The Face of Long-Term Ministry

As the pandemic continues, stay-at-home orders for several countries remain, and others begin to open back up, our work in each base is looking different every week. However, we are blessed to continue finding ways to serve God in the communities to bring light and hope. Today’s story comes from Katie Wulf, our nurse on staff at the Community Health site in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic.

This is the face of Chepé. I met him not long after moving to Jarabacoa in the fall of 2015. Chepé was 86 years old and actively dying from prostate cancer that eventually spread to his entire body.

Chepé was a gentle-mannered man with a sweet denture-filled smile and the most beautiful “café con leche” skin. All of Chepé’s family had grown and moved to “Nueva York,” so he lived in his old farmhouse alone with his caretaker. I feel like I never knew the true meaning of “in the middle of nowhere” until I drove to Chepé’s house for the first time. He lived about 20 minutes further up the mountain from our clinic in the village of Corocito. Some of the drive was on the main road… a dirt road with ruts so big you could lose a tire, but eventually, you had to turn left onto a tiny path to finish the trip. If there had even been a small amount of rain in the last couple of days, the road to Chepé’s house was impassable. And there was a steep incline where every time I was about to drive up or down it, I would say a prayer: “Please, Lord, don’t let my car tip over!”

We (Dr. Fernando and myself, Nurse Katie) went to visit Chepé every two weeks for over 2.5 years. We would check on Chepé’s blood pressure and heart rate, evaluate his current state of chronic pain, and help with any medical problems that would arise. But, these are not the things I think of when I remember Chepé.

Another critical part of our home visits includes caring for the spiritual health of our patients. We always say we are “missionaries first and medical providers second” because if a patient’s soul isn’t healthy, then physical healing is only a bandaid for a deeper wound. So over the years, we talked to Chepé about Jesus and what he’s done in our lives. We sang worship songs on his patio, and we prayed for him and over him. We built a genuine relationship with him. Chepé was not a believer, but he always welcomed our conversation and prayers. And we all came to a place where we looked forward to these visits.

Walking with a patient and their family through the process of death is hard. Even as a healthcare provider and even after years of experience with it. We slowly watched, visit after visit, as the strength left Chepé’s body, as his reality crept up on him, and as the cancer cells took over. In some ways, mostly as a medical provider, you feel helpless. There are only so many medicines to help with the pain. But as believers, we clung to the promises of our God. That he loves his children, that his plans are good, and that it is never too late to repent and run to him.

On one of our last visits to Chepé’s home, he accepted Jesus into his heart! And I rejoice to this day knowing he is home with his father in a brand new body with no pain. When I close my eyes, I can still see his smiling wrinkled face. And it is his face that comes to mind when I envision the meaning of “long-term ministry.” God reunites with his children in many different ways; sometimes, it is instant, through a sermon or street evangelism, but a lot of the time it’s through long term investment. It’s through relationships and mutual trust. It’s through loving someone during their darkest days.

I am blessed to have known Chepé. To have been his friend. And if the only reason that God brought me to the Dominican Republic was to use me to play a small role in the life of Chepé, I am grateful.