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Healing Broken Communities

Healing Broken Communities

2007 Orthodox Youth Outreach Leadership Training Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

A Ministry of NAC SOYO

By Jordan Henderson


From the Department of Youth Ministries

This article originally appeared in the October 2007 edition of The Word.

As we walked through La Duquesa, the garbage dump of Santo Domingo, we looked upon the huge mounds of trash surrounding us. The stench of rotting garbage and methane gas filled the air. From the hills flowed pitch black streams of liquid - juices squeezed out of the refuse as it had been compressed into landfills.

And yet, the sites of the filth and refuse, the disgusting black streams, the unpleasant smells were all overshadowed by something else - the people. Like garbage dumps in many cities throughout the world, La Duquesa is home to hundreds of people. People are born and spend their entire lives in this world of garbage, out of sight and out of mind to the rest of us.

We were in the Dominican Republic for our Orthodox Youth Outreach (OYO) Leadership Training from July 6 - 18, 2007. The teens participating on this trip had all been involved in OYO throughout their high school years.

Several had even participated on the very first OYO trip to South Central Los Angeles in 2004. It was required that they go on at least two weekend trips and one Leadership Training session in order to participate on this trip.

Our time in the Dominican Republic was mostly spent in a poor community of Haitian descendents called Cercadillo and at an orphanage called Jackie's House. At Cercadillo, we installed filtration systems in two local wells to provide the community with clean water, as their drinking supply was contaminated. We also restored a baseball field in this community by installing a French drain to take care of the flooding along the first base line. And we repaired a garden which had been built by Orthodox Christian Fellowship's Real Break team the previous spring.

At Jackie's House, we got to spend time playing with the kids of the orphanage, as well as installing a freshly painted playroom, complete with Gymboree equipment for the kids to play on. But perhaps the most memorable of all we did while we were there was the one day in which we visited the garbage dump - La Duquesa.

Our theme for the week's training was "Healing Broken Communities." We began each day with prayers, meditation and Bible study. We discussed the role of the Church as a blessing to the world around us (Gen. 12:3). Then we spent the days trying to put into action what we had discussed in the mornings; bringing blessings and healing to the broken world in which we found ourselves. Our evenings closed with debriefings in which we discussed the days' activities, the complexity of the situation of the poor in the areas in which we served and creative ways in which the Church - and individual Orthodox Christians - could be a blessing in the midst of this complexity of brokenness.

As we listened to Jackie and Hernando at La Duquesa and looked on the immense poverty surrounding us, I asked myself, "How can anyone even begin to heal this brokenness? How can anyone begin to address an impoverished situation in which people spend their entire lives living in garbage, their life ambitions and dreams perhaps not reaching beyond the trash heap?"

My mind returned to a Bible study I had led earlier in the week where we discussed St. Paul's words to the Philippians:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (Phil. 2:5-7).

"When we approach people of other cultures, and especially the poor," I had said to the students, "we have to ask ourselves a question: Where do I stand? Do I stand in a position of superiority, certain that because of who I am and from where I've come I have lots to teach the people to whom I go? Do I stand conscious of my distinctives as an American and a Christian? Do I stand aware of my rights and roles, eager to insure that they are recognized and protected? Or do I stand as Jesus did?"

If Christ, being God, out of His love for mankind, can lower Himself to the point of becoming a mere human in order to save us, how much more ought we to lower ourselves when we seek to extend this blessing to others? We are called to follow the example of Christ's Incarnation, taking the form of a servant towards those we may consider lower than ourselves by worldly standards.

This thought of Christ's kenosis (self-emptying) was brought back to me as I pondered the situation of the people of La Duquesa. I noticed that a church had been built there, and I was particularly struck by the fact that this church was literally built on garbage. What better image of Christians entering into Christ's kenosis in order to be a blessing to others than to establish their church on a landfill? Rather than concerning themselves with having a nice fellowship hall or a gymnasium, or with building their church in a nice neighborhood, the people who had built this church had chosen to build it in the midst of the stench and filth of the garbage dump in order to be a blessing to the people there. The pastor of this church, a humble and kind Haitian man who was missing one of his fingers, had helped us as we passed out health kits to the residents of La Duquesa. This exemplifies incarnational ministry.

And yet, as I thought further: Where are the Orthodox Churches built on landfills? As a people who has been commissioned to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the rest of the world (Matt 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8), are we fulfilling this divine vocation? What are we doing to reach out to the millions of people throughout the world What are we doing to bring the Gospel to the 1.6 billion people around the world who have yet to hear it? What are we doing to share the love of Christ with the homeless, the depressed, the poor, the imprisoned, the atheists, the Muslims, the homosexuals, the hungry, and those suffering from wars throughout the globe?

We often hear that the Orthodox Church is the "Ark of Salvation;" the place where we work out our own salvation in fear and trembling. And yet the Gospels tell us that so much of our salvation depends on how we relate to the world (especially the poor) around us. St. John Chrysostom boldly tells us, "I do not believe in the salvation of anyone who does not try to save others." The first step to bring healing and Good News to this broken world is to enter into Christ's kenosis - to lower ourselves and become servants to the least of these.

It was a great privilege and honor to work and serve with those teens and leaders who participated on this trip. In our morning and evening discussions, we not only discussed how to be a blessing to those around us while we were in the Dominican Republic, but more importantly, how we could take what we learned on the trip and continue to be a blessing to our communities when we returned home. The teens have heard this on every OYO trip in which they participated over the last few years. How can we take the experiences we have on these mission trips and return home transformed by the Gospel, eager to serve the poor we come across each day of our lives? How can we be a light to those around us, not simply on this trip, but every single day of our lives?

What I saw in the Dominican Republic were teens who had truly wrestled with these questions over the last few years and were indeed struggling to live out their vocational calling to love those around them. This can be seen, among other ways, in the career choices they are making as they enter college. It has truly been a blessing for me to watch these teens over the last few years go from observers, skeptical about working with poor and homeless people, to emerging leaders, eagerly pursuing careers in missionary work and social justice. It is also a great blessing to me to count each of the teens and leaders on this trip - Stephan Jackson, Gabe Otte, Theresa Nicholas, Helen Christianson, Mary-Lynn Zweers, Kelli Phillips, Rachel Abrahams, Stacey Sharpe, Christina Saad, Gary Greenfield, and Fr. Kevin Scherer - as my dear friends and fellow servants.

The 2007 Orthodox Youth Outreach Leadership Training session was a huge success, not only because of the work we accomplished in the Dominican Republic, but more importantly because of the impact OYO has continued to have on the teens who participated. May God continue to grant us all strength as we seek to live out the Great Commandment of Christ - "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind ... and your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 22:37-39).

Jordan Henderson is the Program Director for Orthodox Youth Outreach, a ministry of NAC Teen SOYO which has been designed to provide local parishes and youth workers with the resources necessary to involve junior and senior high students in local community service and short-term missions projects. The purpose of the program is to encourage our youth to live out their faith through service to others. OYO provides opportunities for youth to get involved with outreach at different levels and help them grow into positions of student leadership. For more information, visit

Special thanks to Beth and Ernesto Sanchez for making this trip possible!

More information and upcoming Outreach events can be found at:




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