Intentional Multicultural Ministry
Updated: Aug 8
Waking up to the sound of roosters crowing, birds chirping, merengue and reggaeton music blasting in the hustle and bustle of the city of Santiago in the Dominican Republic, is an exciting way to start a new year. For the next two months, I will be immersed in a country that is not my own, though the culture feels like home. I’m already growing spiritual roots in this vibrant tight-knit community and the multi-ethnic church here. Despite the lack of running water and the anxiety of trying to navigate a new city, God is showing me that His grace is sufficient in every circumstance no matter the country I’m in, or the challenges I face. At the beginning of January, I took a risk and moved to the DR without knowing exactly what I would be doing, but I knew God was doing something special in this community; I wanted to learn and be a part of it.
Six months prior, I visited the church, Iglesia Comunidad Multicultural (ICM), led by a Haitian pastor and his Dominican wife, Stanley and Amarfry Phillipe. Their story is one of hope, inspiration, and resilience. God gave them a vision to build a flourishing multi-ethnic, multicultural church despite the contentious history and generational racism that underscores interactions between Haitians and Dominicans.
The island of Hispaniola, which is shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, has a long history of social and racial tension. One example is the 1937 Parsley Massacre when “Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo – who wore makeup to lighten his skin and was obsessed with ‘whitening’ the predominantly mixed-race island – ordered the massacre of Haitians in border areas, where many worked cultivating sugar. To determine who was Haitian, soldiers with machetes asked dark-skinned people to say the word ‘perejil,’ which is Spanish for parsley. For Creole-speaking Haitians, the ‘r’ sound was difficult to pronounce, and a slip of the tongue became a death sentence. Estimates of the massacre range from 10,000 to 25,000 people killed over the course of a few weeks.”
Knowing the history of the two countries and understanding that many Haitians face institutional and personal racism today, provides a glimpse of how a church like ICM is a work of God in this city.
With worship in three different languages (Spanish, English, and Haitian Creole), poor and affluent members, locals and visitors all participating by serving their immediate community, ICM is a vibrant and unique place in the Dominican Republic. Serving includes volunteering at the free preschool (there is no public preschool available to these children), offering evening meals to children (some of whom intentionally dress up for what appears to be their only meal of the day), free English classes for teenagers, discipleship courses, and weekly life groups. Although located in an underserved community, this church remains generous by supporting 12 other churches in Haiti and doing global missions in Cuba. There is a heart of generosity and a God-inspired community deep in the DNA of this church.
Since planting the church, the leaders of ICM, Stanley and Amarfry Phillippe, have taken the vision that God gave them and are executing it with intentionality and excellence. I have seen firsthand their excellence in leadership and discipleship. It takes a certain type of intentionality to incorporate various cultures into a church community. I’d submit that every church has its own personal brand of “intentionality.” From the inner-city church in Philadelphia, to the bipartisan church in Washington DC, and even to the multicultural church in an underserved community in Santiago; intentionality is the medium one uses to administer their calling and God-given vision. Are we being intentional with the specific vision that God has given us?
As I continue my journey in Santiago, I look forward to learning more from this vibrant faith-filled community even as I witness God’s grace in all the spaces and moments where life seems nearly impossible to navigate. As I am also navigating my own purpose and intentions of why I am here, I will continue to serve, immerse myself in a different country, and learn from what God is already doing in the Dominican Republic.
Alyssa Vasquez is founder of YouBelong, LLC, which helps connect individuals to communities.
 Gibson, Carrie. The Dominican Republic and Haiti: One island riven by an unresolved past. 2013. <https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/07/dominican-republic-haiti-long-history-conflict>