Chaplain José Enrique Vásquez of the Dominican Republic is robed with a white coat by Pastor Hiram Ruiz, chaplaincy ministries director for the church in Inter-America, as Pastor Mario Ceballos, director of Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries for the world church looks on during a special certification ceremony held in the Gazcue Adventist Church in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on Nov. 6, 2021. Vásquez, who has been working as the chaplain at Vista del Jardin Hospital operated by the church became the first chaplain to be certified across the Inter-American Division territory since the certification program began in 2015 with the Adventist Chaplaincy Institute.  [Photo: Maicoldox Alcantara]

November 16, 2021 | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division News

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Dominican Republic celebrated the certification of one of its chaplains during a special ceremony recently held in Santo Domingo.  José Enrique Vásquez, robed in a brand-new white coat, became the first chaplain to complete the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) certification program. The program is administered by Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

“This is a very beautiful moment for the Inter-American Division and one that can be inspirational to all of our pastors,” said Pastor Hiram Ruiz, chaplaincy ministries director of the church in Inter-America.  “The church is always thinking on improving the ministry of its workers, always thinking of the church members and we have always had our eyes fixed so that God can bless them and expand the circles of influence in the pastoral ministry,” he said. “We are not just presenting a trained chaplain, but one that has been certified by ACM,” he said.

Pastor Hiram Ruiz, chaplaincy ministries director for the church in Inter-America, addresses local church leaders and chaplains-in-training during the historic ceremony. [Photo: Maicoldox Alcantara]

Recognizing the needs everywhere

Inter-American Division President Pastor Elie Henry congratulated church administrators in the Dominican Republic for their commitment to strengthening chaplaincy ministries in the country. Pastor Henry praised Vásquez and encouraged the nearly two dozen other pastors working to complete the CPE program.

“When we look around us, we can see that there are people hurting at home, in jail, in hospitals, in schools or in the church, or wherever we are,” said Pastor Henry. “As chaplains we must keep our eyes open to the needs around us, we need to look out and recognize those needs.” Just as Jesus served those in need when he was on earth, so He needs dedicated ministers to serve wholeheartedly today, he said.

“We need to serve God from the heart, from true spirituality, from a genuine communion with Him so that we can live in the moment and be in tune to the needs of people,” said Pastor Henry, as he referred the parable of the Good Samaritan of Luke 10. “Compassion without action is useless, so continue to serve like Jesus did – blessing others.”

Inter-American Division President Pastor Elie Henry encourages chaplains-in-training to keep their eyes open to the needs of people around them.[Photo: Maicoldox Alcantara]

Not every pastor is a chaplain

As Pastor Mario Ceballos, director of Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries and the World Service Organization for the General Conference, handed the white coat, certificate and a special bible, he congratulated Inter-American Division leaders, local church leaders, chaplains-in-training and members in attendance for the historic moment and shared the importance of the ministry of a chaplain.

“Each chaplain is a pastor who specializes in a ministry. Every chaplain is a pastor, but not every pastor is a chaplain,” said Ceballos. The ideal would be for every pastor to become a trained chaplain, he said. It is not an easy training, he added. “It’s a specialized training and I would really like to challenge every pastor to at least take a unit of chaplaincy training, because it will help them become better pastors and teach them to listen more.”

Remembering God’s leading

Chaplain Vásquez, 49, stood with his wife, Gisselle Lavandier, as the white coat was placed on him during the ceremony. It took him back to remember how God had led him to that point in a ministry that he never dreamed would mean so much to him.  “For me, being a chaplain has such value beyond any other ministry I have served in,” said Vázquez.

Pastor Mario Ceballos, director of Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries and the World Service Organization for the General Conference congratulates church leaders in the Dominican Union for strengthening chaplaincy ministries on the island. [Photo: Maicoldox Alcantara]

After leaving the banking sector as a marketing director in Santo Domingo, enrolling at the Dominican Adventist University to study theology in 2007, and serving as a district pastor for 11 years, Vásquez was appointed to serve as chaplain at the church’s Vista del Jardin Hospital. In 2016, he enrolled in the clinical pastoral education program and completed the four units, or 1,600 hours, of training and practice hours in 2018.  Since then, he has functioned as the chaplain at the hospital, which has more than 300 employees, where he leads worship services and ministers to patients. He ended up clocking in over 2,000 hours of service to complete his certification training and further on his training.

“Chaplaincy is the most noble way of helping someone,” said Vásquez. “I am so thankful to my Jehovah for this opportunity to do this work. Ever since I was a little boy, with all my imperfections, I always wanted to love people and be able to identify with people,” Vásquez said.

For months now Vásquez has been a chaplain supervisor-in-training, leading certification classes to approximately 32 Adventist pastors from throughout the church in his home country. Vásquez is part of a larger strategy by the church to certify many of the chaplains who are completing units of the training certification, top administrators said.

From L-R: Gisselle Lavandier, wife of Chaplain José Vásquez, Pastors Paulino Puello, Mario Ceballos, José Vásquez (center), Elie Henry, Hiram Ruiz, David Uribe, stand for a group photo after the special certification ceremony. [Photo: Maicoldox Alcantara]

Larger plans in the Dominican Republic

“We are grateful to God for leading us through all this time,” said Pastor Paulino Puello, president of the church in the Dominican Republic. “We have colleagues here all representing our six conference regions at different levels of the church in the south, north, northeast and central part of the island,” said Puello. Puello is among the group of union leaders who are enrolled in the CPE chaplaincy certification. He thanked all the regional administrators and leaders for supporting their pastors so that they can gain the skills and knowledge to serve better in their ministry.

Plans are underway to have every pastor on the island complete the first unit of clinical pastoral education, local church leaders said. In addition, the union will soon establish a training center, which will become the third such center in the Inter-American Division after centers in Puerto Rico and Montemorelos University in North Mexico opened.

Being part of the historic moment brings great pride and satisfaction for church leaders as more and more will soon join Vásquez in completing their certification across the territory, said Ruiz. About seven chaplains from Mexico’s North, Southeast, and Chiapas unions, as well as from Guatemala, Honduras and Montemorelos University, are in line to complete the certification process.

Pastor Paulino Puello, president of the church in the Dominican Republic,  thanks regional administrators and leaders for supporting pastors in chaplaincy training so that they can gain the skills and knowledge to serve better in their ministry. [Photo: Maicoldox Alcantara]

Growth in chaplaincy ministries

When the idea came to strengthen chaplaincy ministries in Inter-America, the plan was to organize training schools to better cater to the needs of the church, its institutions and the community at large, said Ruiz.

Currently, the 230 chaplains-in-training grouped in 25 groups who are enrolled in the certification program in the IAD led by the Adventist Chaplaincy Institute, said Ruiz. That group represents most of the 24 unions. “I am happy to see that this certification is gaining momentum as more light has been shed onto chaplaincy ministries,” he added.

Gone are the days when the church appointed pastors as chaplains if they failed at pastoring churches, he explained. “The church is realizing that it must use its best pastors to cater to the needs that chaplaincy ministries require,” Ruiz said.  It’s an investment, he said, that for the four units pastors need to complete for the CPE training, every unit represents 400 hours of training and practice which results in 1,600 hours. After that, another 1,000 hours of practice must be completed before certification can be applied for and granted.

Church leaders during the special ceremony stand behind the more than 20 chaplains-in-training enrolled in the on-going certification program in the church throughout the Dominican Republic. [Photo: Maicoldox Alcantara]

“We praise God that this ministry continues to be strengthened throughout Inter-America, and we will continue to see the positive changes in having a stronger church serving in the community in fulfilling the mission of the church,” said Ruiz.

To learn more about Inter-America’s Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries, initiatives and training information, click HERE

To view the online program held Nov. 6, 2021, at the Gazcue Adventist Church in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, click HERE

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