Faith in the Future


Dominican Republic

Living in Fort Atkinson is quite literally the answer to Modesto’s prayers. “All the time we would think about our kids and how we wanted to raise them in a different place,” he said. “We’d pray, ‘God, please open the door.’ We prayed for seven years.”

Through connections with friends and family, he was eventually offered the opportunity to build a Spanish-speaking congregation at the First United Methodist Church in downtown Fort Atkinson. “I felt something so special in me,” he said of the moment he was offered the job. “My answer in the moment was, ‘We need to think about it, and pray,’ but inside was a huge YES.”

He and his wife, Arelis, had no problem acquiring visas, and they traveled to Fort Atkinson to look for a home and get to work at the church. But it took the government nine months to approve the paperwork for their children, who had stayed behind with their grandparents. Arelis returned to the Dominican Republic because she couldn’t endure the separation, but Modesto had to stay and work. Those nine months were some of the most difficult of his life. “It was hard for me,” he said. “New job, without my wife, without my kids. Behind the house there was a cornfield and sometimes I would walk in the cornfield, to pray and cry.”

Eventually they were reunited, and now the family is growing: Modesto and Arelis recently welcomed their third child. His Spanish-speaking congregation is growing, too, from a single family at the time he was hired to 80 members and youth today. Services are lively, with stirring orations, live music, singing, and heartfelt hugs. 

Modesto says he feels blessed to live here, and one of his primary goals is to encourage his congregation to acknowledge and share their blessings, as well: “This is a big goal for me. I tell them, ‘You can be a volunteer, too. There’s a ripple effect, like a stone in the water.’” 

This portrait and story are part of "A Place to Call Home," a special exhibition by writer and photographer Lori Compas at the Hoard Historical Museum in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.