Fifty years in ministry is a long time to serve! Three pastors and their wives were recognized for their 50 years of ordained ministry at this winter's Assembly of the Iglesia Evangelica Dominicana (IED), our partner church in the Dominican Republic.

And all three are still serving churches! Here in the DR, as in much of the Caribbean, pastors rarely are able to retire, partly from the lack of adequate pension funds and partly from the lack of pastors to replace them.

The IED's theme for 2014 is “Follow me! Preaching, teaching and healing.” The three couples, all in their late 70s and early 80s, continue to follow Christ as ministers of the Church.

One of these pastors, the Rev. Jacobo James, is from the peninsula of Samaná on the northeast coast of the island. He is the fifth generation of pastors in his family and one of his sons is currently studying for the ministry. His minister great-grandfather came to Samaná from Philadelphia, just after the U.S. Civil War, a period that saw many “free blacks” move from the U.S. in search of a better life.

The James family was of the Wesleyan Methodist tradition and the elder James found a vibrant Wesleyan community already established on the peninsula by the English. But Wesleyans weren’t the only English-speakers on Samaná ― Sir Francis Drake and his pirates used Samaná as a hiding place from the Spanish, French and Dutch in the 16th century.

From these multiple groups of English-speakers Samaná has a long tradition of speaking English — albeit of an older age — and many traditions of hymns, food, and celebrations that trace their origins to one of these groups.

The history of the Samaná peninsula is only a small part of the long and rich history of the culture and of the Church in the Dominican Republic. In my first year serving here I was given a copy of the two-volume history of our partner church, the Iglesia Evangelica Dominicana.

It begins before the arrival of Columbus in 1492, even though their denomination only became an independent church in 1922. They take the long view of history here and see themselves within the broader and deeper currents of events and cultures that have formed this country and the churches within it. We have something to learn from their approach. 

In February a delegation from Whitewater Valley Presbytery visited the IED to explore a possible new partnership. In our time of sharing who we are and our different contexts for ministry, the current IED Moderator, the Rev. Xiomara Rosario, introduced the deep contextual history of the founding of this country.

She challenged and moved us through her presentation of the violence with which this beautiful island of Hispañola was colonized and slaves were imported from Africa. As a pastoral counselor she was able to show us some of the ways this history still deeply affects and shapes the Dominican family and community.

And we explored together the first Christian church of the Western Hemisphere, in the old Colonial Zone of the capital, and the counter-culture of Friar Montesinos and Friar Bartolome de las Casas, who stood up on behalf of the indigenous in those early years of colonization but failed to see the evil of African slavery.

Of course many other events have happened since — the Haitian occupation, the Trujillo dictatorship, various U.S. occupations, and other seminal events that weave a complex, rich, and, at times, disturbing, history and context for ministry and mission. It is humbling to know that we are together called to minister in the name of Christ in this context and with this people.

"Follow me: preaching, teaching, healing":

Preaching the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed. Teaching disciples and theological students.  Healing broken bodies and spirits through our community health evangelism work. That is the challenge and the gift we are given with our partners here in the Dominican Republic and around the world. And we are called to this ministry within the contexts of the people and cultures we would seek to serve.

I am immensely grateful for this rich ministry context that is the Caribbean and for your prayers and support for the work of our partner church here in the Dominican Republic and in other Caribbean countries. I thank you for your prayers and financial support for my ministry and invite you to continue supporting this ministry we share: through your voice, your daily living, your study, your financial contributions, and your prayers. Together, by the grace of God, we will continue to follow where Jesus is leading.

As regional liaison for the Caribbean, Jo Ella Holman’s ministry focuses on churches in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, Curacao, Grenada and Trinidad & Tobago. Her ministry involves supporting programs of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) partner churches and organizations and implementing regional strategies. She also works with mission personnel in the region.