Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice” Proverbs 31:8-9
Rev. Jean Luc Phanord was not only a great friend, he was a Christ-centered mentor to me. I remember vividly the first time I met him over 30 years ago, and how stunned I was that there were actually people like him in this world. He was a Biblical character, and God gave me the gift of meeting this man who was so passionate about serving the Lord and speaking up for the voiceless.
Before I continue, let me be clear that my thoughts here have nothing to do with politics - this is another thing I learned from Pastor Phanord many years ago. There is no agenda here other than speaking up about right vs. wrong and against injustice, just as the DR Mission Team has done in La Romana for the past 30+ years. This is what the Lord commands us to do over and over in Scripture, and we see this in the example Jesus set for us during his time on earth.
Whether we like it or not, all of us here in the United States are now confronted with the issue of racism and its systemic nature in our society. You may not want to hear this . . . but please read on and see the parallels to what we have been doing in the Dominican Republic for over 30 years. The obstacles and challenges faced today by black men and women are not unique to the United States; it is also a powerful issue in the Dominican Republic. In fact, this racism and oppression toward Haitians in the DR is the reason Pastor Jean Luc Phanord began the Good Samaritan Hospital in La Romana and so many of the ministries we go to serve and support today.
Pastor Phanord was not afraid to speak up, stand up, and do something about the inherent and evil racist policies and attitudes in the DR. He didn’t sit back and be quiet about these injustices - in fact, he spoke up to the point where he was arrested and jailed for this. What was he doing when Haitian authorities arrested him, accused him of causing civil disturbances in the DR, and in fact, labeling him “enemy number one” of the Haitian government? He was working in the bateyes to teach the Haitian sugarcane cutters how to read, write, and count so that these hardworking men would not be cheated when being paid for their backbreaking labor. Pastor Jean Luc was speaking up and acting on behalf of the oppressed Haitians in the DR – men and women who are darker skinned, spoke with an accent, are often marginalized, and considered less than equal.
It is very important to my family and me, and the entire DR Mission Team, that we are considered an ally of those that are oppressed in the bateyes and barrios . . . that we have their back, use our voices and privilege to speak up for them, and work tirelessly to bring about positive change. Personally, it is also just as important to me that I stand up for my black friends and family here in the United States. I’m sure many people are sick of hearing me talk about the plight of the Haitians in the DR over the last 30 years, and it is ok with me if people become sick of me speaking out against systemic racism and prejudice here in the US. Maybe even some people reading this now. On both accounts, it is done out of love for people and Jesus my Lord.
The DR Mission Team has sent thousands of volunteers to La Romana to serve alongside our Haitian brothers and sisters over the last 30 years. And what do we do while there? We stand shoulder to shoulder with Haitians in the bateyes and barrios and DO SOMETHING about the systemic injustices they face. We helped build a beautiful hospital that today is leading the way to help people survive the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis. Our teams help build schools, homes, feed families, bring clean water, provide electricity, help with educational opportunities, and share the Gospel. In essence, we refuse to accept the status quo of Haitian oppression and racism in the DR.
And that hospital, El Buen Samaritano Hospital in La Romana, is THE most powerful statement of speaking up and doing something to fight systemic racism and oppression. This hospital is a ministry of the Haitian Missionary Baptist Church in La Romana (Maranatha Church) and stands as a beacon of hope in the community. Through the grace of God, leaders of Haitian descent, along with their American partners, have built this hospital and now operate it with magnificent efficiency, wisdom, and grace.
Here is an amazing fact - things are changing for the better in the DR! It takes time, progress is slow, but there is hope for the people of the bateyes and the barrios. This began with Pastor Phanord standing up for what is right, speaking out, putting himself at risk and coming out of his comfort zone to do what is right. With the Lord’s leading and help, he did something about unfair policies and more subtle racist attitudes embedded in Dominican society. Pastor Phanord did not accept the status quo racist messaging that Haitians belonged in this inferior position, that they just needed to work harder to get out of their impoverished situation. His family and church joined him in this vision, often taking a difficult and uncomfortable path in their culture, and have been joined by thousand and thousands of American volunteers over the decades. And we Americans have been so tremendously blessed.
GO. LOVE. SERVE. This is the slogan on the back of our DR Mission Team shirts each trip, and it is in fact what we have been doing in the DR for over 30 years. We are in fact also called to GO, LOVE, and SERVE in our own communities.
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Tragically, too often in the past, evangelical Christians have turned a blind eye to racism or have been willing to stand aside while others take the lead in racial reconciliation, saying it was not our responsibility. (I admit I share in that blame.) As a result, many efforts toward reconciliation in America have lacked a Christian foundation and may not outlive the immediate circumstances that brought them into existence." Rev. Billy Graham
John Powers, PhD, is the president and CEO of the Dominican Republic Mission Team, a US-based 501(c)3 organization that has been serving the poor in the DR through local partnerships since 1990.