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Praying with Refugees in the Dominican Republic
01 June 2012

A guard stands watch as people cross between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The Dominican town of Jimani is a major border crossing to Haiti, and the bustling market just inside the border gate attracts merchants and buyers from both countries. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)

By Drew Hendrickson
Jesuit Refugee Service Dominican Republic

(Tierra Nueva, Dominican Republic) June 1, 2012 — The meetings begin with just the three of us. Margarita, the group leader, apologizes for not having anything to give us. Mercedes, a nun of the Vedruna community, and I sit in plastic chairs outside the church and listen as Margarita tells us about the week.  

Margarita explains that she can’t go to the market to buy peanuts because she has no money to give the police when they ask for bribes. Without the peanuts, she can’t make the sweet snack she sells in the streets of her town. This is her small business, her humble livelihood, but being an undocumented Haitian immigrant, she runs the risk of extortion and often violence every time she tries to buy supplies.

"We can’t leave our houses sometimes. We can’t go anywhere," Margarita said. "Since the violence began, the men don’t leave the house either. It’s hard to make money, but it’s also hard to feel like a real human being when you can’t even leave the house because of fear."

Beginning in November of 2011, a wave of violence swept through Jimani and surrounding towns, claiming the lives of three people. Two others have gone missing. Many have been injured in reprisal attacks, and threats have kept entire communities from leaving their homes. This violence began when a person was killed over a dispute at an international market, and an alarming cycle of violence has continued since. The Dominican town of Jimani is a major border crossing to Haiti, and the bustling market just inside the border gate attracts merchants and buyers from both countries.

We sit outside Margarita’s baked mud home and watch the sun set behind the mountains. A few more members of the group arrive. When the meeting begins, there are twenty or so people. When it ends, there are forty.

This group is one of many that Jesuit Refugee Service accompanies in the Jimani area. These groups provide Haitian immigrants with a place to share their experiences, build relationships, and develop community organizing skills.

Under Margarita’s leadership, the Tierra Nueva group has begun literacy classes, organized human rights trainings, and participated in leadership workshops in Jimani. Despite the challenges, they are moving forward, finding their way toward something better.

Your Reflections

The Haitian immigrants in Tierra Nueva are among the most economically marginalized people in the Dominican Republic.  Their resources are limited even further by authorities who abuse their power in demanding bribes.  More recently, the security of their neighborhoods has been threatened by an unsettling wave of violence.

They keep coming to the meetings though. They keep trying to learn how to read and write. They keep denouncing human rights’ abuses despite the risks.

This noble struggle for something better comes, in large part, from their strong faith, a faith that brings them together and strengthens them in patience and steadfastness as they move together to improve their lives.

At the end of these meetings, Gito, a local pastor, leads the group in prayer. He begins, but a few words in, each member of the group speaks out loud their own words of thanks and hope. In the small church, a cacophony of forty voices speaks at once, all praising in their own way, connecting in their own way, but brought together by the same mission.

Suggested Reading for Prayer

Acts 2

The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.

And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.

Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.