February 16 to 23 I spent in the neighborhood of Brisas del Norte II outside of Boca Chica, Dominican Republic with a mission team from First Baptist Church, Reading, Pennsylvania. Every year for the last 15 or so, in whatever church he was pastoring at the time, Rev. Dr. Michael Hall has led a team of people to the DR for purposes of teaching and construction. The mission coordinator he works with is Rev. Madeline Flores-Lopez who you can read about here. This was my second trip with him.
Before telling the story, a few Reflections:
- This was not a ‘fun’ trip. It was physically, emotionally and spiritually challenging for me.
- I am learning to be content with And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Since you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me. Matthew 25:33-40
- Every single team member except one got sick. From day one until we left, every day someone broke out with sinus and bronchial symptoms. Today, State side, we are all on codeine cough syrup, antibiotics and inhalers.
- It was humid and sticky most days and nights.
- Why don’t roosters and dogs go hoarse after crowing and barking for hours on end?
- Unlike the Dominican children, many of the Haitian children show no ‘spark’ in their eyes. There were a few children who were lively and outgoing. Most were quiet and withdrawn.
- The commitment of Pastor Mariana and Pastor JoseLuis to their church and people humbles me on the deepest level.
Home base for the week was a ‘hotel’ about a mile’s walk from the church, Iglesia Bautista Bet-el, and construction site. The hotel was nice by DR standards with flush toilet & shower. The occasional roach was easily dealt with. Cobwebs were not a nuisance since they were high in the corners. No geckos visited the room – thanks be to God. The owner turned on the generator 1 hour every morning for warm showers. The plumbing system does not support paper, thus each bathroom comes with a trash can for your toilet paper waste. The water is not drinkable. We were provided bottled water. Meals were provided by a local woman who cooked ‘safe’ foods for our consumption. I enjoyed all the fresh fruit I could eat (pineapple, papaya, bananas, tangerines) – a real treat!
The hotel owner hosts cock fights and dog fights in the arena across the street from the ‘hotel’. Thank God none were held while we were there. However, the roosters crowed and dogs barked all night long. Ear plugs were one of the smarter things I packed.
Rev. Mariana is the pastor of the church. She started it 15 years ago with a vision of a permanent concrete building large enough for worship and to be used as a storm shelter in times of hurricanes or tropical storms. That dream was becoming reality while we were there.
She knows every child and family by name. Her voice is firm, loud and raspy. Her ALLELUIA’s ring loudly down the street. If you don’t behave and listen when she tells you to do something, hidden in the rafters of the church is a big stick with which you get thwacked.
Her home is a two hour walk from the church which she does every weekend; Saturday to provide Bible school to the children and Sunday to lead worship.
ALL of this is done born out of her love and commitment for God. She receives not one red peso for her work. Her family supports her financial needs.
This photo to the right shows a one room school house. Education is government provided for all Dominican children. Seven years ago the government relented and agreed to provide education to Haitian children too. The caveat to attend school is each child must wear a uniform, purchased with their own money. No uniform? No school. No money for the uniform? To bad.
The school day starts at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 4:00 p.m. Breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack is provided to the children – generally speaking, the best meals they get. In addition to the basics of reading, writing, and math the students learn basic courtesy (‘Yes,’ ‘Please,’ and ‘Thank you’.) as well as basic hygiene (wash hands before eating, wash hands after using the toilet, proper means of using the toilet facilities).
While many homes were made of concrete block, many more were made of corrugated tin with a one bulb ceiling light. Cisterns below ground provided water to the home. Properties were staked out with barbed wire fencing. For those who had enough money to build concrete block walls with wrought iron gates, they were topped with broken glass embedded in the concrete or razor wire. Front porches were swept clean with homemade brooms of dried grass tied to a stick.
Employment opportunities vary. If one is fortunate, one is employed at a resort hotel or the airport. Others are street vendors selling fruit, selling ice cream from their homes or taking in laundry.
Home remedies are the first course of action for those who are ill. Most of the children under the age of 2 where sick with some type of bronchial infection. One little boy sat in a chair and cried. No consoling worked. You could feel the congestion in his little back as you held him. While there is a farmacia (pharmacy) to get aspirin or cough medicine, most people cannot afford much. Thankfully the farmacia will sell you one aspirin if that is all you can afford.
Overall, it was a good trip. While I touched lives, more of them touched me. I gave out of my wealth. They gave out of their poverty. Who is the richer? I dare say they are.
Glory to God!