“I never felt I have the faith that can move mountains, but I always had the faith to obey,” says the Rev. Connie DiLeo.
Preaching at Trinity United Methodist Church in Lakeland, just a few days before her return to the Dominican Republic where she has been a missionary since 2001, DiLeo turns to the story of the feeding of the 5,000 from the Gospel of Mark. She notes that Jesus asks the disciples to take the only food at hand and distribute it.
|The Rev. Connie DiLeo, missionary to the Dominican Republic, sings during worship at Trinity United Methodist in Lakeland on June 19, 2011. (Photo by Cary McMullen)|
“Jesus doesn’t look at what we don’t have. He looks at what we do have. The miracle happened when the disciples stepped forward in faith,” she said.
DiLeo has seen lots of occasions when all she had to go on was faith.
After serving as director of lay ministries and as associate pastor at Aldersgate UMC in Seminole, DiLeo responded to a call to mission work she had felt years. Leaving behind her church and her grown children, she went to the Dominican Republic as a missionary with the General Board of Global Missions.
She was sent to Bombita, a predominantly Haitian village near La Hoya, not far from the Haitian border in the Southwest. There she worked as the project director and chaplain for Community Partners (COPA), an interdenominational ministry, running a school, a clinic and vocational training programs for Haitian refugees.
“Let me tell you – this is one poor area,” she says.
Complicating matters is a historic enmity between Dominicans and Haitians due to differences in language, culture and politics. Yet at Bombita, after years of work, the churches in the village were full and flourishing.
“They worship the Lord seven nights a week. There is still voodoo and spirit worship, but it is primarily a Christian village,” she says.
It was a different matter at La Hoya, a village of Dominicans with a reputation for brawling, drunkenness and prostitution. There was only one church in the town of 1,600, with only 10 people in it. DiLeo says the pastor of the church asked her for help, and she began to pray.
“I said, ‘God, we need a revival.’ And God said, ‘You do it,’” she says.
Reluctantly, DiLeo took Haitian youth from the churches in Bombita and started evening services at the church in La Hoya. Curious, the youth in La Hoya came to hear the music. Slowly, the music and the messages began to have an effect.
“People started to come. We talked about love and forgiveness,” she says.
A friendship developed between the Haitian youth of Bombita and the Dominican youth of La Hoya. Eventually, a new church was started in La Hoya. Over the years, it was built with the help of volunteer mission groups. The church has been so successful that recently a second story was added to the building.
The Rev. Susie Horner, pastor of Trinity UMC, tells the congregation at the end of the service that this is what its support for DiLeo has produced.
“Every year, we write a check and send it to Connie, and we never really know what happened to it. Now we know. To hear the story of Haitian and Dominican youth coming together, that’s awesome. It’s something we can all hang onto,” she says.
DiLeo has turned over the work of directing the COPA ministry to a Dominican pastor to pursue a true love of hers – spiritual development. When she goes back to La Hoya, it will be in a new role, beginning a three-year appointment as pastor of the new church.
|The Rev. Connie DiLeo, missionary to the Dominican Republic, and the Rev. Susie Horner speak with members of Trinity United Methodist in Lakeland on June 19, 2011. (Photo by Cary McMullen)|
“Once the church was started, I wanted to spend more time with it. We do a lot of youth ministry,” she says.
In addition, DiLeo will be working with the Evangelical Church of the Dominican Republic as coordinator of an outreach program from the Dominican church to Haitian immigrants.
“There is prejudice in the church, too. We’re working to sensitize them to the needs of Haitians,” she says.
Asked how the people of the Florida Conference can help her ministries, DiLeo points to how things started for her – UMVIM trips. She also points to the special account maintained by the General Board of Global Missions for her support. (An online donation can be made at http://secure.gbgm-umc.org/donations/advance/donate.cfm?code=14169Z.)
DiLeo concludes her message at Trinity by referring back to the miracle of Jesus feeding the multitudes.
“Every time I look at the bank account, there is money to do what’s needed,” DiLeo says. “God doesn’t ask for what you don’t have. He asks for what you do have. God took what little we had to offer and has done something with it.”