Resonate Reopens Field Volunteering
An ox-drawn cart stood in the middle of a sugarcane field in the Dominican Republic. And as Haitian workers loaded piles of stalks into the cart, members from Faith Christian Reformed Church of Sioux Center, Iowa, walked up to lend a hand.
It was the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that Resonate Global Mission was able to send a service and learning team to volunteer in the field.
“It was very good to go back this year and work on another project,” said Duane Postma, who led the 10-person group from Faith CRC.
Since the early 2000s, Postma had been traveling to the Dominican Republic at least once a year to lead service and learning teams or to work on other projects. But the pandemic halted that work in 2020, and he said he has missed working alongside Resonate missionaries, local pastors, and church congregants since then.
“I was excited the work could continue this year,” he said.
Partnering with Haitian Immigrants in the Dominican Republic,
Faith CRC worked with La Iglesia Cristiana Reformada en San Rafael to construct a church building this spring—and then one afternoon, the group also wanted to visit the sugarcane fields where members of the local community were working.
Christian Reformed churches in the Dominican Republic are composed primarily of Haitian immigrants and their children. Most of these families left Haiti in search of better opportunities, but many end up working in sugarcane fields where they receive little pay in exchange for long days of hard labor. Many of these families live day-to-day.
Haitians in the Dominican Republic are “socially and economically marginalized and often victims of injustices, including employment exploitation and immigration discrimination,” said Steve Brauning, a Resonate missionary.
Haitians living in the Dominican Republic are also often looked down upon by many of their Dominican neighbors, but they’ve found community and care through Christian Reformed churches. Most of these churches have few economic resources, however.
That’s one of the reasons why Resonate’s partnership with these churches is so important.
Helping Local Churches Thrive
For many years, churches in Canada and the United States have worked with Resonate to partner with local churches in the Dominican Republic to construct church buildings. North American churches raise funds to help purchase building materials, and many groups also take the opportunity to travel to the country to visit and work alongside members of the local churches as they put up new buildings.
The local congregations in the Dominican Republic spend weeks praying and preparing for these visits. By the time groups from Canada and the United States arrive, the churches have made a lot of progress on the construction in order to make the most of their time with the service and learning teams.
But because of the coronavirus pandemic, volunteer groups haven’t been able to travel to the Dominican Republic for almost two years to assist in this work.
“Short-term volunteer experiences like this are such a valuable opportunity for all involved—the sending church, the volunteers, the host community, and our staff—to participate in God's ongoing work of building his church,” said Gillian Bruce, program manager for Resonate’s volunteer ministries.
So it was with much celebration that members of Faith CRC were able to travel to the Dominican Republic this year. They partnered with First CRC of Sioux Falls, S.D., to raise funds for the purchase of construction materials. Members from Faith CRC then traveled to the Dominican Republic for a nine-day trip to assist with the construction.
“Before we went there, the funds were already at work,” Postma said. “[The church] had dug the footing and done almost all of the block work so that when we came for a week, it was an opportunity to give them a real boost with their construction.”
Volunteer teams provide encouragement and support for local churches.
“Once a church has its own building, it no longer has to spend money on rent and can focus more on outreach,” explained Brauning. “Also, the fact that the church meets in a stable and more visible location provides a visible testimony of the gospel and draws people.”
But serving with Resonate in the Dominican Republic is not only about the construction of a church building.
“While a physical church building is constructed in one place, we see God's family getting to know each other, working together, praying together, encouraging one another, and building each other up into his church for all times and places,” said Bruce.
Having led several short-term volunteer groups to the Dominican Republic over the years, Postma said his favorite part of the process is in watching people work together and build friendships. That’s why the moment in the sugarcane field lingers in his memory.
“Here were these upper-class Americans doing the work of Haitians that even many Dominicans would not do,” he said. “What a witness that was to these people, that we were willing to do that kind of work alongside them.”
Faith CRC was sad to say goodbye to their new friends in the Dominican Republic, he said, but the church building is well on the way to completion.
“It was a joy for us to be the bridge that joined the local church and the team, and we had a blessed time working, worshiping, and fellowshiping together,” said Brauning. “The building is nearly ready to occupy, and this will free up the church to be able to invest not only in their own building but also in outreach, community development, and other ministries.”
Postma added that serving in the Dominican Republic is a valuable learning experience that transfers to serving and building relationships at home in Sioux Center.
“It breaks down barriers with people who are a lot different from themselves,” he said. “That transfers when they get back home if they’re living in communities that tend to be diverse, such as Sioux Center.”