I (Jenny) work in a community clinic called “El Buen Samaritano” or “The Good Samaritan” in the town of Batey 7, a community originally established by the Dominican government for Haitian sugarcane cutters. 

The clinic “El Buen Samaritano” is part of the social response program of the Dominican Evangelical Church (IED). In 2011 the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) sent our family to the Dominican Republic as mission workers to facilitate and reinforce the mission efforts of the IED. 

My job description is to be a Community Health Program Consultant for the IED. This title seems a little too formal for me. By training I’m a medical laboratory technician, so you can imagine my uncertainty when I first started working with IED. Working as a laboratory technician does not ordinarily train you for developing a community health program.

I had to learn a lot. I had to learn to understand what kind of mission the IED was doing and I had to talk with leaders of the IED, with friends, and with World Mission colleagues who could help me shape the work I would do in Batey 7. These conversations led me to discover a community health approach called Community Health Evangelism, or CHE. 

Community Health Evangelism is a strategy that brings together elements of community development, spirituality, discipleship and health promotion. The kind of mission we are trying to do here is not about building schools, clinics, churches or any kind of physical structure, although that kind of project could result from this work. 

Our mission through following the ideas of CHE is to develop the capacity of people to identify the assets and resources they already have and use those to find the solutions to the problems affecting their community. One clear goal of CHE programs is to make sure that the people in the community feel a strong ownership.

They must be the ones to make all of the critical decisions and carry out the actions that lead them along the path they define for their community. And this process has at its core Biblical lessons combined with the personal testimonies of community leaders.

The Community Health Committee of Batey 7 is made up of approximately nine community leaders. This committee has a group of between six and 10 volunteers selected to help carry out their program. They have received a series of workshops to help them develop organizational skills, create action plans, and put together project proposals.

But the process of transferring skills is slow and painful. From January to April I was up and down emotionally, often feeling hopeless and angry at the lack of action on the part of the committee. I was impatient for them to follow through with the decisions they made. And I felt disoriented by the undercurrents of village culture that were a source of conflict between the plans the committee made and the realities of carrying them out.

One day, for example, all activities we had planned stopped because an elderly man had died the day before. The community knew his death would change everything but Mark and I did not! The dialogue we should be having was not the dialogue that we were actually having and I never felt sure that our efforts were going to result in anything real. We worked hard with the committee for six months to establish a vision, a mission, and a set of actions plans, but very little was ever carried out.

Then, some time in April, a group of about 25 women and two men shared with me their desire to have a sewing course. I agreed to help organize the course and from then on that group kept me constantly on the run. When, how, how many, why do they want the course? These were the questions they had to answer.

The main leaders of the group, Altagracia, Yanirda, and Margarita, planned and organized details for the course and I was there as the facilitator. My job was to find the right teacher for them. They had limited financial resources, so they decided that each student would pay a monthly fee for the course.

They decided they wanted to have a graduation — a celebration with friends, with food to share.  And they decided to develop a small capital for future activities.  

Sadly by the start of class, 15 of the women were unable to participate because some didn’t have the money for the class and we were unable to supply enough working sewing machines.

Dominican teacher

The sewing instructor (standing) helping Yanirda Alcantara (left) from Batey 7 with her technique. —Jenny Bent

The resources for paying the salary of the sewing teacher came from the gift of Presbyterian friends from the United States. The materials had been donated to the clinic by a Methodist mission brigade, and the sewing machines belong to the IED Social Response program.

In the end the women pulled together all of the resources they needed to make this action plan 100 percent a success. They owned that success completely, and I’m thrilled to see what’s next.

Even more important, this small success may be able to give the people confidence in their capacity to make the things that are good and necessary really happen in the community of Batey 7.  Perhaps with time and experience they will speak clearly to us about what’s truly in their hearts.

Then they will no longer stretch their hands in supplication for false charity.

I invite you to be a part of this process of integrated human development — building and renewing relationships with God, with ourselves, and with our neighbors throughout the world. Without your involvement and support we would not be able to be witness to the great mission of the IED in Batey 7, participating together with our partner church in a process of spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual growth.

To visit the web pages of all Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission workers, visit Mission Connections.