By Kim Plummer Krull
This new year may hold new hope for people in the Dominican Republic, as a unique partnership strives to plant that country’s first LCMS congregation and also address the plight of people there with developmental disabilities.
“This is a good example of a variety of people coming together in partnership to share the Gospel message and to help improve some terrible, very inhumane conditions,” said Barbara Below, director of Social Ministry Organizations for LCMS World Relief/Human Care.
LCMS World Relief /Human Care, LCMS World Mission, Bethesda Lutheran Homes and Services, Inc., and the Central American Lutheran Mission Society (CALMS) signed a partnership agreement in the fall and are working to place both a missionary and an outreach worker in the Dominican Republic early this year.
The missionary will be the first posted by LCMS World Mission in that Caribbean country, according to Dr. Jorge Groh, World Mission’s regional director for Latin America.
“This is a new step in partnerships,” said Groh, who visited the Dominican Republic in September as part of the mission-partnership trip. “We have a great opportunity for outreach by helping schools and working with people with developmental disabilities. There are spiritual needs everywhere. Other needs are tremendous.”
St. Michael Lutheran Church, an LCMS congregation in Fort Myers, Fla., raised awareness of those needs when members began mission trips to their Dominican sister city, Santiago, several years ago. Troubled by the dismal lack of services for people with developmental disabilities, St. Michael started financial and volunteer support for the Home of New Hope — a small, privately funded residential care facility.
“It has room for only a few children, but at least those children get care that so many others go without,” said Jeff Dinkel, chairman of St. Michael’s Board of Missions, who has made mission trips to the Dominican Republic since 1999. “The stories are heartbreaking.”
Dinkel and other mission-partnership team members shared media reports of children with developmental disabilities locked in rooms and chained to trees while their parents were at work. They also related accounts of people with developmental disabilities living behind bars and in cages.
“Some [of the neglect takes place] because the people have no knowledge of better ways to handle situations,” said Rev. Earl Bleke, chief religious life officer for Bethesda, an LCMS recognized service organization that serves people with developmental disabilities and their families.
Bethesda began providing training and resources for the Home of New Hope after a request from St. Michael. Now, that effort is expanding because of the four-pronged partnership.
Both Bethesda and LCMS World Mission each has committed $50,000 per year for three years to Dominican developmental-disability outreach. In addition, Bethesda and CALMS together pledged to raise another $50,000 per year for three years from individuals, congregations, and organizations, which World Relief/Human Care will match.
In addition to the Home of New Hope project, the partners are working with the Genesis School, a Christian elementary school in Santiago.
“These are poor children who otherwise would not get to attend school,” Dinkel said. He explained that many of the students lack a birth certificate, which is required for public-school attendance.
Currently, St. Michael is helping to build the school’s second site on the city outskirts. The new Lutheran Home and School also will offer vocational training and serve as a worship center and one of the bases for the new missionary and outreach worker.
At press time, interviews with candidates for both positions were under way.
Below recalled from the mission team’s trip that the Dominican Republic “seems to be a place of very little hope and bleak futures. Yet, we met beautiful, beautiful children full of joy and energy and happiness. We saw hope in their eyes when they told us, `We know Jesus loves us.'”
For more information on the project or opportunities to support church planting through developmental-disabilities outreach in the Dominican Republic, contact Rev. Paul Kienker at (800) 248-1930, Ext. 1683; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kim Plummer Krull is a freelance writer in St. Louis who writes for LCMS World Relief/ Human Care.
Posted Dec. 23, 2004