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Interview with a Dominican Republic Missionary

Editor's Note: Thank God for the opportunity to interview with a brother who visited the Dominican Republic for the first time through a USGA missionary trip from July 4-14, 2013. He shares with us an honest, detailed, and heartfelt reflection of his experience. It is our sincere hope that after reading this, more members can volunteer in Spanish Ministry. For more details on how you can help, please email smc@tjc.org.


1.      What motivated you to go on this missionary trip to Dominican Republic?

Motivations are complex. Sometimes we ourselves don’t fully understand our own motivations. Spiritually, I believe the Holy Spirit played an important role in moving me to go to Dominican Republic (DR) for ministry. Affection-wise, I think my desire to serve God and others motivated me. Intellectually, my past involvement in Spanish ministry for many years compelled me to try to understand the actual situation in the DR better so that I could more effectively help with the ministry in that region.


2.      What sort of training or instructions did you receive before the trip?

Like many others in church, I too have gone through years of religious education, church events, seminars, and various ministry training. While such training is important to increase our biblical knowledge and for spiritual cultivation, I’ve also come to realize that some of the most important training can only be obtained through personal experience. Such experience includes our experience with God, His providence, and His ministry. Additionally, when traveling to a foreign place for missionary work, experience in dealing with practical and logistical issues is important. Thankfully, I was able to “piggy-back” off the wonderful and experienced co-workers that accompanied me during my DR missionary trip. Because of this, everything went much more smoothly than I anticipated.


3.      What was your first impression in the Dominican Republic?

In new environments, we often take in so much that it’s hard to put into words. But my initial impression of DR was one of great hospitality and love from the local church members and ministers. The local brethren prepared and welcomed us so warmly that it left me with a very deep impression of the love of Christ in them.


4.      How did you adapt to the new environment in Dominican Republic? Did you experience any culture shock?

Surprisingly, I adapted to the DR environment rather quickly. Again, it was nice that I had experienced co-workers to accompany me and show me how “normal” summer DR missionary trips were done. One cultural shock that U.S. church members should be aware of is that DR natives may not have very high respect for Asians given they are such a small and foreign minority in DR.

We should not be surprised if kids and children on the street start making weird stereo-typical “Asian” noises that may not sound very complimentary. Personally, I got a few dirty and disgusted looks from locals, especially in the DR capital. Since many U.S. True Jesus Church members often live a largely Asian cultural life in a non-discriminatory environment, facing stereo-types and cultural tensions like those we might face in the DR could be something new.

In a large city like Santo Domingo, a group of foreign Asian missionaries (even with a Mexican translator) definitely sticks out culturally. Of course, being unique has its advantages in that it makes us (as foreigners) that much more noticeable and memorable. 


5.      Can you share what local church services and members are like?

Church services in the DR are very similar to those conducted in the U.S. True Jesus Church, which basically has a model format for services that transcends cultural boundaries (mainly made up of hymnal praise, sharing God’s word, and prayer). Many of the native and local members in DR grew up in a, relatively-speaking, simple environment compared to the United States. Most modern conveniences are present for the most part in larger cities, but I do believe the poverty in many pockets of DR and lack of infrastructure play a role in the cultural character of members. And such a cultural environment can be for the good. For example, I believe because of the simpler environment, believers find it easier to focus on God versus the many modern-day distractions that fill up American culture.


6.      How did the Street Fair Evangelical Outreach go?

Although we often call the summer DR missionary trip a “street fair”, this is a bit misleading. There was no actual “fair” event as we might imagine it. I believe “street preaching” would be a more accurate term. DR street preaching is done just like in the U.S., by approaching people with various tracts/flyers and trying to strike up conversation about the gospel. And, just as in the U.S., preaching to a culture that is often far and away from God’s standards is challenging.

Success in ministry can be seen from different perspectives. We often look at the numbers, and rightfully so. But there is also an unseen and qualitative component in our service for God. If viewed purely from the numbers, we could say the DR mission’s trip was a complete failure and has been for a number of years. It’s definitely something we should re-evaluate in terms of our ministry practices. But we believe God is sovereign over the affairs of history. God has His own time and way to open the door for the gospel in DR. It may not be through us, but God knows those who are His and we should try to reach as many as we can before the Lord Jesus returns.

Christianity may outwardly appear very prevalent in the Dominican Republic, but it is often a very superficial faith. Faith could be based solely on God’s blessing or the emotional “high” received from participating in upbeat praise services. Faith and worship often takes root in something other than Christ alone. Additionally, the DR True Jesus Church generally ministers to areas which are located in the more rural/poor/undeveloped areas of DR. Many possible converts living in such areas, who might otherwise want to seek God more deeply, have the very practical day-to-day concerns of feeding their family and improving their life. Finding the right channel and means to effectively reach the people in DR with the right message, therefore, can be just as challenging as it is in the U.S.


7.      What are some of the challenges members face in the Dominican Republic?

During my short time in DR, I came to understand that the challenges which people face in drawing closer to God or when confronted with the gospel can manifest differently in different cultural environments but they have a common root; generally, our challenges to faith in Christ can be traced back to our fallen and sinful human nature. We can summarize those challenges as lust, greed, and pride. No matter which culture or environment we go to, it basically boils down to those same fundamental issues. Each of us face our own unique cultural environments and challenges, and so each of us must strive hard to confront and claim victory over those challenges, both within and without.


8.      What left the deepest impression on you during the trip?

My experiences with the love and faith of the brothers and sisters in DR left the greatest impression upon me. I am confident that they all sincerely desire to love others and share the gospel of salvation to those around them.

In DR, we find members that have kept the faith in difficult environments. One memorable moment during the trip was during a visitation with a brother who faced serious health issues (I believe he suffered a stroke, had kidney failure, and had signs of dementia). The brother lived in what many of us might consider prison-like conditions, unable to come to church for regular worship because of his health. Most of this brother’s days were spent in a small dark room, without electricity, little ventilation, daily tropical-climate heat, often with the stench of his own feces and urine. With only minimal medical care and oversight, past missionaries, apparently, could not even visit him because of health and sanitation issues that made his family too ashamed to give him access to visitors. I couldn’t imagine living in conditions like that for a single day, let alone years. I wondered what my faith would look like if I had to switch places with him.

Near the end of our trip, we were finally able to schedule a visitation with this brother, share some encouragement, and pray for this brother. He had already been baptized, although he still did not receive the infilling of God’s Spirit as evidenced by tongue-speaking. Please remember this brother in prayer. Even though this brother’s mind was not fully clear, he still remembered many important things about the Lord, his baptism, and his faith. I think experiences such as these left the deepest impression in my memory.


9.      What would you say to someone who is thinking about joining future missionary trips?

I believe if the opportunity arises to join missionary trips this is a great blessing. The U.S. General Assembly is calling for more volunteers to participate in DR missionary work. Participating in missionary work is an invaluable experience for our faith. It can give us a new perspective on our own life through seeing the reflection of Christ in others, in their experience and life of faith. Additionally, being able to set aside time, away from secular cares, to serve God fully and devote to others in love is a priceless experience; it gives us a sense of fulfillment and meaning that the world cannot give. In our life, we can find value in many things. But I don’t feel like we could find any greater value and fulfillment than in our service for God and our love for others. Freely we received from the Lord, freely we should give.   


10.  How should members prepare themselves to join this ministry?

God never gifted me with much of a talent for foreign language. Language is crucial to communication. The ability to speak Spanish is the greatest practical need to communicating the gospel effectively in DR. We always face a severe lack of translators who are able and willing to serve during Spanish-language missions.

But as an encouragement to others—those similarly without that gift of foreign language—I share this: so often sharing God’s love and the gospel can be over-complicated when it is actually fairly simple. Often a simple act of love tells others more about Christ than ten thousand words spoken without affection. Handing out a tract and sharing your love, for Christ’s sake, can tell others more about Christ then being able to show off an expert grasp of the Spanish-language or an ocean of biblical knowledge. Sharing the gospel requires knowledge, but to truly share it requires much more.

I believe the most important preparation for ministry is that of the heart—one of self-examination of our own love for others and whether we possess that deep desire to reach out to others with Christ’s love and message of salvation.