Name: Pastor Felix Fernandez
Date of visit: 6/4/12 – 6/13-12
Location of visit: Monte Plata, Dominican Republic
Write a short reflection on each of the following aspects of the Christian life as you observed and experienced it during your visit. How were they lived out differently than in your home context? What was similar to your experience and what challenged and stretched your understanding of these practices?
- Bible Study – Pastor Bernie had trained 4 different leaders in the church to lead the Bible study. I was so surprised to see how calm in the hour leading up the Bible study. When I got to the study, I realized that he was calm because He was a participant and not the leader of the Bible study. This was a big shock to me. I do most of the teaching and preaching at New Heart. I was inspired and motivated to do more to train up leaders in my church to take up the work of teaching.
- Preaching – Pastor Bernie is a dynamic preacher. He has fire in his belly and a love for God’s Word! His congregation is made up of both Dominican and Haitians. He felt a freedom to go back and forth between Spanish and Creole. At New Heart, I translate the sermons into Spanish, but refrain from using much Spanish in my actual sermon. Pastor Bernie preached predominately in Spanish, but then he would pause to speak in Creole to make sure everyone was on the same page. I was inspired to use more Spanish in my sermon for the Spanish speakers in my congregation.
- Prayer – On the subject of prayer, I noticed that it was customary for the congregation to pray along with the leader at the same time. At New Heart, the congregation is silent while the leader prays. However, in much of pastor Bernie’s practice of prayer, the congregation was invited to pray along with the pastor. With everyone praying at the same time, it almost sounded like the people were speaking in tongues. I have been in a similar situation before and have found it difficult for me to concentrate during prayer while others are praying along with me aloud. But the challenge is there to pray with the one who is praying whether aloud or in silence.
- Worship – Structurally, the worship took place on Sunday evening and the service began with 30 minutes of the assistant pastor offering up prayers to the Lord and inspiring people to enter into His presence. The next 40 minutes were spent in singing songs to the Lord. After songs, members of the congregation were permitted to come to the front and offer a personal testimony to the Lord. Many of the people sang, some choir groups came up and sang, some read Scripture, a dance was performed by the young girls. After this, the sermon was preached, then the Lord’s Supper observed, and then babies were presented to the Lord. All in all, the worship service lasted 3 hours. It began at 7pm and concluded at 10pm. The worship service was definitely much longer than the 1:15 we practice, and it took place on Sunday evening instead of Sunday morning. I enjoyed the amount of involvement by the congregation in the worship service. I could tell the music was the music of the people! This inspired me to discover the voice of our church & to capitalize on the gifts within our congregation & to seek more involvement by members of the church.
- Community Involvement/Outreach/evangelism – Pastor Bernie’s church has a partnership with Compassion International (a Christian organization committed to releasing children from poverty in the name of Jesus Christ). Pastor Bernie has 165 children from his community in the program. He also has 3 fulltime employees dedicated to this ministry. I was so touched with what I saw, that I was personally challenged to expand our outreach in our partnership with Angel Tree. Last year, we touched some 30 children of prisoner’s lives, and now we have a golden opportunity this year to do more with these children!
- Leadership Development – Pastor Bernie’s church is twice the size of the congregation at New Heart Church. I saw firsthand what it takes to take a church to the next level and this includes strong leaders in the church. I was personally challenged with the following thought: “When the pastor does less, the church can do more”
- Relationship/Fellowship within the Church – At the end of my visit, members of the church through me a surprise farewell party. Pastor Bernie expressed that this was not something He had planned, but that it was something that the people from His own congregation had put together. I was touched by the commitment of the congregation to welcome me. This was a tangible expression of their love for the Lord and fellow believers.
- including inter-generational and cross cultural relationships – Pastor Bernie’s church is made up of both Hatians and Dominicans. In the USA, it is frowned upon to speak in Spanish in public places. But in the community of pastor Bernie’s, the congregation was accepting of Creole songs even though the Dominicans were unaware of the lyrics or meaning of these songs.
- Sacraments – The CRC in the Dominican Republic has three ways they fence the Lord’s table: (1) if you have not been baptized. (2) if you are living with someone who is not your spouse. (3) if you are living in sin or have unresolved issues with someone else. In a congregation of 100, only 15 people partook of the Lord’s Supper. I was shocked at such a disparity. At New Heart Church, basically the table is fenced based on commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ and children who have not made a profession of faith.
- Involvement of the host’s children and family in ministry – Pastor Bernie’s children are 5 years and younger, and could be found wondering around the front of the church service while dad manned the powerpoint and mom led the singing. I was amazed at the vital role that Pastor Bernie’s wife plays in the church. She is a gifted leader and singer. She had the church praising the Lord in a powerful and Spirit-filled way. I personally enjoyed the high respect that the congregation showed to both the pastor and his wife. Pastor Bernie’s parents and mother-in-law has attended and participated in the service. It was a family affair! I was challenged to have my family be more involved in the service at New Heart Church. Perhaps when in-laws and parents come to town, they can share in the worship service.
- Children’s and youth ministry – please see question #5 listed above for more details in terms of the church’s outreach to children and youth. The special thing about the church’s partnership with Compassion International is that the church requires that the children in the program participate in a Bible study in the church. What a great way to feed the stomach and the soul! I believe my congregation has a golden opportunity to capitalize on the same things when it comes participating in the Angel Tree program.
12. What new understandings about God did you learn in this context? God is at work in the Dominican Republic in a powerful way. The basic message of the Gospel is transforming people from slavery to sin to service to Jesus. Our Gospel in the US is often watered down or too sophisticated. The Gospel in the Dominican Republic is about a Savior who died and rose again to make His people into a new creation.
13. What new understandings about the Body of Christ did you learn in this context? I loved the fact that the Dominican community was so accepting of the Haitian style of worship. Creole sermon translation and Creole worship songs may be enough to drive some people away from the church, but these aspects of the worship service actually formed the identity and commitment of the church. This experience helped me throw off some of the inhibitions that exist between the Latin and Anglo culture in the congregation so that we can speak powerfully to both cultures.
14. What new insights did you gain into your own culture and ministry? As wonderful as Pastor Bernie’s ministry in D.R., the reality is his ministry has the same commitment as our ministry in Orlando. We both want our congregation to be a light in our community and to offer the hope of Jesus Christ. We both want the same thing, except his context includes a country church made up of both Haitians and Dominicans, while my context is a suburban church made up of Latinos, Anglos and African Caribbean.
15. Write about 2-3 ways that God has uniquely gifted the Church in Dominican Republic. God has gifted Pastor Bernie’s church with (1) strong lay leadership (2) strong children’s ministry. (3) a wonderfully gifted worship leader in his wife.
16. Write about 2-3 lessons that you hope to incorporate into your church back home. (1) I am seeking to step up the leadership training process and to incorporate the Reformed fundamental doctrine of “every member a minister”. (2) I am seeking to become more diverse in our worship service. A shift has taken place in our church. A few years ago were just made up of Anglos and Latinos. Now the Lord is providing more and more Africans from the Caribbean. We must accept this as a sign from God and move in that direction to reach more and more, pastor Bernie is actually already doing this and it was a great experience to see firsthand. (3) Appreciate what the Lord has given to our church. No church is perfect but my congregation has been blessed in many ways. God wants me to say, “thank you” for everyone’s love and service over the last 6 years.
Please expand one of your reflections above into a short essay (1-2 pages). The following is a list of the 7 things the Lord taught me on my trip to D.R.:
1. Luke 6:20 “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Something unique happens when you are poor when it comes to your relationship with God. A developing country is one where there is a huge divide between the have & the have nots. When you are poor in a developing country, you don’t have running water, your kitchen is an open fire in the backyard, often exploited by the strong, access to medical assistance is limited and unemployment is extremely high. It’s not to say that in a developing country there are no modern conveniences – one of the modern constructions in the Dom. Rep. is a train system that runs from north to south in the capital city. But over all, to be poor is to be severely at a disadvantage. But it is in this disadvantage that you actually have a wonderful opportunity to depend on the Lord for your daily bread. Amen! Often times Christians in developing countries, the only thing they have in Jesus & the only thing they need is Jesus. Amen! When I saw what I saw & heard the faith of those followers of Christ, I said – how true it is when Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Don’t be so quick to want to resolve that conflict or problem in your life. First, look at each challenge you face as an opportunity to depend on the Lord.
2. THE GOSPEL IS ALIVE & WELL IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC! The most famous Dominican singer (Juan Luis Guerra) is a Christian. The most famous baseball player (and arguably the greatest in the history of baseball) Albert Pujols is a Christian. The city had 5 Christian radio stations (fm – not am). I spent most of my time in the country, and I saw firsthand that country church’s love for the Lord and one another. From the most wealthy & influential Dominicans to the poorest the gospel is there, but the capital city to the country the church is there as well. Years ago only 10% of Dominicans were professing believers of Jesus Christ, but today that number has surged to 30%. THE GOSPEL IS ALIVE & WELL IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC!
3. THE REAL PARTY IS IN THE CHURCH: Just because Jesus is at work in the Dom. Rep., doesn’t mean that the Devil is taking a break. We know that the Bible compares him to a roaring lion. One thing I saw everywhere were signs warning against the abuse of women & children. I also prostitution first hand on the beach. One day we went to the beach with his family, and I saw a man who had six women who were selling themselves. Every town in the Dominican Republic is guaranteed to have a grocery store, a church and a night club. Sunday night after church, Pastor Bernie and I were in the car driving people home in his van. In those little towns you should have seen how many people were dancing, drinking & partying. And here we were just finishing worshipping the Lord. I told Bernie – you see these people here – they have no idea that the real party is in the church worshipping the Lord. Amen. No matter how strong the temptation may be, the only way to love, joy & peace in this life is through a life that is fully surrendered to Jesus Christ. THE REAL PARTY IS ALWAYS IN THE CHURCH:
4. LET KIDS BE KIDS. This one was a personal one for me – and since it is Father’s Day, I have to tell you that God really dealt with me on this one. One of the neat things about this trip is that I had the opportunity to not only see Pastor Bernie the Pastor, but also Pastor Bernie the husband and father. An opportunity to see the personal side. Wouldn’t that be something to spend a week with a pastor to see the personal challenges he has to face, I think the church would be so much more appreciative and responsive for the man of God. But to see the way He interacted with his kids – each one was unique. The old girl is 5 and he’s a tough cookie. One time mom said to her: if you are going to have that attitude you need to go over into your room. And the little girl respond, “I’m going to my room, but it’s because I want to go to my room”. The 2nd son (3 years old) is easy going. The third one is also a tough cookie (Denny 1.5). I saw him try grab her old sister and take her behind a tree so he could hit here without anyone seeing him. I saw the way he handled those situations and how I would have handled those situations – and I saw him much calmer than me. You know what, dads? Our kids our going to be perfect. Should we help correct and guide them? But don’t be the kind of dad that doesn’t let your kid be a kid.
(5) WHEN THE PASTOR DOES LESS, THE CHURCH CAN DO MORE. It was a Tuesday night Bible study, and I saw Bernie the calmest I have ever seen a pastor. I thought to myself – why is this man so calm. And then I realized that he wasn’t the one who was going to be teaching the Bible study. In fact, that night there were 4 Bible studies going on in the church and the pastor wasn’t teaching a single one of them. He had trained those leaders to take up the work of teaching & training the rest of the members in the church. And that’s when God taught me: When the pastor does less, the church can do more. If New Heart Depends on me, then New Heart can only go as far as I can take it. But when we all come together & we acts as the body – no bench players, but everyone with a position on the field – then we go as far as God can take us. Amen! Some of you right now are just coming to church and you are holding back. I want you to know that if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, God has given you a uniform & a position on the team. And at the end of each game, he wants that uniform to be dirty. He wants you to get a little stinky for Jesus.
6. Evangelism & Discipleship are the backbone of a church. Bring them in, train them up & send them out – is the work of the church. One pastor says, the church is the only organization that exists for its non-members. And that’s absolutely right. We are not a country club, but a command center. Where we receive our orders and then are sent out into the world to represent Christ in order to Jesus Christ. One of their strategies is through a partnership with Compassion International. An adoptive parent in the United States sends a letter to the child they have adopted in the Dominican Republic. Pastor Bernie’s church then gets those letters to the children. Instead of giving those families money, they give them a coupon in the amount of the donation that was sent. And with that coupon the families can go to a local grocery store, clothing store, or shoe store and redeem that coupon for the amount that was donated. And the beautiful thing is that through this ministry, they are not only helping these children physically, but spiritually as well. They also have those children attend Bible lessons at the church. And through this ministry they have seen many children and adults come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior.
7. The CHURCH IS THE HOPE OF THE WORLD! Jesus Christ taught His disciples to pray: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. God’s grand purpose is to bring heaven to earth. And the primary way that God has designed this to happen is through the church of Jesus Christ. When I saw this church in a community of 300 hundred homes & it be able to reach out to 165 children through its Compassion ministry & have over 100 people in worship on Sunday, I saw a church that was a gift for the community. Many people think the community exists for the church. Let’s see – how many more tithing families do we need in order to meet our budget? No, it’s how many people this week will die and go to hell and we never told them about Jesus.
This church is a gift from God to Monte Plata. And I want New Heart Church and every family in this church to be a gift to the Greater Orlando Area!