This past March, I had the opportunity to visit one of our BelPres mission partners, Children of the Nations, COTNI, in the city of Baharona, Dominican Republic. The DR (Dominican Republic) is a Caribbean nation which lies on the eastern two-thirds island of Hispaniola. The nation of Haiti occupies the western side of the island. Much of what we know in social media and news about the island comes from Haiti’s January 2010 earthquake which killed over 46,000 people. The world’s nations responded by sending help to Haiti. Today, there is much skepticism about how much help the Haitian people actually received from the world’s governments and aid organizations. Many Haitians have fled to the DR in the hope of a better life.
The history between the countries goes back to colonial days when Spain and France sought control over the island. That political and cultural conflict eventually formed the two countries. In the early 20th century, both countries were relatively equal in economy and government. Today, however, it’s a different story: Haiti is considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
Children of the Nations (COTNI) established itself in the DR specifically to address the spiritual and poverty issues for displaced Haitians that live in the DR. Haitians are not considered of equal status and are denied citizenship, health care and education. Racial (or ethnic) discrimination is an accepted part of the Dominican Republic culture. My visit in March gave me a look at the living conditions of Haitians living in the DR. Each day we had the opportunity to visit different Batays. I made THIS video there.
A Batay is a village that has its history back in the sugar plantation days where Haitians were brought into the DR to work the sugarcane fields. Today, the sugarcane industry has lost its influence while the Batays continue to exist. Because of the extreme poverty in Haiti, illegal immigration continues to occur into the DR. Without citizenship, education, basic social services, and health care, life in the bateys is very difficult. There is generational racial discrimination for the Haitians living in the DR. COTNI has adopted 5 Batays in DR. I had the opportunity to visit each one. While the extreme poverty continues in the bateys, COTNI has come in to establish schools, health care systems, food programs, and spiritual life pathways for the families and children.
In the 20 years of COTNI being in country and building a foundation of hope and love, the lives of Haitian-Dominican Republic children & families have been changed. I got to witness this firsthand when I met a young college student, Carolina. See her story HERE. Carolina grew up in a batay, but through COTNI, was given the opportunity to go to school, get health care, and she received the hope she has now in Christ. I will never forget the moment she shared when she was a child living off the streets, eating trash and having her stomach bloated because of the parasitic worms that she had living inside her. She is living testimony that each person is a child of God with inherent, infinite worth. COTNI through its Child Sponsorship program has given girls like Carolina hope for the future and a new life that helps defeat the generational racial discrimination that exists in the DR.
On the same trip I also had the opportunity to visit a potential new site where COTNI is scouting for its next area to support. We went to the border of Haiti and DR, where we experienced the worst poverty in the world. Refugee camps made up of trash, cardboard, anything that can be taken. Haitians trying to escape the poverty in their own country but unable to enter into the DR are stuck at the border. It truly was a life changing experience walking around the refugee camps. I made a short video, HERE.
As I reflect on the current news of #AltonSterling and #PhilandoCastile, I am reminded that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only hope we have in reconciliation, peace, and love. Whatever you believe or understand about these two most recent cases, it is clear that there is a sense of racial injustice in America that needs addressing, and who better than the church, with our hope in Christ, to bring his love, peace, and reconciliation to this pressing issue? Racism is a global epidemic, not just local. We as followers of Christ need to respond both here in the Eastside, to events in our nation, and–as global Christians–throughout the world. We have the power and presence of God in us and through us, and we can help change the world. Church, let’s do this together! Jesus Christ is the hope of the world!
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. -Galatians 3.28