CBF new church start and pastor Xiomara Reboyras Ortiz join in spreading God’s love to the Dominican Republic
By Jennifer Colosimo
It’s not the likeliest of stories, but it is a true one: Xiomara Reboyras Ortiz, a CBF pastor in DeLand, Florida, started a church out of her book club. The speed-reader version is that when her husband, Rubén Ortiz, decided to leave his pastor position and take on the role as CBF Latino Field Coordinator, their plates got pretty full. The couple experienced many transitions while adjusting to the new ministry reality and after a year, they began to crave community, and a book club was where Xiomara found it. What happened from there is truly a story worth reading.
Reboyras’ book club began with a handful of people—family members and friends who simply shared a love for reading. They gathered in each other’s homes, chatted about books all concerning spiritual life and growth, faith and the Bible. As their group outgrew their respective living rooms, something spiritual began to happen organically—they became like a church and, because there is a need for intentional church life and biblical teaching, the group started to explore and organize the birth of a new church with Reboyras leading since she has been doing pastoral ministry for 20 years.
Officially, they became Comunidad Cristiana Nuevo Pacto and the only Spanish-speaking CBF church in Florida, when they started, claiming about 30 members. As the church continues to grow today, the phrase “quality, not quantity” looms large as this tiny church with no brick and mortar to call their own is doing really big things beyond the United States border.
Called “Tati” by all of her friends, one of the members, Altogarcia Reyes, told her new church about a piece of land she had purchased in Sabana de la Mar, Dominican Republic, and how with indescribable efforts she and her husband, Pedro, had started the construction of a missionary house.
Sabana de la Mar is a village on the coast on the northern side of the island with a significant number of its population living in extreme poverty. There is no electricity there and the people lack education, common social skills and emotional stability. When Reyes went back to visit—about the same time she joined the book club, she brought back and shared God’s dreams for that beloved community.
“God put it into her heart to build a house where she could receive and house missionaries to help the community,” Reboyras said. “She told us about people living in shacks, sleeping on the floor. It’s a community of people with absolutely nothing.”
The community consisted of numerous ramshackle shacks built by poverty-stricken families with no running water, no electricity and girls who were getting pregnant at a very young age, as early as 13. Hardly any child was in school. What Reyes learned was that once in school, they were unable to keep up and teachers quickly lost interest in trying to teach them. Most would drop out before third grade. It was a vicious cycle that had become second nature.
Hogar Arcoiris (Rainbow House) is a ministry that aims to interrupt generational cycles of illiteracy and family brokenness in the Dominican Republic through teaching preschool-aged children to be ready for first grade through mentoring and counseling families and providing emergency resources.
Seeing this did two things to Reyes: It simultaneously broke her heart and inspired her to see God’s calling. She shared what was going on in Sabana de la Mar with her little church, and Comunidad Cristiana Nuevo Pacto decided to join her in this beautiful ministry however possible.
The ministry name is Hogar Arcoiris, or Rainbow House, with the goal of interrupting generational cycles of illiteracy, poverty and family brokenness through teaching preschool-aged children to be ready for first grade through mentoring and counseling families, providing emergency resources, and generating a positive sense of community. The congregation joined to raise money to fund the project, much of that coming directly from Reyes and Pedro who rented out every room in her own house to save money to use there.
Today, the Rainbow House is not big enough to accommodate the need for schooling in the community; so their next goal is to start working on a new school building. With a new school completed, the main house can fulfill its potential as a boarding house for missionaries, teachers and volunteers coming into the community.
Reboyras helps by meeting with engineers to discuss what to build and how to make it something that can grow with this community’s needs. With Tati, they lean on their tiny-but-mighty congregation and friends of the ministry to raise money for teacher salaries, school supplies, food, resources and the ability to rebuild some of the houses in the community. They’ve already been able to install floors and roofs on many of the shacks housing families who have joined their efforts.
And, in the spirit of breaking cycles, the daughter of one resident in the school is a teacher who has dedicated herself to coming back to teach the next generation.
“I hope people can recognize the power of this story,” said Reboyras. “When just one person is passionate and committed to something, others will follow. The feeling that comes with doing good for other people in the world is contagious. And once it catches on, you can do so much. I’ve never seen anybody discern God’s will and God’s love for a community the way Tati does for this community. She has no fear, and I think that’s the biggest message here.
“It’s been incredible to see the immediate impact that this missional work has on the people in the community there,” Reboyras added. “I’ve seen a lot of poverty. A lot. We’ve done mission work in a lot of areas in Latin America and the Caribbean; but this, this is something else. And these children who didn’t even know how to say, ‘hello’ or ‘how are you’ are now learning to read and write and interact with each other. It’s just incredible.”
Reboyras has also been able to connect with other pastors in Florida as well as other CBF congregations to garner support from people in their communities to partner in building the school. That’s another blessing because, after graduating the first class this past May, the school already has a waiting list for the next school year, including interest from other communities in the wake of the stunning academic and social impact on the children and families in Sabana de la Mar.
“We still have a lot to do, and a lot of money to raise,” Reboyras shared. “None of these are our problems; they’re God’s problems. We just need to be a medium for God’s process.”
The group is working with Reyes toward three goals: First, the school must be finished; more teachers must commit to being there; and they must implement a curriculum such as EDUKA which is already established in Mexico with the leadership of Javier Pérez of CBF Global Missions.
While the goal is one year, Reboyras trusts that because God put this in their hearts, it will happen. Their prayer is that, much like the books they read together, this is just the beginning of a great story in Sabana de la Mar.
This article first appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of fellowship! magazine. Check out the issue and subscribe for free at www.cbf.net/fellowship.