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The Dominican Republic is the second largest nation, by population as well as by area, in the Caribbean (after Cuba). It shares the island of Hispaniola with the country of Haiti to the west. Due to its size and elevation changes, there are diverse ecologies that thrive in the tropical climate. Between the Central Mountain Range (the highest mountains in the entire West Indies) and the Northern Mountain range is the Cibao valley, the home to most farming production in the nation and the city of Santiago de los Caballeros (or Santiago).
The national government is a democratic republic, with a structure very similar to the United States of America, with three branches of government–executive, legislative, and judicial. The president, however, has the power to appoint the governors of the 31 provinces. The Santiago mission includes the province of Santiago and most of the provinces in the northern region.
Most of the Dominican Republic’s primarily multiracial population lives in urban areas. There is much economic disparity, with upper-class individuals having lifestyles comparable to the United States, while the poorer people may not even have access to basic amenities. The rapidly growing tourism industry feeds most of the country’s economic growth.
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Snapshot of the Dominican Republic – The official language of the Dominican Republic is Spanish, though Dominican Spanish is its own distinct dialect with different slangs and pronunciations than other countries. Most of the Dominican Republic’s primarily multiracial population lives in urban areas. There is much economic disparity, with upper-class individuals having lifestyles comparable to the United States, while the poorer people may not even have access to basic amenities. The Roman Catholic church is the dominant religion in the country; nearly 70% of the population belongs to the church, while about 18% are Evangelical, and another 10% have no religious affiliation. The Dominican Republic’s culture blends Spanish, African, and indigenous Taino practices. The fast-paced dance musical styles of merengue and bachata were created in the Dominican Republic. Rock and rap have also become increasingly popular, especially among the youth. Baseball dominates the country’s sports scene, though basketball and boxing are also popular. Dominican meals generally contain rice, beans, some type of meat, and a small salad. Lunch is the main meal of the day in the Dominican Republic. Another popular dish is sanocho, a stew that uses several kinds of meat. Flan, dulce de leche, rice pudding, and sugarcane are all popular desserts in the country.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints makes up approximately 1.1% of the total population of the Dominican Republic.
There are stakes and wards as well as districts and branches in the mission. There are some multi-generation member families, but but for the most part, members are first-generation converts. The Church is growing and members are eager to serve and are not shy to talk about the Church with their friends/neighbors.
Convert retention is a major concern in the area. Missionaries would have sufficient work to focus full-time with less-active members, but church leaders instruct the members to do this work and allow missionaries to teach and baptize new converts.
The Church runs a Dominican Republic MTC, located in Santo Domingo. North American non-native speakers would spend a short time in the Provo MTC and then stay in the Dominican Republic MTC for several more weeks. The Dominican Republic MTC also teaches French/Creole-speaking missionaries assigned to serve in Haiti, as well as English-speaking missionaries assigned to neighboring islands
Typical Dominican meals consist of rice, beans, and some type of meat–usually chicken that is fried (“guisado”) but sometimes beef. Return-missionaries endearingly refer to this diet staple as “la bandera.” Lunch is the main meal of the day in the Dominican Republic, and is usually followed by ciesta common in other Latin American cultures.
Out of consideration for the burden felt by local members, the previous mission president’s rule allowed missionaries eat with members only on Sundays. Missionaries make lunch at home and spend the ciesta period in language study. Each neighborhood has one or two colmados (convenience stores or markets), and missionaries can travel to a grocery market on preparation days. The colmado is closer and has all the essentials.
While it is possible to find peanut butter and other American specialties, they are expensive. Missionaries who buy peanut butter, for example, usually do so with money sent from home as monthly support funds won’t support a budget including such delicacies. Although most missionary apartments have refrigerators, grocers tend to stock only shelf-stable milk (i.e. Parmalat).
Missionaries typically travel on foot. Depending on the area, that means you may end up walking as much as five to 15 miles each day. Public transportation is not typically helpful for day-to-day proselyting activities. To get to a supermarket on preparation days and to reach zone conferences, missionaries would typically use busses. Instead of saying “autobús” as typical in Latin American spanish, the word for bus is “guagua”. Another common form of transportation in Santiago is a motorcycle taxi, motoconchos, but missionaries are forbidden because they only take one passenger at a time and for obvious safety concerns.
Petty theft is common in urban areas. To avoid being targeted, missionaries should stay in well-lit, populated areas in the evenings. Although it is not uncommon for missionaries to be robbed, incidents can typically be avoided by being smart about where you are when it’s time to head home at night.
The most common danger faced by missionaries is actually dehydration. Missionaries should carry water with them in their backpacks.
Interestingly, while most of the region is bombarded by hurricanes between August and October, this region of the island is mostly protected by tall mountains. Hurricanes hit the Dominican Republic every few years, but most hurricanes strike the southern coast. The last time a category 5 hurricane struck the Dominican Republic was in 1979 (Hurricane David).
The Dominican Republic’s culture blends Spanish, African, and indigenous Taino practices. The fast-paced dance musical styles of merengue and bachata were created in the Dominican Republic. Rock, rap and especially reggaeton have become increasingly popular among youth. Baseball dominates the country’s sports scene, though basketball and boxing are also popular.
It is polite to shake hands as a greeting. Pointing is done with the lips pursed together in the direction of something instead of using a finger. To show they don’t understand or could not hear something, Dominicans will wrinkle their nose and squint their eyes. It is a very subtle non-verbal signal to have you repeat or modify what you just said.
The official language of the Dominican Republic is Spanish, though Dominican Spanish is its own distinct dialect with different slangs and pronunciations than other countries. Dominican pronunciation of spanish is notably short. For example, the common phrase for “watch out” or “be careful” is “cuidado.” In the Dominican Republic, you would hear only “cuidao” instead of enunciating the final d in “cuidado.” It is also very common to drop the s from all words. Another example, “¿cómo estás?” is commonly pronounced “¿cómo etá?”
The most colloquial phrase, and a stunning example of the truncating prevalent in Dominican spanish is “Tató.” To ask “¿Tató?” literally means “Is everything going well?” and comes from the phrase “esta todo bien?” When you ask someone how their day is going, “tató” is a common response. A few other differences worth noting include: instead of poco (for little or few) they often say “chin”; instead of guapo meaning handsome or guapa meaning pretty, it means they are upset or aggressive; to say, “do you have any money?” they wouldn’t say “tienes dinero?” They would say “tiene cuarto?” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dominican_Spanish)
Nice lightweight backpack (durable, not bulky). Durable shoes.
Ave. Estrella Sadhalá
Plaza Alejo 2-B
Miami, FL 33102
Blog of the mission president’s wife (2013): http://beckydouglasparadise.blogspot.com/
What was most surprising about the culture?
It was surprising how open people were to hearing about God. Even if they didn’t agree with the LDS doctrines, they were welcoming. They are happy to have missionaries share a message with their family because it invites God into their home. However, this does not mean the work of missionaries goes easily because it can be hard to make them see the need to keep commitments. They are mostly willing to hear but reluctant to follow through.
Also, it was a struggle for most adults to read and comprehend, which was surprising and often made teaching difficult.
What advice would you give to someone going to this Mission?
Your tracting isn’t so much door-to-door, it’s mostly people on the street or people standing outside the house. So learn to just strike up conversation naturally and easily. For the most part people don’t stay inside with the door shut–the door is open for circulation–so you would have to call to them which can be awkward. You learn to look for people standing outside their house or walking in the street.
Discipline yourself to use free time wisely. After lunchtime is a traditional ciesta, missionaries are not to proselyte between noon and about 2pm. This time is for lunch and language study. You will be tempted to just take a nap during that time, but use the time for study.
Hushpuppies are super comfortable but I went through 3 pairs and could’ve used 4 or 5.
What items were hard to get or not available?
In almost all of the apartments there is no hot water. Laundry is done in the apartment using very basic washing machines and then clothes had to be line-dried. “Your clothes definitely didn’t get as clean or as crisp.”
What did you eat the most of?
“La bandera” which is rice, beans and meat.
What is the craziest thing you ate?
“Morcilla” is dried pigs blood (sometimes referred to as “black pudding”). Many church members believe it is against the word of wisdom. The coagulated blood is served inside the intestine as blood sausage. “The one time I had it, it wasn’t cooked, I almost threw up. But I’ve heard that it’s good fried.”