by Cesar Miguel Matos, with Rich Harknett
Cesar is an elder and full-time worker in Santo Domingo, and a member of the IBCM Hispano committee. He travels within North and South America preaching and teaching.
The Dominican Republic shares part of a Caribbean island with the nation of Haiti. It has a warm climate, with an average temperature of 25°C. The country’s 11 million inhabitants have been blessed by the impact of the gospel since the 19th century, when the population was only around 800,000.
The Dominican Republic was the first Spanish colony in the New World but differences in class and education separate the diverse groups of people who live there. The privileged elite who hold the power to rule are mostly of Spanish descent, but also of Italian, French and African origins. The majority of the lower classes comprise those of mixed ancestry.
Approximately 65% of the population are professing Roman Catholics, although the majority rarely attend church. Around 15% are evangelical Protestants and the remainder follow other religions. The Roman Catholic Church has significant social and political influence. On 16 June 1954, an agreement was signed into law giving the Roman Catholic Church many privileges and exemption from taxes, to which the evangelical churches remained subject. This resulted in inequality and religious discrimination
In the last few years, evangelical churches have won certain liberties in social and religious life, due to the conversion of influential people in music, politics and science. A significant growth in the membership of evangelical churches has been seen across the whole country.
Brethren assemblies in the Dominican Republic were founded in the early 20th century. In 1919, Harry Louis Smith (UK), a Scottish businessman who had lived in Argentina, arrived on the island. An accountant on the railways, Smith had a deep devotion to the Lord. In his letters in the Echoes magazine, he wrote about the great need to send mission workers to the Dominican Republic. Smith, along with a gospel worker in Barbados, contacted Arthur Peterkin, a missionary in Argentina, about the possibility of his family moving to serve the Lord in the Dominican Republic.
In December 1919, Arthur Peterkin settled in the city of La Vega, where he brought the gospel to the people despite strong opposition. In July 1929, the first Brethren assembly was founded with the name Templo Bíblico (Biblical Temple), a term used only in the Dominican Republic. This name was commonly used as a means of identification, when, at the end of dictator Rafael Trujillo’s tyrannical regime (1930- 1961), the churches were forced to become formal and legal bodies.
Today, we are experiencing a favourable time of growth in the churches.
In 1921, Duncan Reid (UK) came to Sánchez Province as a mission worker. Reid and his wife lived in a small village for three years, where they devoted themselves to the study of Spanish. During that time, Reid provided valuable help to the Methodist worker, Don Salustiano Conde and his wife. In 1924, the Reids moved to the city of Puerto Plata and, for nearly 60 years, continued their work along the north coast of the country.
However, it was not until January 1941 that a Brethren church was founded in the capital, Santo Domingo, through the work of Ian McWilliam Rathie, Scottish-born but Canadian by nationality. Rathie had arrived in July 1928 as a private tutor for the sons of Arthur Peterkin. He cooperated in the work of the gospel through the provision of free English language classes to the residents of the city of La Vega. His mission work lasted more than six decades.
A New Generation
Today, we are experiencing a favourable time of growth in the churches. Despite humanist beliefs and materialism, people are attending church and God’s family is growing. As a result of the Lord’s work, through the faithful perseverance of His people, this growth is evident in the presence of 40 Brethren assemblies in Santo Domingo, and 150 more in several provinces throughout the country.
The first and greatest challenge that the Brethren churches faced was to transition from the expatriate mission leadership to national leadership, while maintaining continuity with the doctrines and principles passed on by these founding workers. Such a transition would also serve as a basis for the development of the work throughout the country. In this, the faithfulness of God has been seen with each passing generation. Great men of God have taken on the responsibility with efficiency and dedication, including Pablo Clases, Pascual de la Cruz, Tato Fana, Diego Flete, Lino Gomez, Pedro Luna and others, all of whom were key in that initial change.
…the faithfulness of God has been seen with each passing generation.
In recent years, many positive things have happened. A manual called Apuntes Doctrinales (Doctrinal Notes), which answers key questions regarding biblical principles, has been produced and distributed at a national level. Our publisher Prensa Bíblica (Bible Press) continues to provide literature needed for evangelistic work, as well as editing and publishing Paths of Light, one of the most important magazines for Brethren churches in Latin America. This magazine includes articles, which not only help and nourish churches in the country but also others around the world. However, perhaps the greatest contribution of this ministry is the publication of material used for our summer Bible camp. Each year since 1947, this literature has allowed us to evangelise around 30,000 children and young people.
A very important step, that has benefited theunity of the Brethren churches, has been the formation of the group Coordinara de los Templos Biblicos (Coordinating Committee of the Biblical Temples). This committee facilitates frequent meetings between church leaders, provides an opportunity to discuss church work, both spiritual and social, and also helps define the programme of aid and support among the churches. Because of these meetings, an annual national leaders’ congress is held to discuss and agree themes that are common to the assemblies.
Every year, we hold a summer camp for young people at Madre Vieja, Puerto Plata Province. This is a long standing tradition that brings together young people from all over the country. The camp provides them with teaching on important themes for their Christian development.
The churches throughout the country recognise the importance of working with young people, children and families in evangelism, as well as strengthening believers in discipleship and family life. In this context, we saw the necessity of building a conference centre that would facilitate retreats, camps and special events for families. The site also serves as a ministry training centre. Every year, there are meetings for families and young people from different parts of the country that would be impossible to host in their area due to the high numbers of people who attend.
The churches in the capital have a nursing home for older people. We are currently undertaking a construction project for a conference centre in the city of Boca Chica, facilities which are intended to be used to strengthen young families and leaders throughout the country.
Revive & Reconnect
The great challenge facing Brethren churches is to revive and relaunch their mission work among the next generation, and to reconnect the churches with their missionary responsibility that has been lost in today’s world. We need to face the challenge of reconnecting with the present generation through technology, using it as a tool for growth and expansion. In the past, we were the first Christian group with a radio programme and printing press; however, today we have a poor presence throughout the internet, social media, and on the radio and television. We must be alert to these new technologies, which provide greater opportunities to bring the message of salvation to many.
- for the church leaders to stand firm against the pressures they face
- for the next generation to take up the baton, to be active in mission and planting new churches
- for the printing press, which does tremendous work with limited resources
- for continued unity and harmony among the churches.