The Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Dominican Republic celebrated the first certification of one of its chaplains during a special ceremony recently held in Santo Domingo.
José Enrique Vásquez, robed in a brand-new white coat, became the first chaplain to complete the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) certification program in the Inter-American Division (IAD) of the church. The program is administered by Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (GC).
“This is a wonderful moment for the Inter-American Division and one that can be inspirational to all of our pastors,” Hiram Ruiz, IAD chaplaincy ministries director, said. “The church is always thinking on improving the ministry of its workers, always [looking to] expand the circles of influence in the pastoral ministry.”
Recognizing the Needs Everywhere
IAD president Elie Henry congratulated church administrators in the Dominican Republic for their commitment to strengthening chaplaincy ministries in the country. He praised Vásquez and encouraged the nearly two dozen other pastors in attendance to work on completing the CPE program.
“When we look around us, we can see that people are hurting at home, in jail, in hospitals, in schools or the church, or wherever we are,” Henry said. “As chaplains, we must keep our eyes open to the needs around us; we need to look out and recognize those needs.” Just as Jesus served those in need when he was on earth, so He needs dedicated ministers to serve wholeheartedly today, he said.
“We need to serve God from the heart, from true spirituality, from a genuine communion with Him so that we can live in the moment and be in tune to the needs of people,” Henry added, referencing the parable of the Good Samaritan of Luke 10 in the Bible. “Compassion without action is useless, so continue to serve like Jesus did — blessing others.”
Not Every Pastor Is a Chaplain
As Mario Ceballos, director of Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries at the GC, handed the white coat, certificate, and a special Bible to Vásquez, he congratulated IAD leaders, local church leaders, chaplains-in-training, and members in attendance for the historic moment.
He also shared the importance of the ministry of a chaplain.
“Each chaplain is a pastor who specializes in a [particular] ministry. Every chaplain is a pastor, but not every pastor is a chaplain,” Ceballos said. The ideal would be for every pastor to become a trained chaplain, he said. It is not easy training, he added. “It’s a specialized training, and I would like to challenge every pastor to at least take a unit of chaplaincy training, because it will help them become better pastors and teach them to listen more.”
Remembering God’s Leading
Chaplain Vásquez, 49, stood with his wife, Gisselle Lavandier, as the white coat was placed on him during the ceremony. He then spoke of how God had led him to that point in a ministry that he never dreamed would mean so much to him. “For me, being a chaplain has such value beyond any other ministry I have served in,” Vásquez said.
After leaving the banking sector as a marketing director in Santo Domingo, enrolling at Dominican Adventist University to study theology in 2007, and serving as a district pastor for 11 years, Vásquez was appointed to serve as chaplain at the church’s Vista del Jardin Medical Center.
In 2016, he enrolled in the clinical pastoral education program and completed the four units, or 1,600 hours, of training and practice in 2018. Since then, he has served as the chaplain at the hospital, with more than 300 employees. There he leads worship services and ministers to patients. He ended up clocking more than 2,000 hours of service to complete his certification and further his training.
Larger Plans in the Dominican Republic
“We are grateful to God for leading us through all this time,” Paulino Puello, president of the Adventist Church in the Dominican Republic, said. “We have colleagues here representing the church in the south, north, northeast, and central part of the island,” he added.
Puello is among the group of leaders in the Dominican Republic who are enrolled in the CPE chaplaincy certification. He thanked all the regional administrators and leaders for supporting their pastors so they can gain the skills and knowledge to serve better in their ministry.
Plans are underway to have every pastor on the island complete the first unit of clinical pastoral education, local church leaders said. In addition, the church in the Dominican Republic will soon establish a training center, which will become the third such center in the IAD, after centers set up in Puerto Rico and at Montemorelos University in Mexico.
Growth in Chaplaincy Ministries
When the idea came to strengthen chaplaincy ministries in the IAD region, the plan was to organize training schools to better cater to the needs of the church, its institutions, and the community at large, Ruiz said.
Currently, the 230 chaplains-in-training are in 25 groups enrolled in the certification program in the IAD led by the Adventist Chaplaincy Institute, Ruiz said. That group represents most of the 24 union territories in IAD. “I am happy to see that this certification is gaining momentum as more light has been shed onto chaplaincy ministries,” he added.
Gone are the days when the church appointed pastors as chaplains if they failed at pastoring churches, he explained. “The church has understood that it must use its best pastors to cater to the needs that chaplaincy ministries require,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz explained that each of the four units that pastors need to complete for the CPE training represents 400 hours of training and practice. After they finish with those 1,600 hours, they must complete another 1,000 hours of practice before certification can be applied for and granted.
“We praise God that this ministry continues to be strengthened throughout Inter-America, and we will continue to see the positive changes in having a stronger church serving in the community in fulfilling the mission of the church,” Ruiz said.