Visits in the midst of the Covid quarantine.

We had been quarantined and under curfew for 85 days:

Gordy and I set out with Ernesto, Rev. Cancu’s driver, with 65 bags that each contained rice, beans, pigeon peas, spaghetti noodles, sardines and salami.  We also had an additional 80# bag of rice in the back of the van.  We headed out along the ocean road.  It was surprisingly quite emotional for us to drive outside of the city after 85 days of being restricted to our neighborhood.  We drove along the ocean for a few miles and then began to zig zag into some rural communities.

We drove up behind a plantain truck at the gas station.

 

 

 

 

Our driver Ernesto grew up in an orphanage in the southwestern part of the country.  He told us stories from his childhood and we talked about the effects of the virus in the DR and about the protests in the United States.   Dominicans definitely follow the news in the north since over 1,000,000 of their family members live in New York City.    It was so touching to hear about the world from his perspective.

We arrived first in San Rafael at Pastor Carolina’s church.  There were many youth from her church there to receive the bags and help her to distribute them.  One of the young men is in seminary, training to be a pastor with her and another woman was there, a lay pastor from their mission church in nearby Samangola.

We brought the food into the church and spent some time taking a look at a new construction project in the works.

When we were ready to leave, Pastor Carolina asked about the other 80 pounds of rice (Rev. Cancu had called her.).  Ernesto had already decided that the families in another community really needed that extra rice so he and Carolina had to make a decision together.  She was so passionate about the families in her own church that she was not going to simply concede to Ernesto.  We left half of the extra rice for her to share.

We all prayed together.

We went on to three other communities where Pastor Santiago is in charge. Gordy has worked with Pastor Santiago in the past in the community of La Jagua, which is a batey community where Haitian sugar cane workers settled many generations ago. Gordy helped them expand their little church and begin a parsonage on the second floor of the church.  We also worked with Solar Ovens and Vacation Bible School in that community.  We arrived in Yaguate, which is the mother church to La Jagua, and a small group of elders were waiting for us.  They knew exactly where the food would go and were all so grateful.   All of us were with face masks and couldn’t do the customary hand shaking and hugging.  The little group immediately shared their frustrations with the restrictions of the pandemic.  They told us how much they wanted to have a service together and sing.

We all prayed together.

Yesterday & Tomorrow

Introduction:

Gordy: I have been wanting to write a post about the pandemic.

Today (May 26, 2020) is for us the 68th day of quarantine and at this stage we have lots of information about the virus and guidelines for confronting it but there is still so much uncertainty.  Uncertainty makes me uncomfortable and one way I deal with it is through humor.

I think it’s ok to smile and laugh even though the subject matter is very serious.  Because we know that at the end of the day, God is with us no matter what.

A Restaurant Called Yesterday & Tomorrow

I drove up to the restaurant called Yesterday & Tomorrow.  It was an old brick house and looked promising but there were no cars in the parking lot.  I went to the side door and knocked and the proprietor answered, “May I be of service.”

I told him I had read an advertisement in a local restaurant guide about the Yesterday & Tomorrow and was here to give it a try.  He apologized and said, “You should have come yesterday but you can always come back tomorrow.”

I said, “Well your ad said you are open every day.”

He replied, “What the ad actually says is that we are open every yesterday and every tomorrow.”

So I slyly say, “If I would have come tomorrow and since today is tomorrow’s yesterday then you should be open today.”

So he says, “Yes, that is true.  But you actually are here today and today I tell you we were open yesterday, and will be open tomorrow.”

I say, “I cannot come tomorrow so how about the day after tomorrow?”

He smiles and says, “The day after tomorrow will have a yesterday and that yesterday is tomorrow,  so tomorrow is also a yesterday and when that happens the Yesterday & Tomorrow always has a special on the hot beef sandwich.”

I am perplexed and say, “I told you I cannot come tomorrow and I obviously cannot come yesterday.  So what would you suggest?”

He tells me, “Well you could drive down the road about 10 miles and try the restaurant called  Years Ago.  My sister runs the place.

 I then ask, “Do you think Years Ago is open today?”

He laughs and says, “I can’t say for sure.  My sister used to run the best restaurant for miles around but that was years ago.”

So I drove down the road about 10 miles to find the Years Ago.  I came across a run down old house with a sign out front that was so faded I could barely read it.  I stopped and got out of my car and walked up to the aged porch where sat an old woman.  I asked her if I had found what I was looking for, a restaurant called Years Ago.

 The old woman slapped her knee and laughed, “Why, you are the third one today!  Like I told them other two fellas the Years Ago closed 40 years ago.”

Then she asked, “Why don’t you sit down here in the shade and let me explain.  Now my brother don’t like to travel so he ain’t ever been down to see me here at my place.  He don’t like to drive and is gettin’ more forgetful all the time.  In fact he rarely leaves his house.  He gets other folks to bring him what he needs.”

“Anyhow one day I was up to visit him and we got to talkin’ about the restaurant business and I told him that I was about to open my restaurant again.  But I told him it will only be open once in awhile.  So I’m gonna call my establishment the Come Back Later Steak House but I ain’t got a sign up yet.  Now I will cook only when I feel like it.  And if I don’t feel up to it I will just tell my customers to come back later or try their luck up at the Yesterday and Tomorrow.”

So I said, “I just came from the Yesterday and Tomorrow and your brother is not open today, so he sent me down here to the Years Ago.  And now you say you’ve been closed for 40 years and want to send me back up there?!!  I am bewildered!  I’m beginning to think that neither one of your restaurants is ever going to be open.”

The old lady replied, “Well sir, if you cannot wait until tomorrow or you cannot come back later then there is only one other place I can point you to.  You’ll have to drive to the next town called Hazey and find the corner of Main Avenue and Third Street I believe it is.  There you can check out the Last Chance Bar and Grill which I understand has people talking.

So I drove for an hour, found the place and parked out front.  I walked up to main door where a sign was posted that read Last Chance Bar and Grill……. Opening Soon.

 

Hope

I am writing from my desk in our apartment on Avenida Mexico in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.  We just got news this week that our 40 day quarantine is going to continue until May 17th.

Can we have hope?

We as Christians know that God is love and compassion and grace and mystery.

I think we are being given a second chance.

I believe that God is giving us another opportunity to live our lives in awareness and compassion, even as our present world is filled with silence, suffering, and death.

Gordy and I have had second chances in our lives.  We have been in crisis, confused and hurt.  God has opened new doors for us. We have walked through these doors in faith and hope knowing that God still loves us and so many great things have happened.

We are called to

Love the lord your god with all your heart, and with all your soul,

and with all your strength, and with all your mind;

and your neighbor as yourself.”

And He said to him,

 “You have answered correctly;  do this and you will live.”

Luke 10:27 & 28 NAS

We get another chance.

We are to make choices every day.

Let us be on our knees to make the most life- giving choices for all the people of the world, especially those we tend to overlook.

The most vulnerable among us include our elderly who are so often neglected and forgotten.  How can we love them in this time of crisis?

We are challenged to choose life for the earth; the air, the water, the land, the plants, the animals and all people.  We are all neighbors.  We were created to live together and share God’s abundance.

God longs to move in our midst, to respond to the cries of God’s creation.

We are the hands and feet of God.

May we respond together. 

Everything must change.

(Ardell) I am sitting at my desk, in the office of our apartment in Santo Domingo.  There are no cars driving by which means very little black soot goes into the air and enters the apartment. We have been apartment bound since March 17th, receiving news 3 days ago that we will continue to be apartment bound until May 6th…….and then,  “We’ll see.”

I walked after the curfew let up at 6:00 am.  There were a handful of folks out.  Garbage is piling up. I can’t remember the last time the garbage trucks went by.  Yet it’s a sunny day and the birds are singing.

It’s Easter morning.  Holy week is traditionally an opportunity for everyone to travel to their villages of birth and to the beaches surrounding the country.  It’s a week full of celebrating and partying.  In the past as we’ve walked to church, we’ve seen children in plastic swimming pools that have been set up in the streets.  They’ve also blocked off major roads in the past, deposited sand on the road and set up huge plastic swimming pools.  Our Executive Secretary, who is the bishop of the Iglesia Evangelica Dominicana has had the tradition to volunteer for civil defense duty along the beach in his hometown.  He tells us the purpose is to try and keep people safe from drowning.  He also watches for opportunities to share the Easter message with folks.

Today is very different.  No one is meeting for church, there were no sunrise services. NO one is permitted to travel anywhere. People are respecting social distancing. They are worried about one another.

One of the pastors from the IED church who lives across the parking lot from us has been opening up his tiny patio to play hymns and share a message over a loud speaker every day at 5:00 pm when the curfew begins.  The pastor I work with on a daily basis,  Reverend Betania and the other pastors of the IED church have worked hard to try and connect their congregants over social networks eg Whatsapp.  They are doing that today also.

Gord and I have been having our devotions from the book by Brian McLaren, “We Make the Road by Walking.”  What an excellent reflection and challenge this has brought us:

Maundy Thursday and the profound experience the disciples had with Jesus at the Last Supper, Jesus calling his disciples friends and then washing their feet.

Then Good Friday, Jesus suffering and death, with the heading of this reading being,  Everything must Change!

“God is not revealed in killing and conquest…in violence and hate.  God is revealed in this crucified man- giving himself to the very last breath, giving and forgiving.  And there could be no other way to show us what we are truly like.  We do not know what we are doing, indeed.  If God is like this, and if we are like this…everything must change.  Everything must change.  “                         taken from page 160

When I have had the privilege to write a children’s lesson, I try and challenge the children with what this means to them today, in their reality.  What their response could be and how we are called to be in commitment to God’s love every day.

Easter Sunday is life changing for all of us.

Today is a day to rejoice, in the midst of our reality of suffering and doubt.  We do not have to fear.  We are not alone.  We can have the courage to make the changes that are vital for life!

“When we remember Jesus, we are making space for his body and blood to be reunited and reconstituted in us. The risen Christ is with us, among us, and within us-…..This is what it means to be alive.  This is what it means to be in route, walking the road to a new and better day.  “                                                                                        page 170

In Ezekiel 37: 1-14 dry dead bones heard the word of the Lord, rattled, bone to its bone, received the breath of the Lord God and came to life.  They stood on their feet!

We can too!  Let’s do it together.

The Lord is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Solar Oven VIM team March, 2020

Thank you Marj, Connie, Larry, Scott, Colleen, Connie, Patty, Anna, Mya, Katie, Bella and Pangea.

For coming to reach out to us in need even as the coronavirus was creeping into our existence.  You came in boldness and faith in the midst of so much uncertainty.

Solar Oven teams are amazingly flexible.  We traveled to Villa de Anacaona, La Gorra del Partido and Partido; three pueblos on the northwest side of the country.  All of them are on the Dominican Haitian border.  Villa de Anacaona is actually 2300 feet above sea level.  It is a pueblo located beyond the Dominican border and before the Haitian border.  We could actually see Haiti from where we stopped.  That side of the mountain was completely brown, without vegetation.

It was raining that day and the following day so we arranged to visit two schools to share about the ovens with the teachers and the students.

 

The South Dakota SO team consisted of 5 young women between the ages of 15 and 21.  They were all a delight, worked hard and had wonderful attitudes.

At both of the schools they connected with the students so beautifully; all practicing their Spanish while the students practiced their English, sharing names, sharing likes and dislikes, braiding hair, taking pictures, giving hugs.  I felt God’s blessings to be a part of those moments.

 

 

We also walked through the Haitian Dominican biweekly market.  Always so interesting to see people buying and selling.

Many ovens were built, many talks shared, much food cooked and

enjoyed, many ovens distributed.

A very good time was had by all.

A Walk with the Coronavirus

The President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina declared social mandates for the country in response to the coronavirus 11 days ago.  The number I heard last night was that there are over 500 cases.

Businesses are open for a limited time during the week; there are workers who have been cut to half time; no meetings or gatherings are allowed; events have been cancelled.

Folks that usually sell to others from a cart on the street have eliminated their cart and are holding their coffee dispenser or container with sandwiches in their laps.

Last week a new mandate was added, there is a curfew from 5:00 pm to 6:00 am.

We went to the small grocery store close to our apartment.  There was no more hand sanitizer, little toilet paper and no plantains.

The church services have been cancelled during this season of Lent with Holy Week quickly approaching.

I have to continue to walk in the mornings even though others think there is a risk of contracting the virus this way.  This morning there were only a handful of people walking.   I passed one man right away.  He and I both felt uncomfortable, almost guilty yet we still greeted each other,  “Buenas Dias”.    I walked by 4 night watchmen who all had on face masks. I walked by a police man knocking down mangoes with a stick.  I walked by the restaurant Gordy and I eat at every once in awhile.  It is closed except for takeout.

There are only a few cars on the road.  This is the most uncommon site since there are 3 million people in this city and it seems like umpteen million cars and that many motorcycles. Pedestrians don’t have the right-a-way so we are always at risk.  Horn blasting is part of driving and very acceptable. And the fumes.  There is a thin layer of soot every day on our apartment floor.

I walked by a homeless man who could see I wasn’t carrying anything so I didn’t have any money to share with him yet he said,  “Dios es Bueno”,  “God is good”.

As I could see the ocean ahead of me, I realized something was different……. I could hear.  I could hear the silence.

 

 

 

 

 

I could hear the ocean. I could smell something.  I could smell the ocean ahead of me and

 

 

 

 

 

I could smell the flowers I just passed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then it was like a symphony of music and I could hear the birds……the ones close to me and the ones further away.  I had to stop walking.   It was incredible.  Almost like a wave of songs going through my body.

God is good.

There is so much uncertainty and fear while at the same time doubt and mistrust.  Everyone is  confused and susceptible.

Part of creation is suffering.  While another part of creation is singing.

Could we ever live in harmony together?

What would that look like?

Bethany UMC visits the Dominican Republic February 17, 2020

We welcomed with open arms our beloved covenant church from Madison, WI; Bethany UMC.  It was so fun and so encouraging to welcome folks we’ve been in relationship with for over 26 years.  We were able to receive them off their plane, spend the following morning with them as they had a session with Jose Rafael Peguero to learn about the history and reality of the Dominican Republic and then had lunch together at a restaurant close to their hostel.  We talked about our history together and what the week might look like for them.

Sadly, we them told them goodbye.  They went on to; Loma de Cabrera, Villa de lo Almacigas, and Arroyo Blanco de Santiago Rodriguez with the director of Solar Ovens in the Dominican Republic, Rev. Erasme Figeroa.

We flew to Minnesota and then drove on to Binford, North Dakota and Wilton, North Dakota to be with our families during the funerals of my sister, Rita Halvorson and Gordy’s step dad, Jerry Murrey.

Thank you; Steve, Connie, Mary, Jim, Gloria, Marjory, Ann, Morena, Gertrudis, Mario, Rev. Erasme and everyone at Bethany UMC for being a part of God’s mission in the Dominican Republic even in our absence.  We greatly appreciate your love and support to us all of these years.

Entered His Gates

Gordy and I are extremely saddened to share with you that we lost a beloved sister,  Rita Halvorson and a beloved step dad,  Jerry Murrey this past week.  We will travel to North Dakota to be with our families in this mourning time.  We would appreciate your prayers.

Ovens released & surveys done

900 Solar Ovens were released from the Dominican customs.  The Solar Oven team couldn’t be happier.  The government questioned and re-questioned our Dominican director, Erasme for many days before releasing them.   Money is always the deciding factor.

The following day Erasme motivated a team of 5 men to assemble 119 ovens in 2 days.  Many fingers and arms were sore.  He then traveled with a truck carrying those ovens to Santiago Rodriguez, Partido and Loma de Cabrera to distribute them.  119 people were very happy that day.

 

 

 

The following week, Gordy, Erasme and Jose Rafael Pegero traveled to the southwestern region of the Dominican Republic.  They trained 2 young people from the communities there to visit the homes of folks who have already received solar ovens in order to find out what has been happening with these ovens.  They traveled to five communities and visited 53 families.  The results of these surveys are extremely important for us as a team to know how to make improvements in this ministry.