Nothing to fear: forsaking false saints for the true God

IMB missionary Carlos Llambes (center) shares the Gospel with Onesimo (left), a Haitian searching for where to put his faith. He had been hoping that the necklace he had been wearing, often used in voodoo rituals, along with the herbs he is holding, would help him feel better. Llambes convinced the man to throw away his necklace and to talk further with two local pastors, one Dominican and the other Haitian, who have teamed to plant churches and train church planters. (Photo by Wilson Hunter)

 March 17, 2014

Nothing to fear: forsaking

false saints for the true God

By Kate Gregory (

Lily was scared for her life, but she didn’t know why. It should have been a happy time, a momentous occasion. The 25 year old had been invited by her best friend to be inducted into a position of honor in their religion. The initiation ritual — which some of the religion’s leaders charged as much as $10,000 to conduct at the time — was being offered to her “free” because she was told she was blessed, someone the spirits favored.

It was a rare opportunity, but the very thought of it pierced Lily with dread and fear. She tossed and turned the night before the ritual, unable to pinpoint the source of an overwhelming foreboding. She couldn’t shake the sense that what was being offered wasn’t real or true.

“If there is a true God, please protect me,” she thought before falling asleep.

In her dreams, Lily pictured herself being offered as the sacrifice in the ritual, her life taken away if she went any deeper into this religion.

IMB missionary Liliana Llambes (left) and Cathy Sheraldi, a worker with a sister evangelical organization, conduct a weekly radio program called


IMB missionary Lily Llambes (left) and another evangelical worker conduct a Christian radio program in the Dominican Republic, one of many ways God has used Lily during her 10 years of service in the island nation.

Photo © 2014 IMB / Wilson Hunter

She spent the following day contemplating that dream instead of attending the ritual. When her friend came looking for her that night, Lily told her she couldn’t go through with it. Her friend said  that bad luck and misfortune would befall her. Yet Lily stuck by her decision, and the friends parted ways.

That marked the end of Lily’s participation in Santeria, whose practices are similar to voodoo.

Lily didn’t experience the Latin American sect in her native country. The Colombian-born American became involved while living in Miami, Fla. Santeria mixes tribal-based spirit worship from West Africa, South America or the Caribbean with Roman Catholicism, calling on saints to divine the future and to provide healing and good luck.

“I wanted to know what the future held,” Lily recounts. “I didn’t have peace in my life, so I was looking for something to provide that.

“I now know I was spiritually blind.”

Since becoming a Christian, Lily Llambes has experienced the true God at work, no more so than during her and her husband, Carlos,’ nearly decade-long service as Southern Baptist missionaries in the Dominican Republic.

Lily’s experience with Santeria has given her insight while counseling Haitians — as well as Dominicans — who are moving from a belief in the multiple spirits of voodoo into an exclusive relationship with Jesus Christ.

“It has given me a good perspective of where the people are [spiritually],” Lily says, “how they are in bondage.

“At the same time it has given me compassion for them and made me more aware that they need the Gospel, that we need to get the Gospel to them. And … it has made me fearless [in the face of voodoo] because I have Jesus and I am saved and I should not fear …”


Felicia, a Haitian witch doctor’s wife living in the Dominican Republic, says that she and her husband “contact the saints for the benefit of the people. We don’t use demonic forces. We help people — with their debts, with their problems. When people don’t have good luck, they come here looking for good luck.”


  • Pray for IMB missionaries Carlos and Lily Llambes (above) as they transition to Mexico City this March.
  • Pray for discernment for Haitian and Dominican church planters and their partnering churches from the U.S. as they talk with people about placing their faith in the true Christ alone, and not in depictions of Jesus they see and think they know from the walls of a house of voodoo.

But their fellow Haitian neighbors aren’t so sure. They question whether “the saints” to whom the couple prays are who they say they are. “That place is from the devil,” says a neighbor as she points to Felicia’s house.

Haitian pastor Ilme Frasier’s reaction to hearing that Felicia’s family as well as another witch doctor had settled into the community was to form an evangelical church there.

Ilme is a student in a church-planting institute that Lily’s husband, IMB missionary Carlos Llambes, began as ethnic ministries director for the Dominican Baptist Convention. Carlos started it to ground church leaders in the faith, teach them theology and doctrine, as well as to encourage and equip them to start new churches in neighborhoods without an evangelical presence.

Ilme started the church under a tree. The congregation now meets in a one-room building. The building shows a sense of permanency and “sticking power” in the community, Carlos says. Most homes there are too small for groups to meet in, he adds.

In one year, the congregation has grown to 60 adults and 20 children. And Felicia’s husband is now the only witch doctor living in the community; the other left town.

But it hasn’t been easy.

“There were times when I was afraid (while sharing the Gospel in the neighborhood fraught with witchcraft and voodoo),” Ilme says, “but God has strengthened me.


Volunteers from First Baptist Church, Pompano Beach, Fla.,  prayerwalk in a low-income community of Haitian immigrants in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Photo © 2014 IMB / Wilson Hunter

“When problems come, I tell my congregation how the Lord can handle them. Nothing is too small or too big for the Lord.”

Partnering churches from the United States — including First Baptist Church, Pompano Beach, Fla. — help pastors there such as Ilme start churches. Teams prayerwalk and invite residents to the Bible studies and worship services the institute’s church planters form in the communities.

“Over the course of our partnership these past five years, we’ve been able to see the progress being made with churches started where we prayerwalked in previous years,” says Beverly Cooley, a Pompano church member who turned 80 on Christmas Day.


When prayerwalking or doing street evangelism alongside U.S. partnering churches and local church planters, Carlos is like a heat-seeking missile at the sight of someone wearing a cross. He’ll usually make a beeline to them and ask why they are wearing it and what it means to them.

Near the Dominican Republic’s border with Haiti, Carlos spotted a man wearing a beaded necklace with a crucifix dangling from it, a type often used in voodoo healing rituals.

“Why are you wearing that cross?” Carlos asks him in Creole.

“For good luck. I don’t feel well,” replies the man, holding a handful of herbs.

“Maybe you don’t feel well because you have a dead Christ hanging from your neck, weighing you down,” Carlos responds. tells Onesimo. “You want the real thing.

“He isn’t dead on a cross now. He’s risen from that, for you. How do you think He feels about you depicting Him as dead when He’s alive?”

The young man’s name is Onesimo (shown with Carlos in photo at top of this page). Carlos gives him an audio recorder containing Bible stories in Creole, along with a booklet, Bon Nouvel Pou Ou(Good News for You).

“If you have the real Christ in your heart, you don’t need to trust in a manmade thing of wood hanging around your neck,” Carlos

“Can I take this thing from your neck and throw it away?” Carlos asks Onesimo.

STUDENT OF GOD'S WORD — A graduate of a Haitian church-planting institute in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, holds a study Bible on his lap during graduation ceremonies. IMB missionary Carlos Llambes created and led this institute through the Dominican Baptist Convention. As Carlos moves to Mexico City this month, he will turn over its leadership to a national church planter he mentored.


A Haitian graduate of a church-planting institute in the Dominican Republic holds a study Bible on his lap during graduation ceremonies. IMB missionary Carlos Llambes created and led the institute through the Dominican Baptist Convention.

Photo © 2014 IMB / Wilson Hunter

“Go, do it,” Onesimo responds.

In a small town like this where everyone knows everyone, that’s probably going to be the story of the day or week, Carlos says.

“Start your walk with Christ,” Carlos urges Onesimo. “Go to Bible studies. As you start your walk with Him, it isn’t going to be easy, but start.”

After about a decade of planting churches in the Dominican Republic among both Haitians and Dominicans, the Llambes family is relocating to Mexico City in March 2014 to start churches. Of the capital city’s more than 4,200 neighborhoods, more than 3,300 of them do not have an evangelical church, Carlos says. Neighborhoods can contain as many as 20,000 people in the city of 28 million.

Within the past five years, 90 churches have been started as part of the Dominican Baptist Convention’s ethnic ministries and church-planting institute. Now, many of the graduates are teaching the same courses they took via the institute throughout the country and are mentoring their students to start new congregations, just like Carlos did with them.

“All the church planters, the pastor-missionaries, they have a passion for church starting,” Carlos says. “And, once they form one, they don’t stop. They look for another community without an evangelical church and start another one.”

Even though he’s relocating to another area to start churches, Carlos knows “… there’s going to be a continuation of that here.”

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