By now it’s almost a truism.
The work of Maranatha Volunteers International supports the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church by providing church buildings, schools, and water wells from India to Peru to Zambia and dozens of other countries. In so doing, however, this 54-year-old supporting ministry not only builds church members; it also helps build the communities that surround Adventist facilities.
Once again, the inroads of the ministry in the local communities it serves became apparent on the August 25-26 weekend, when Maranatha leaders and a group of donors and local Adventist church leaders inaugurated three churches and toured the site of a future Adventist campus in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
City of Heaven
On August 25, the visiting group stopped by the site of Ciudad del Cielo (“City of Heaven”). The initiative seeks to build a large campus to serve an area of the capital city with more than 80 Adventist churches but no Christian schools. The complex will include a large education and evangelism center, a building with multiple classrooms, offices, bathrooms, and an auditorium, plus a large church for 500 people.
Under a merciless Caribbean sun, visitors surveyed the place where Maranatha has already started building the outer walls. Maranatha president Don Noble and vice president Kenneth Weiss showed the architectural rendering of the expected campus, which represents an investment of US$2.5 million and is expected to be finished by 2025. Generous donors have already committed $1.25 million in matching funds, Weiss reported.
During the brief August 25 tour, Gilberto Araujo, Maranatha country director in the Dominican Republic, provided updates on the project and shared information about the impact the initiative is already having.
“People in the surrounding community are excited to know there will be a school here,” Araujo said. Ciudad del Cielo is in a growing area of the city, near to a shopping mall and other real estate initiatives.
At the same time, the renewed emphasis on Adventist education is benefiting not only future but also current prospective students, Araujo reported. “We saw that we couldn’t have a local crew building churches and schools with their children outside of the Adventist education system,” Araujo said. Through a generous partnership with local church fields, the children of Maranatha workers in the Dominican Republic can attend an Adventist school paying heavily discounted fees.
Light of a New Dawn
After the Ciudad del Cielo visit on August 25, the group of Maranatha supporters stopped by Luz del Nuevo Amanecer (“Light of a New Dawn”), a church building that Maranatha completed earlier in 2023. The new church includes solid wooden pews and state-of-the-art ceiling fans, and it seems to be the most attractive building in the neighborhood.
People who live around the new church building are ecstatic about the new church. Construction leaders shared how the community embraced the Maranatha crew as trucks and heavy machinery arrived at the place in 2022. Some neighbors even offered to provide informal security support to make sure nobody stole the construction materials and tools stored at the site. “Now you have come to build a church here, this is also our church,” a woman living in the area told Maranatha leaders working on the site.
The witness from the visiting crew during the construction process and local church members, now that the church is open, has opened goodwill avenues in the area surrounding the new church building. During the August 25 visit, several neighbors were not shy about what they felt after interacting with the visiting team.
“If you ever come back, do not forget we are here,” José, who is building apartments across the street from the new church, said. “Remember that you will always have a friend in this place.”
A Light in Their Communities
In the Dominican Republic, it’s not uncommon for some of the recently inaugurated church buildings to be the most attractive building in the area. And in places where needs are not so pressing, Maranatha churches are attracting people who would likely not attend an Adventist church service in a cramped or run-down rented venue, Maranatha leaders said. “Some people don’t know a lot about the Seventh-day Adventist Church and might not feel attracted to connect with the church if the building doesn’t look inviting,” leaders explained. “A new church building is always an invitation for neighbors to stop and visit.”
But it’s not only church buildings that become a hub of community activity and outreach. In the Dominican Republic, many church members have nurtured relationships with their neighbors and non-member friends for years. In that context, the inauguration of a church building is a community event that attracts neighbors of all ages, even if they are not baptized members.
All of this is beefed up by a strong presence of Pathfinder clubs. Young Adventists are involved in reaching out to non-members by inviting them to be part of the seemingly ubiquitous organization. And the circle goes fully around, leaders said, as new generations of children who join Pathfinders eventually become baptized church members and leaders.
“It’s has been proven time after time,” Noble says. “Maranatha builds a church, and the church in the area grows and thrives. That’s what we are here for.”
Maranatha Volunteers International is an independent non-profit ministry and not operated by the corporate Seventh-day Adventist Church.