The weird times that COVID-19 brought about caught our family in a unique circumstance. It was the first time the staff of Coalición por el Evangelio (one of TGC’s international coalitions) had gathered for a retreat, and we were all together in the mountains of Jarabacoa in the Dominican Republic when we heard that Guatemala was about to close its borders. (Five staff members needed to fly there.)
All of a sudden, the retreat we’d budgeted for and planned for over a year became a two-day rush to find tickets for everybody to go back home to Guatemala, Ecuador, Colombia, and the United States. Meanwhile, my wife and I were trying to be good hosts to our brothers and sisters and hide our own fear. Over the next two or three days, the entire country closed, and a mandatory curfew followed for many months.
As in most other countries, Dominican churches were asked to close at the beginning of the pandemic. I remember that first Sunday during lockdown, where I attended the service that would be streamed from International Baptist Church in Santo Domingo. Only a few of us were there, with over a thousand empty chairs surrounding us. As many others did, we immediately worked on maintaining the same purpose, vision, and ministry goals, and planned to gather as soon as we could.
New Church Plants
Two years later, we can testify that God’s kindness has been evident all around us. To date, out of a population of 11 million, we’ve only had 576,788 confirmed cases, with 4,374 deaths. In that same period, at least five more churches have opened up after many years without us hearing of any new like-minded church plants in our city of 4.2 million people. One of these churches is our very own Cornerstone Church in Santo Domingo, which just had its first public gathering on March 6.
At least five more churches have opened up after many years without us hearing of any new like-minded church plants in our city of 4.2 million people.
COVID made the process of planting a church even more complicated. We needed to find open spaces to meet that could host the core group (of about 30) during the seven months we were preparing for the launch, which wasn’t easy to do in urban Santo Domingo. I vividly remember where I was the moment I read about the variant that would later be called Omicron and wondered if it would delay the launch of our church. Omicron ended up sweeping through our nation in December, and we needed to stop meeting for more than a month.
Yet, as always, the Lord was faithful. In our church plant, the uncertainties instilled in us a particular desire for prayer. In God’s kindness, neither our sending church nor the church plant has experienced infighting about pandemic restrictions. Every negative test before a core group meeting became a song of praise to our Savior. And this past Sunday we witnessed the first new professions of faith in our church, filling our hearts with joy!
Back at my sending church, one of the most prominent ways in which God’s providence worked was through our pastor, Miguel Núñez. He’s an infectious diseases specialist by profession, which allowed us not only to be served pastorally but also to be guided from a medical point of view by one of the top experts in the field in our country.
His timely and wise counsel allowed our church to pass this stage with hope and care, but his pastoral and medical advice was also followed by hundreds of pastors, leaders, and Christians in general throughout Latin America. He provided truthful and authoritative information that could constrain much of the misinformation running like wildfire throughout the region.
Today we’re the first country in our region to have lifted all the restrictions imposed because of the pandemic. Our case numbers are quite low, but we’re still practicing prudence and certain standards of care to avoid contagion. The Lord has been good to us and has allowed us to pass this stage feeling his care, his permanent provision, and the love of one another.
We can say with confidence, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling” (Ps. 46:1–3).
Latin America isn’t a monolith, and the Dominican Republic is definitely one of the countries with the best health outcomes through it all. What’s transpired in the meantime is truly a testimony of God’s grace, particularly through his provision of good leaders and peace in the population.