Ardell and I have been trying to learn about some of the social realities in the Dominican Republic. We recently sat in on some meetings where one of the pastors, Xiomara (pronounced Seeomara), shared from her experience as a family counselor. We greatly appreciate her candor.
She began by saying that Dominicans tend to express themselves through dance but said that they use dance to cover their grief. Dominicans love to party and celebrate which may well be because their identity is one of existential sadness. Xiomara shared briefly about the history of the Dominican Republic. The original peoples, the Tainos were decimated within 50 years of the arrival of Columbus by being enslaved and then sickened by European diseases for which they had no resistance. The DR was eventually settled by the Spanish and Haiti by the French. These European powers brought hundreds of thousands of slaves from West Africa to do the hard labor on the sugarcane plantations. Over time they intermarried with their captors and masters. The racial mix of Tainos, Spanish, and Africans is the heritage of the people of the DR today.
There is a strong tendency for Dominicans today to think that they cannot solve their own problems or create their own future with their own resources. They look to the north, to the US and Europe to lead them because they consider themselves inferior. The DR also has a long history of choosing to live under dictatorships, under strongmen who told them what to do, what to think, and generally decided what was ‘best’ for them. This of course had disastrous consequences.
Much of what is done today in the name of Christian mission from the North still reflects this kind of dependency. It happens so easily because our intentions are to do good, to share from our abundance, to give to those who suffer in poverty. It feels good to meet an immediate need but we may be contributing to a long term dependency.
The truth is that the Dominicans are not inferior to their benevolent neighbors in the North. The Dominicans have a different history and their own set of problems to overcome. They are gifted, creative, and resourceful just as all peoples on earth created in the image and likeness of God. It seems as though they are not fully aware of their potential that may be hidden even from themselves. Genocide, slavery, and international exploitation have hit them so hard that they can no longer remember who they are or where they came from.
Our mission may well be to come alongside our Dominican brothers and sisters and encourage them to see what we can see so clearly in their eyes. After all is that not what God is always doing with each one of us, helping us to see who God created us to be, and to use the gifts we were already given?