SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic - Tucked in a quiet neighborhood in the northwest part of Santo Domingo is a business that distributes clean water to residents of the city. Adjacent to the business is a Christian school that shares the property, both being under the direction and leadership of a network of house churches that is answering the call to meet needs within its local neighborhood and community. In addition to its community outreach, the network of 27 house churches’ New Testament framework has become a model to be emulated in other churches and church networks in Latin America.
Santo Domingo is a city of nearly 1.5 million people, with a metro area of just under 3 million people. While the Dominican Republic has seen an improvement in water quality over the past two decades, there is still a percentage of the population, both urban and rural, that do not have access to clean drinking water.
Recognizing this need and finding a solution to fulfill it was part of a plan that began nearly 20 years ago when Red Bendición church network identified several public needs that needed improvement.
Over those years the church leaders had grown in their understanding of biblical principles and the New Testament model for local churches. As Felix Abreu, Red Bendición’s Pauline leader, and his apostolic team were equipped by BILD, they in turn have trained their local elders and church leaders. Together these leaders are setting both a vision for their local churches and are involved in the progress of the gospel throughout Latin America, functioning as part of a larger network of churches. The leaders have been involved now for several years in developing the faith life of every believer, grounding them in a sound understanding of Scripture. All of these things strengthened the church and positioned Red Bendición Church to meet this need in their larger community. By seeking the welfare of the city in their commitment to good works that meet a pressing need, they could also help progress the gospel and fund future church-planting efforts and movements.
“In 2004, we began to think in terms of how we can meet the needs that the community was experiencing,” Felix said. “And back then they identified there were needs in the area of providing good water quality.”
Other needs identified were providing electricity, which was too difficult and complex; medical attention, so they brought in medical teams to serve the community; and education, which was already being met when they started the Berea Christian School 10 years earlier.
The decision to provide purified water seemed a simpler problem to solve and involved taking a loan out from the bank and buying equipment that would purify the water. When it came to the water supply in that neighborhood, water came only a couple times a week, so to start a business and be able to fill in the gaps of distribution was amazing, Felix said.
“The impact of providing water was so huge that people even began buying water just to take showers because the city water would only be coming twice a week,” he said. “And because we sold the water at such an inexpensive amount, people would make long lines just to come and buy water from us.”
When Agua Bendición began in 2006, there were five employees. Within less than half a year of opening, the impact was so huge they had to upgrade the purification system and install new equipment. In 2010, the business grew to the point that they bought trucks to help transport water to other areas of the city. Today there are two distribution businesses employing 38 people.
To see the growth of the business and its impact on the city of Santo Domingo is a testament of a church network seeking the welfare of its city. In Jeremiah 29:7, it says, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (RSV)
The business is meeting the need to provide individuals and local businesses with clean water, which helps the health of the community, Felix said. It is providing jobs for church members and nonmembers alike. It donates water to hospitals, police departments, schools, and sports clubs. Money from the business has also gone back into the community through investments such as buying lights for a park.
It is also impacting people financially as Felix said they sell the water at 30 percent the price of other water supply companies. “So in a real way, we are also impacting the person that buys the water to resell because we have lowered the cost so they can make money from it,” he said.
While they do not have the software in place to determine how many people the business serves daily, Felix said in the month of May the two businesses together distributed 238,670 gallons of water. They also donated around 3,800 gallons of water.
A church engaged in good works and meeting pressing needs is something Paul exhorts Titus to oversee in the book of Titus. “3 Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, 2 to slander no one, not to be contentious, to be gentle, showing every consideration for all people. … 14 Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unproductive.” (Titus 3:1-2, 14 NASB)
The outcome of a strong, established network of churches is to benefit its city and progress the gospel. “There are a lot of people who come and express their gratitude,” Felix said. “That has been really important to us as we’re giving a good testimony to the community. And they know we do it not just because we’re good people, but because this is what Jesus has entrusted us to do.”
The biblical principles Red Bendición church network embodies is one to be replicated as it models what a New Testament church network should look like, and it has become a resource for BILD partners in Latin America. With its strong leadership directing the vision of the churches and every member on a path of faith development, the gospel is also progressing not just through its churches, but through the good works of the business, leading to the multiplication of churches.
“Initially our goal was to bless the community, but we also wanted to use this to fund church-planting efforts,” Felix said. “Each month we donate water to schools, churches, local police, hospitals and sports clubs, but we support our own school with the money it makes, and also allocate $800 a month for church planting.”
Felix spoke of one administrator of the water business who is also a lawyer. The money earned from the hours he works at the business is poured back into his church to help fund the growth of his ministry.
And the business has also had an impact on the faith development of the employees. Felix mentioned Yuniel Fernandez, who is originally from Cuba, and whose life has been impacted as church leadership has come alongside him. “His own personal character has been developed as he was leading and experiencing what it meant to lead a whole project,” Felix said. “Even his skills to lead the business have been developed.”
Yuniel, who is now director of the business, has grown in his faith and leadership in such a way that the church wants to eventually send him to a different community to plant another church and potentially begin another water distribution business.
“With the money the business sets aside for church planting, by next year we want to triple the amount they invest in the area of church planting and expansion,” Felix said. Their goal is to develop a church-planting movement in five different areas of the country. With the help of microbusinesses like the water distribution, that will help finance the multiplication of churches.
Javier Velasquez, who leads BILD’s Latin American Global Resource Team (GRT) with Felix, said Felix’s network is the whole package when it comes to strong church leadership, the development of all believers, and the impact the church has in its city. The model the Santo Domingo church network represents is important as it reflects New Testament principles that can be replicated throughout Latin America. It is an example of the importance of the local church progressing the gospel, and the strength of a church network working together.
“I don’t believe we have another model that is as complete as this one where there are processes of establishing churches and developing leaders, and at the same time impacting the community,” he said. “Whatever is happening in the Dominican Republic is also what is important for the civilization to model. So that the impact goes beyond the Dominican Republic.”