Pastor Bernardo Perez has served as a pastor of Haitian migrants in the Dominican Republic (DR) for more than 30 years. But it wasn’t until recently that he and his congregation have been able to worship in a place they can call their own.
Bernardo and his congregation recently worked with a short-term mission team sent by Christian Reformed World Missions (CRWM) to construct a new church.
“Where we were worshiping,” Bernardo explained, “the church wasn’t able to grow because people were leaving. But now we are constructing in a community where there is a lot of growth.”
Bernardo and members of his congregation migrated from Haiti to the DR in order to work on a sugarcane plantation. The migrants lived in a company-owned area known as Batey Velazquez and worshiped in a church there.
As the sugar crop lost its value in the DR, Batey Velazquez residents, along with many other Haitians living on company-owned land, lost their jobs. They were left to search for a new home.
“We have been able to continue living here for a while,” Bernardo said, “but the owners could say at any moment that they no longer want the church here.”
Due to past political tensions between the two nations and current immigration issues, Haitian immigrants are seen as the lowest class of people in the DR. But people do overcome these prejudices.
“Both cultures are very relational, social, communal, and hospitable,” said Stephen Brauning, CRWM missionary to the DR. “These positive traits overshadow the deep-rooted prejudice and resentment.”
As members of Batey Valazquez searched for new jobs, many of them moved to a nearby village called Cruce Mela. Here they, along with a group of seven people from Canada and the United States, would build their new church.
“This is my eighth trip in eight years,” said Leo Kuiperij, a volunteer from Oakwood, Ontario. “It’s encouraging to the people that we work alongside, and it’s encouraging to me.”
The team worked with members of the church mixing concrete, building walls, and installing support trusses and metal for the roof. They ended their time in the Caribbean at the first worship service in the new church—a building that, only one week earlier, had only been a foundation.
“The trip was a great opportunity to share in their joy and see how happy they are in the Lord,” said Sue Schreiner of Grand Rapids, Mich.