During the pandemic, “something very extraordinary has happened”
Dominican pastor Oscar Guzman speaks about the local church’s transformation
Photos by Joel Parker
In the city of Moca, the neighborhood is named “Sal Si Puedes”, which means “No way out”. Poverty and gang violence is woven into the fabric and memory of this community and acts like a gravitational force that, for many, is too strong to overcome.
After meeting Christ, former gang-member, now pastor, Oscar Guzman leaned into that gravity becoming obedient to the call to be a presence of love and service to those within this community. Married for 40 years with three kids, Oscar serves as lead pastor of ‘Torrente de Vida’ (Stream of Life Christian Church).
Guzman is a charismatic figure who exudes a passion for his culture and sees the best in everyone. “We have this kind of warmth inside,” he says about Dominicans. “Our blood is proactive. The Dominican person by nature is contagious, is hospitable, likes to share, likes to talk. The Dominican person is very proactive, socializes quickly, is a helper, has solidarity.”
While some churches during this pandemic year have wrestled with divisions and disorientation regarding their mission, Torrente de Vida, and some of the surrounding churches have experienced a spiritual awakening and responded by an outpouring of love and service to the suffering around them.
On a recent trip, Nations was able to sit down with pastor Guzman to learn more about this newfound vitality and his hopes for the future of the church.
Photo by Joel Parker
Nations: What do you love most about your community?
Pastor Guzman: People. The love of God has moved me to love them. It is not that I love them, it is God that has placed in my heart to love them, because I know the conditions they are in. I was just like them. I came to the knowledge of Christ and I realized that the solution for there to be a change in my community is Jesus Christ.
What was your church like before COVID-19 hit the Dominican Republic?
Before COVID, the church was in its growth process. But something very extraordinary has happened with COVID—members of the church have had a true encounter with Jesus Christ during the quarantine and the church has grown spiritually. We have more solidarity. We have more awareness of Jesus Christ’s return and the frailty of our humanity.
“We have more awareness of Jesus Christ’s return and the frailty of our humanity.”
How have your church gatherings and ministry changed as a result of the pandemic?
We have developed a powerful prayer ministry that we didn’t have before. On Thursdays we used to have a service, just like on Sundays. I spoke to the elders of the church to suspend that service and leave it as a virtual service, but one of prayer. [Through this service], people who didn’t speak in church before are now speaking, they’re now praying. There’s a total integration of church through social media, praying.
Because of COVID the church remained closed for about four months. The transition of in-person services was made through social media and now during in-person services, all the guidelines are being followed, like hand washing and social distancing. There’s an order for giving offerings, to go in and out of the church, so that people don’t get infected inside the church. We also encourage people to abstain from socializing, avoiding hugs, and things like that.
Photo by Joel Parker
How has your congregation responded? What is your church body learning together as a community?
We have been able to literally know the care of God. Members of the church have shared that as a testimony—not because I have preached that to them, but they themselves have shared—that, in time of a pandemic, of scarcity, even when many are unemployed, God has provided for their needs, abundantly.
The church, in the middle of the pandemic, has supplied abundantly for all of its economic commitments. People have been faithful to their tithes and offerings, and on everything that has to do with the structure and maintenance of the church, more abundantly than they did normally, besides the spiritual growth that we’ve had.
During the first four months of the pandemic, I used to record services on Saturdays and the message would be live-streamed on Sunday. After that, I preached once a month—because the leadership [has been] resurrected. [Since then] I haven’t preached again, but the leadership has. There’s been enthusiasm within the leadership; they have awakened. Every Sunday during the central service, one of the leaders is preaching now, a distinct one [each week].
Photo by Joel Parker
Moca has a high poverty rate. How have the poor in your community been impacted by COVID-19?
The majority of [local] churches have extended a hand to help the poor, and the government has done so as well. I believe that they have not suffered severely through this situation because they have received help.
The church—not only my church, but the rest of [local] churches—we have received many cases of people with problems. Depression has affected teenagers the most, and adults as well. Depression as a product of confinement. But in regards to subsistence, the churches and the governmental organizations have collaborated. [For example], today I have a few things prepared to distribute to families that are in need the most.
Photo by Joel Parker
“If I love God, and I love the church, I cannot leave the church without leadership that can substitute me.”
What personal challenges are you facing right now?
The main challenge I am facing right now is to establish a generational legacy. It’s not that my time to end the ministry has arrived, but I have to work on that if I want the church to move forward and to fulfill the many things that the Lord has told us. And when you’re working with establishing generational change, you have to yield. I’ve had to yield a part of the ministry, through the Lord, by putting it in the hands of others, the ones who are going to be my successors.
If I love God, and I love the church, I cannot leave the church without leadership that can substitute me. The church has always evangelized, has preached, has done things, but in regards to the ministry, I think that’s the major challenge that I have right now.
How do you hope Torrente de Vida will emerge from this pandemic?
A healthy church, a church where every ministry is exercising its calling—and where the leadership that has emerged [during this time] would be established, identifying the calling of each and every one of them. Some will be pastors, others will be evangelists, others will be teachers, others will be missionaries.
I think that after all of this, the church has to open its doors in its totality. Not focusing on gathering people inside a temple but visualizing the church expanded on the Great Commission. Amen.
Since 2005, Joel has served as founder and CEO of Nations Media. Joel’s passion is to advocate for those working to bring hope to the world’s darkest places.