Prayer Without Ceasing: The Transformation of San Joaquin – Part 2

One of the tremendous pastors whom we have had the pleasure of serving with is Alejandro Guzman.  He is a young Dominican man (of Haitian decent) who felt called to serve in a Haitian batey called San Joaquin.  He is a phenomenal pastor, singer, leader and he could have chosen to plant a church anywhere, but he chose to serve in this impoverished batey community with some of the most vulnerable living in his country.  Most Dominicans (and North Americans) would not want to take such a call, but Alejandro is not most Dominicans.  Alejandro learned Creole to better communicate and relate to the people in his community.  He learned to sing and even preach in this second language and people began to listen to this young preacher who was making these efforts to reach out and get to know them and to tell them about Jesus.

He began with nothing, except a vision and a desire to serve. He planted a church that first worshipped in the street, later in a rented home, and finally through much work and the help of many friends, they were able to buy a small plot of land and build a church.    Alejandro would lead worship services almost daily and many nights he would remain in the church all night praying for the community and the people to whom he had been called.

On these overnight prayer times, he also realized some disturbing things that were happening in the community at night. Cady-corner to the church was a club owned by a powerful witch doctor.  Alejandro would look out the windows and see women dancing naked and drugs and alcohol being used as well as other types of illicit behavior.  Many times these activities would already be beginning during his worship services with competing music in the small space.  He often had to preach over the sounds of drunken escapades and the blaring music from the club.  He remembers preaching at the front of the church and seeing nude women walk past the door of the church with buckets of drugs.

He is man of tremendous vision who understands that ministry and the gospel must be felt in every layer of life and society.  He understood that he needed to preach the gospel, but he couldn’t just preach, he also needed to concern himself with the health and well-being of the people.  He understood the economic side of what was happening in his community.  He knew that the young women were often involved in this lifestyle as a way to support their families in a place that held few opportunities to do so.  Where many pastors might have placed shame and blame, Alejandro was moved to compassion and sought better solutions for the people he had come to love and felt called to serve.

One morning as he walked around the area of the club now abandoned for the day and remembered Joshua 1:3 where God promised to give Joshua, “every place where you set your foot.”  He began to declare that land for his God and for the church and felt convinced that God was going to give it to him.

 He went to speak with the witch doctor, who at first wasn’t interested in speaking to a pastor, but his wife insisted that he needed to listen to him.  So Alejandro spoke to him, but the witch doctor wasn’t really interested in selling.  After much back and forth, they came up with a price and a time frame.  Alejandro had negotiated while not having a single penny towards the price.  I think the witch doctor may have known and counted on it not going through.

But Alejandro worked hard and God provided through donations from various churches.  When he returned to the witch doctor, the price had changed and he wanted more money.  Alejandro didn’t have it, but again the witch doctor’s wife stepped in and said, “if the pastor wants it ,you need to sell it to him.”  So they closed the deal.

A few weeks later a group from my seminary, Dubuque Theological Seminary in Iowa came down to work with Alejandro and the community.  Our first job was to destroy the stage where drugs and prostitution happened.  At first it was strange.  The community stood at a distance coming near only to tell us we needed to make sure to dig up and burn all of the voodoo symbolizes that the witch doctor had buried under the stage.  They believed fully that until they were destroyed, the community was in bondage to evil spirits.  So we worked.  We dug up bottles and ropes and banners and such and burned them.  Once the community was sure that all of the “stuff” had been destroyed, they came out and helped as together we built a community center.

Alejandro wanted a place to teach classes to the woman who had worked in drugs and the sex trade, a place where they could learn job skills.  Over the years many classes have been taught in the center.  Upholstery, baking, and even a soap and cleaning supply business.  Alejandro worked in a company that made cleaning products and brought his skills to the community.

FFP helped them get labels for the products and to buy the bottles to sell them.  We also helped put them into contact with a group that does water treatment and the community center became a water plant, blessing the community with clean water.  A truck was purchased and used to transport the water and the cleaning supplies.  Many lives were transformed.

Today the community center is hoping to expand and transform the space yet again, to serve as a meeting area for the community to house events such as weddings and funerals and they want to have classes for the children as well and provide them with a good meal.  They continue to try to meet the ever-changing needs in the community and we have continued to partner with them every step of the way. We feel privileged to be a small part of the beautiful work that God is doing in Batey San Joaquin.

Pastor Kristen Hamner
Dominican Republic National Director
Foundation for Peace

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