More Than Four Walls

As a community faces the constant threat of floods, Elian and his family discover what home really looks like.
By Laura Alsum
, Photos by Ty Van Rensburg

One fall day, the rain came down harder than usual. Elian was scared. His family once again fled to the church for safety.


Elian loves to play baseball in this field just a few steps from his home. His mom, Griselda, pictured here with his siblings, is thankful that he has a sponsor.

It has come before.
It will come again.

At least once a year, the Camu River swells, bringing destruction as it spills onto land in La Vega, Dominican Republic. The churning grey river water looks more like an ocean. It’s hard to imagine what’s beneath the surface: a neighborhood — someone’s home. Elian’s home.

Elian is a bright and caring sponsored 7-year-old boy with a gentle smile. He enjoys playing baseball with friends and learning how to write, but above all, he loves Jesus and his parents, brother, and sister. For six years, Elian and his family have lived in a two-room house on the river’s floodplain. His parents knew the risk they were taking in living there, but, like every other resident in the community, they didn’t have a choice. The dangerous area was all they could afford. And while the floods always come each year, and the family would have to clean up the inevitable mess the water would bring, they held onto their faith. “The Lord has always provided for us,” Elian’s father, Pilar, shares. “What we make monthly isn’t enough, even between the two of us, to maintain the family, but we always have food.”

“Every time we’re worried about anything, we remind ourselves to trust in the Lord because He’s always providing. And then we wake up the next morning and find more resources,” Griselda, Elian’s mother, adds.

Elian loves to get letters from David, his sponsor, and proudly shows a picture of when he came for a special visit.

Elian’s family is part of a close-knit community that attends Pastor Gemuel Delgado’s church in the neighborhood. Whenever it rains, Elian’s father and other men from the area keep a close watch on the river. When it rises too much, the families run, leaving everything behind, and take shelter in the church which is located on higher ground away from the river.

One fall day, the rain came down harder than usual. Elian was scared. His family once again fled to the church for safety. When they returned to their house the next day, however, not much of it was left. They had lost all their belongings, including Elian’s bed and toys – even the soccer ball that his sponsor, David, gave him on a recent visit. All the parts that typically make up a home were gone. For Elian, however, his home is more than just four walls and the possessions inside.

Home is his neighbors and friends who support one another. Home is Pastor Gemuel who works to build community and make sure everyone is safe, healthy, and spiritually nurtured. Home is the time Elian spends at the Hope Center where he learns about Jesus and is developing confidence through Christ.

The Hope Center is a bright spot in Elian’s life, and his parents can see the difference it’s making as their son feels so loved by everyone involved – from the Child Champions in La Vega to his sponsor in the United States. “It’s been amazing having sponsors visit our families and community,” says Elian’s father. “Every time the children receive a letter or candy from their sponsor, it brings so much joy to them. It just awakens their curiosity because they know that there’s someone in another country who cares about them. It opens their minds a little bit to other things.”

Through Child Champions like his Hope Center tutors, his sponsor, and church community, Elian is beginning to see that he has a big team cheering him on and guiding him to success. They are his home.

Losing most of his house to the flood could have been devastating for Elian and his family, but receiving help, love, and encouragement from so many people showed him he was not alone. After the flood waters receded, the rebuilding began. Elian’s family received support from Pastor Gemuel at their church and money from OneChild’s Children’s Crisis Fund to construct a new house and fill it with the necessities that had been either swept away by the water or ruined by the stinky, filthy muck that covered everything else remaining.

Pastor Gemuel is intent on moving families away from the floodplain and onto higher ground near the church. Although that might take a little while to happen, those who love Elian are working hard to see him flourish as he continues to enjoy his favorite things like going to school, meeting friends on the baseball field, and reading letters from his sponsor. Elian still gets scared when it rains, but he knows he will always have a home through the many people who love him.

Watch a powerful video about Elian and the flood that destroyed his home:

“Here Am I, Lord” – A Pastor’s Determined Response

A visionary pastor in the Dominican Republic works tirelessly to improve the health and wellness of a struggling neighborhood.

Pastor Gemuel Delgado is a Child Champion. He is a man of action and, as many say, the heart of his community. His church has a thriving Hope Center where nearly 200 OneChild sponsored kids receive love and support — and opportunities for a better future. Pastor Gemuel’s church is in the town of La Vega and is also a place of refuge for families living in a floodplain. A number of these families are Haitian immigrants who would experience discrimination elsewhere, but because of Pastor Gemuel’s ministry, they are welcomed. All families receive help evacuating from the floods and receive food, water, mattresses, and clean clothes. Pilar Cruceta, one of Pastor Gemuel’s congregants, says, “I don’t know where we would be without the church and pastor helping us. It’s been such a blessing. It doesn’t matter if you’re Haitian or Dominican – everyone receives help.”

Pastor Gemuel works with OneChild and other aid agencies and churches locally and abroad to gather supplies and materials to rebuild homes that are damaged or destroyed from ongoing floods in the neighborhood. He has become so instrumental in assisting the community that his church was designated by the Dominican government as an official emergency aid location.

Since children were also becoming sick from drinking unclean water, Pastor Gemuel coordinated the donation of water pumps and a filtration system that have been installed at the church. People come from all over the area to purchase cheap, clean water. If they cannot afford it, the church provides it to them anyway.

While it seems like his work is enough for three people to manage, Pastor Gemuel never stops thinking about how he can better meet the needs of these families. Recently, he has been working on buying a piece of land close to the church so that he can relocate more than 100 families currently living in the floodplain. This would mean they wouldn’t have to rebuild their homes each time the river floods. They wouldn’t have to fear rain. They could finally focus on the future and give their children a better life.