Three Lutheran missionaries — including one from Brazil — have accepted calls to begin evangelistic and human-care work in the Dominican Republic, a West Indies nation sharing a border with Haiti.
The missionaries — who were installed at an Aug. 27 worship service in Santiago, Dominican Republic — are serving on behalf of an unusual mission partnership involving LCMS World Mission; Bethesda Lutheran Homes and Services, Watertown, Wis.; the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil; the Central American Lutheran Mission Society, Houston; Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne; LCMS World Relief/Human Care; and two LCMS congregations in Florida.
Dr. Jorge Groh, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean with LCMS World Mission, describes the endeavor as a “unique example of partners in mission” because of the variety of groups involved. Partnership members are working together to provide personnel, training, resources, material aid, and funding, and to develop a strategy for church planting and leadership development in the Dominican Republic.
A key player in the new work is Bethesda, which is providing funding and training so that missionaries can reach out to what Groh calls the “high percentage of families with disabled children” in that country.
Groh recalled visiting the country in October 2004 and meeting a number of families with disabled children. In one family, he met a 6-year-old boy with a genetic disorder that had caused him to age prematurely — he looked like someone decades older. At the family’s request, Groh baptized the boy, who died a few weeks later.
The Dominican Republic mission partners hope to reach out to these families, Groh said, providing them with physical and spiritual support, pastoral care, and hope in Christ.
Carrying out the onsite work will be Danelle Putnam, an LCMS missionary based in Panama who is “on loan” to serve as an “outreach specialist” in the Dominican Republic; Rev. Walter Trescher Ries Jr., a church-planting missionary with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil; and Anne Kosche, a deaconess intern from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne.
The three-member team will recruit and train pastors and other leaders for a new Lutheran church body to be established in that country; provide spiritual and physical support to families with disabled children and train national church workers to continue that support; and make Lutheran worship accessible for people there, including those with disabilities.
Groh said the partnership will focus on training national leaders to carry out their own mission work. The ministry’s three-year goal, he said, is to have a national Lutheran church body established, with national pastors in training. At least half a dozen Dominican Republic nationals already have expressed an interest in theological training and are “thirsty for God’s presence in their lives,” he said.
Rev. Earl Bleke, chief religious life officer with Bethesda, said it’s exciting to be working with a partnership “that intends to reach all people in the Dominican Republic, particularly those with developmental disabilities.”
Bleke said the group’s “desire is to have the Lutheran church in the Dominican Republic be a church that reaches out to include all people, regardless of their abilities and their stature in society.”
Posted Oct. 3, 2005