Suriname: A young woman initiating positive change in church and society

12 Apr 2023

Danielle Dokman from Suriname was elected to the LWF Council as a youth delegate in 2010. The decision to follow this call significantly influenced her decision to become a pastor and her further life.

Rev. Danielle Dokman is an engaging teacher and preacher. Photo: LWF/Albin Hillert

Rev. Danielle Dokman is an engaging teacher and preacher. Photo: LWF/Albin Hillert

Danielle Dokman's journey from youth delegate to doctorate studies

(LWI) – Danielle Dokman of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Suriname described her decision as a young woman to serve on the Council of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) as the “greatest decision” of her life so far.

At the Eleventh Assembly in Stuttgart in 2010, at the age of 22, she was elected LWF Council member for the Latin America and Caribbean region. For the next seven years, the Dokman actively contributed to shaping the work of the Lutheran communion. During this time, she gained much experience and was ordained as a pastor, yet she had to overcome reservations about her age time and again.

Dokmann did not take the decision to be nominated as a member of the Council lightly. “Am I good enough? Do I have anything to say? Am I called to serve not only the people of Suriname but a much larger region?” She decided, albeit hesitantly, to accept the nomination and embark on her LWF adventure.

By this time, she already was a student – of sociology. For although Dokman felt drawn to the church by God, she struggled with the question of becoming a pastor. She even considered leaving her church, which was going through a difficult period of internal conflict at that time.

Following the call to become a pastor

The work in the LWF Council shaped her and gave her the necessary conviction to become a pastor. In 2012, parallel to her commitment as a council member and her sociology studies in Suriname, she began studying applied theology and congregational education in Jamaica. “It was during a Council meeting when I suddenly realized: God is calling me to become a pastor,” Dokman said. She followed this call although she still was a student herself. As a student pastor in Jamaica, she led regular services, first in the Anglican Church and then in the Methodist Church.

For seven years, Danielle Dokman was an LWF Council member. During that time, she also completed her bachelor's degree in sociology (2014), her master’s degree in applied theology (2016) and her congregational education diploma (2016). When she was ordained after graduating, she was 28. Despite her rich experience, many people in her home church regarded her as too young.

“It was very strange,” Dokman said. “At the LWF, I learned that I was an important and valuable person. I was given all kinds of roles, and my voice was valued. And back in Suriname, despite the extensive experience I had gained, my abilities were denied because of my young age. Especially my early days of being a pastor did not go without struggles.”

At the LWF, I learned that I was an important and valuable person. I was given all kinds of roles, and my voice was valued.

Danielle Dokman, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Suriname

Currently, Dokman is studying again. This time in Minnesota, USA, to do a Ph.D. in theology. Thematically, she is drawn to the Old Testament prophets. This could be relevant to her work as a pastor and theologian in her home country, Dokman said.

Before beginning her Ph.D. studies in Minnesota, she worked in two congregations in Suriname. She also taught systematic theology, Greek, exegesis and homiletics at the Moravian Theological Seminary. Once she returns from Minnesota, she plans to resume much of that work.

A religiously diverse country

In Suriname, nearly 50 percent of the population is Christian. Pentecostal and charismatic churches make up the largest part, followed by the Roman Catholic Church and the Moravian Church. The Reformed Church and the Lutheran Church, to which Danielle Dokman herself belongs, are small communities. Finally, the Baptist, Anglican and Methodist churches follow with even smaller numbers.

This diversity becomes even greater when other religions are included. Hinduism is the second largest religion, followed by people of the Muslim faith and the followers of Winti, a syncretic religion of African origin. Winti is historically deeply rooted in Surinamese culture. Many of today's Surinamese derive their ancestry from former African slaves. They brought Winti with them when they were deported to Suriname by the Dutch colonial power of the time.

Therefore, until today, many believers of other religions follow Winti at the same time. In this religion, the supernatural and prophecy through spiritual beings play a major role.

According to Dokman, this could be one of the reasons why many of the poorer people in Suriname are particularly receptive to the proclamation of the so-called prosperity gospel of some churches. However, she also sees that the traditional churches are doing too little in terms of prophetic ministry to invite people to join.

With her Ph.D. thesis, which deals with biblical prophecy in the Old Testament, Dokman would like to contribute to counteracting these social trends. She cares deeply about her country and the people who live in it. And she would like to be involved and contribute to positive changes in Suriname.

Source: EMW - Positiven Wandel gestalten

LWF/A. Weyermüller