen the truth in this church."
At the time of her baptism, the family was building their new house. If she left their home for the baptism, the unattended construction materials were likely to be stolen. However, Sister Ramona responded, "We used to live in a rented apartment. I had prayed for a new house of our own. But I also said to God, 'If this house or anything you give us will separate us from You, it is better if You give us nothing at all.' If the Lord calls me back today, how can I tell Him, 'I can't go yet, I have this house to finish’? This house cannot stand between God and me. Even if the Lord should call me right now while we are eating, how can I tell Him, 'Come back after lunch'?"
When we confirmed that we could proceed with her baptism, Sister Ramona's face lit up with a smile that reached her eyes. Then she got up and danced around—this was the first time I had seen anyone dance for joy!
On the drive to the baptism site, Sister Ramona kept singing. When asked why she was so happy, she answered, “Today is my birthday; when I am baptized, I’ll be a newborn baby of God.” When she rose out of the water and came to the shore after her baptism, her face shone with a bright smile. She never used to smile; now, she never stopped smiling.
Through Sister Ramona's journey, I observed the kindness of God, not only towards her and her husband, but also towards her neighbors and the church in the DR. Truly, it is God’s kindness to all of us in the family of Christ, that we have welcomed a new spiritual baby sister into our fold.
I would not exchange my experiences in the DR for anything in the world. We are placed in the right place and at the right time so that we can reach out to God, and bring others to do so as well.
“And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:26–27)
For some, God’s mission for them seems clear. For those equipped with a command of Spanish, serving in the DR ministry is a natural fit. However, even if we have not mastered the language, we can still participate in this holy work. At the very least, now that we have read of the DR brethren, we can serve by remembering them in our prayers.
It is God's kindness that I have had the opportunity to spend time with our DR brethren. I praise God for their progress in faith, and for the opportunity to learn new life lessons through them.
May all glory, praise, and honor be to our heavenly Father. Amen.
Candace Chang—Cerritos, California, USA
Date of Trip: July 11–21, 2014
Hallelujah, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ I testify of God’s grace during a ten-day visit to the Dominican Republic (DR). On this trip, God showed me how precious and powerful the complete gospel of salvation is. He also reminded me of what it means to share God’s grace with others.
A HIDDEN TREASURE
When we arrived at the capital, Santo Domingo, our group (a preacher, a theological student and I) met with a brother from the United States (US) who had been there for few months. He took us to San Pedro de Macoris, one and a half hours’ drive away. This is where most of our members reside.
We rented a house at San Pedro de Macoris, and that very evening, a truth-seeker named Danny brought some of his friends to the house, and the preacher led a study on the doctrines of Holy Spirit, baptism, and the church. Such Bible studies, often going late into the evenings, along with visits and interactions with local truth-seeking friends, revealed a yearning for the truth rarely found at home in the US. We spent our days distributing leaflets and preaching at a plaza, and on the university campus. We found the locals more willing to accept our flyers than members of the public back home, and at the campus, many students would stop and listen to our message.
On top of general outreach, we also focused on those who had shown interest in our church’s beliefs through the earlier evangelistic efforts of one brother, who was there to help with the church construction. One interested party was a local lawyer, who had been given a basic beliefs booklet earlier. When we visited him, he had carefully studied the contents, and filled the booklet with tags and notations. When we shared the doctrines with him, we could see from his expression that the verses affected him even before we explained them. Unlike preaching in the US, where there is lackadaisical attitude in seeking God and in knowing the truth, in the DR, there was enthusiasm and open-mindedness towards listening to biblical truths.
The gospel of salvation is powerful as it leads men to the kingdom of heaven. Evangelizing in the DR reminded me how beautiful and pure our doctrines are, and how blessed I am to have received them.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Mt 13:44)
ALWAYS READY TO SHARE GOD’S GRACE
God, through the DR members, showed me the joy in serving others and in sharing His works. Throughout our stay, the members willingly and joyfully shared their possessions with us, and with zeal, they consistently testified åof God’s grace in their lives.
For example, during this trip, we stayed with a member in Santo Domingo. The mother in that family, who had immigrated to the DR many years ago, received us with warm hospitality, cooking many meals for us just as she always had for visiting church members. From her house, we travelled to visit our members living the capital. One home we visited was that of Brother Borges and Sister Ramona, and we shared the Bible with their neighbor. I realized that many local members evangelize in their everyday lives. On the bus journey to San Pedro, a local brother travelling with us just stood up and preached to other commuters. Perhaps to some, it would be odd to preach at such a time and place, but not to this brother; for him, preaching had become second nature—something he was always ready to do.
On the last day, we visited Brother Floro’s home. The house, constructed from repurposed metal sheets, was modest, and in this humble abode lived Brother Floro, his wife, and their children, Ariel and Marielis. The members in the DR do not have much, but they are eager to share what they have through acts of service and words of praise to God for His grace in their lives. Seeing how they enjoyed fellowship with one another, how they boldly shared their faith, encouraged me to also proactively share what I have received from God with those around me.
GOD GIVES THE INCREASE
Lastly, this trip to the DR reminded me of my role in God’s salvation plan. A sharing based on Psalm 127 at the start of the trip continues to resonate within me:
Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the LORD guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. (Ps 127:1)
Although evangelism in the US may not be easy, our duty is to pray and preach the word at all time and in all places. Ultimately, God will prosper His work and call those who belong to Him.
May all the glory and honor be unto His holy name.