The word jóvenes means the “young people.” It basically covers both youth and young adults. In Latin American culture, there isn’t a huge gap between people who are under 18 and over 18, probably because going off to college is an exception rather than a norm. In any case, the Iglesia Evangélica Dominicana is a church that is run largely by jóvenes.
Every time we’re driving to a worship service or Bible study, Pastor Carolina will pause along the way at some random street corner. And before we know it, another joven is jumping in the car. They never get tired of riding around with her and doing her work. It’s crazy to me how mature they are. 16 year old kids standing up front leading the praise songs, praying powerful five minute extemporaneous prayers, reciting scriptures from memory in casual speech.
And they don’t just do things that happen in the limelight. A lot of what they do is quiet servanthood. Nothing needs to be said or asked. When it’s time to clean up or hand out refreshments, they jump to whatever task without giving it a second thought. Basically the teenagers do in Dominican Republic churches what the older women do in churches in our country. This reflects the demographic shape of the church as well. Instead of having a gap in the young adult range, the IED is mostly young adults; what they’re missing are older people! I imagine that part of this is due to the way that evangélico churches in Latin America in general are very young. The older generations are presumably a lot more Catholic.
But there’s something about the way that young people are empowered and respected in the Latin American evangélico churches that goes completely against the stereotypes about Latin American culture being a stoic patriarchy in which the young have no voice. Perhaps it’s only the evangelico churches that are Methodist or similar, but I’ve experienced the same thing now in Peru, El Salvador, Guatemala, and the DR. In any case, I’m grateful to the jóvenes of the Iglesia Evangélica Dominicana for inspiring me and challenging me to emulate their zeal for the gospel.