This was our first experience of having one of our children get married. Jenny, our oldest, married Robert Simek in Munich, Germany on September 10th. It was also our first time in Europe. Jenny and Robert were legally married in a civil ceremony according to German law, so the wedding ceremony, two days later, was a time to bless this young couple in the presence of God with the witness of family and friends.
It was a time for everyone present to commit themselves to support them as they go forward. As a sign of our commitment many of us gave Jenny and Robert a weaving, a blanket, or a tapestry to cover them and assure them that they will never walk alone, that God and the community of faith will always be with them.
In August we had the honor to co-host a team of volunteers who came to build a water purification plant in the town of Jaquimeyes. First UMC got interested in the water purification ministry here and raised enough funds for a water plant and then some. First UMC not only raised the funds for the project but also sent a team to help with the construction.
The weather in the Dominican Republic in August is just plain hot. We drank gallons of ice water and Gatorade to stay hydrated. A number of the team members seemed able to deny the heat and work right alongside the Dominican masons. Others of us did our best but often had to seek shelter under a shade tree to avoid heat stroke. This team of Americans along with their Dominican counterpart raised the walls of a new water house which will soon be able to offer pure drinking water to a grateful community.
Our thanks to Pastor Ashley-Anne, Leigh, Angela and Steve, Kimm, James, Stephen, Eric, Stacey, and Sarah. And thanks to Donna Bearden for her leadership along with Pastor Alfreda and her husband, Pastor Elias. You have stored up treasures in heaven.
August 24, 2016
Last week we took a step of faith to attempt a solar oven demonstration without the oversight and participation of a Solar Oven Partners Volunteer team from the US. We put together a rather unique team with four Dominicans and four ‘others’. The others were Ardell, Gordy, our son Samuel and our daughter Hannah. The 4 Dominicans were Rev. Maria Bock, Rev. Erasme, our driver Mario, and Alexis, son of a Dominican pastor. Three first timers and 5 of us still in the training wheels category.
Our driver Mario took us safely to the north side of the island to a small town called Sabaneta de Yasica. Upon arrival we unloaded our equipment and assembled 10 solar ovens which took us until after dark. We stayed overnight in missionary housing made ready for us by the local Dominican Evangelical Church.
The next day we began preparing food with the local ladies who came to learn. We put out 16 ovens in a neighbor’s yard to ‘preheat’. The sun was fully available and August hot making for excellent solar cooking. A good crowd of learners showed up to help cut up vegetables, mix cake and bread batter, cut up chickens, and prepare pots of rice and beans.
And finally while the food was cooking, Maria, Erasme and Gordy gave a workshop on solar cooking to the assembled crowd. We talk about this as a blessing, an outreach ministry which we hope all will pass on to others, especially those who have few resources to spend on fuel. We talk about the science of solar cooking, the methods and the need for patience and practice, the origin of this ministry and the large family of Christian brothers and sisters who volunteer time and resources from the US and the Dominican Republic.
The food cooked more rapidly than usual because of the abundant sunshine. There were a couple of solar surprises, we took out the baked potatoes too soon and an egg exploded. But all in all the food was well cooked, delicious, and enjoyed by everyone. We distributed 21 ovens which is pretty good for our first time out as trainees.
Our Executive Secretary (Bishop) Miguel Angel Cancú sent the latest solar oven mission to three new sites on the north coast of the island: Sosua, Gaspar Hernandez, and Sabaneta de Yasica. We are always surprised by what we discover:
In Sosua we visited a community called Villa Liberación, a housing project built by the government to house a large group of people who previously lived in shantytowns located along the Sosua River. Poor people often build their shacks right up to the river’s edge because no one else will. The risk of flooding is 100% whenever there is a tropical storm or even a day of extra heavy rainfall. So the government relocated about 3,000 of these persons at high risk to the Villa Liberación housing project. The apartments are overcrowded, unemployment is high and water is scarce. Their lives are saved from flooding but new miseries attend them.
We did a solar oven demonstration at Villa Liberación and it felt good to be with this community. It is a group of people who need a break in life. The solar ovens can be a part of an ongoing ministry of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God is here and is coming. Our hope is to continue to share this message in word and deed.
Gaspar Hernandez received us with open arms. The weather gave us some trouble in bringing a rain storm after we had started cooking. But after a half hour the sun shone again and we were able to continue to cook most of the food. Even though the demonstration was dampened by rain, Pastor Vilorio and his wife Rosa could see the potential of the solar ovens and are enthusiastic to continue this ministry in their area. They too have a ‘river’s edge population’ with whom they would like to share this blessing.
Sabaneta de Yasica: here the sun was in full power with no clouds and we cooked chicken and beef, baked bread and cakes, made pizza, prepared vegetables and had a feast together for two days. The local church folks in attendance were more than excited, they were inspired. One woman declared she was ‘in love’ with this new way of cooking. Another man stated with religious fervor that this new technology for him and his community was equal to that of the moon landing. And yet another woman was caught up in the excitement of the moment. After the food had been removed from a very hot oven she asked how you turned it off.
The solar oven team makes this possible and we are grateful to each one who left home and hearth to respond to God’s call: Rick and Lorna Jost, Naomi Hatfield, Charles Schnabel, Melinda Williams, Rev. Phil Lint, Krista Honomichl, Makenzie Huber, and Brianna Whitaker.
Every morning I try and do something active to get myself going before the heat sets in, although it never seems to ‘cool off’ here even in the early mornings.
This day, as I was leaving the sports complex a series of things happened all within 5 minutes; I greeted the Haitian guard who talks to me every morning, I spoke with three siblings who I see twice a week, I walked under the gorgeous Flamboyant tree that is covered with red flowers, I heard saxophone music and glanced over to see a policeman playing the saxophone under a tree, and I bought papaya and bananas from a young Haitian man who buys the fruits and the peels them and cuts them into servings to sell to people walking by.
What a rich five minutes those were for me. As I carried my fruit and continued to walk home I realized that those 5 minutes represent a difficult reality for many people in the Dominican Republic.
The guard may be of Haitian descent yet he has never been to Haiti and probably neither have his parents or grandparents. His skin is darker and that places him in the lowest social class. Racism is extremely prevalent here.
The young man who sold me fruit represents over a million immigrants in the DR from Haiti. Many have no documents and are either deported or continue to do the work the Dominicans choose not to do eg. Heavy construction, informal selling on the street corners and selling fruit, vegetables and snacks from make shift grocery carts.
The three siblings I spoke with are all unique in that they all wear their hair in the natural way, which says many things about their identity. The majority of Dominican women have their hair straightened on a regular basis. I was getting a haircut one day when a mom brought in her 2 and 4 year olds. They were both crying. She told the hairdresser, “they hate coming because of the excess pulling on their delicate hair and the high heat of the blow dryer which are very painful for them but since they weren’t born with fine, straight hair, they need to get used to it.” Dominican people have African heritage but do not want to be identified with people who are black especially Haitian people.
My heart immediately hurt for the young police man playing the saxophone. Gordy and I have both commented that we are living with U.S. prices here while people receive poverty wages. That young man probably receives between 8000.00 to 10,000.00 pesos per month. That is between $110.00 U.S to $200.00 U.S. per month!
I am sobered living in such a difficult reality and humbled as people tell me every day how grateful they are to be working in some way, earning even a bit of money to take home to their families every night.
The Flamboyant tree with the red flowers is absolutely gorgeous, which is the same for much of the Dominican Republic’s landscape. I am in awe of the beauty of God’s creation here which is manifest through nature and the people.
When a volunteer in mission team from South Dakota comes to visit us in the Dominican Republic to do medical care in impoverished areas of Santo Domingo we can expect to be surprised by what can happen. So many variables come together to do good. We can try to control what happens but we must be crazy to think that is possible. The beauty lies in the uncertainty and the seeming chaos we create that allows God to move in ways we can see and also in ways beyond us.
Many young mothers brought their children to the medical clinics we set up in two local churches. When these young mothers look at their children we can see God in them loving and seeing what only God and a mother can see. It is beautiful.
So many mothers responded to the doctor’s questions in the same way. They would say that their child has headaches and no appetite, it became a bit comical. The headaches and no appetite were just code words used so that the doctor would give them vitamins and pain killers. Pills that any mother would want around the house for their children and themselves because there is much pain and vitamins can provide what is lacking in their diets when they cannot afford nutritious food or any food at all.
Most of the people who come to these temporary clinics have very few resources or access to the substandard government hospitals and much less to expensive private clinics. Our limited medical clinic offers them two things that they need, someone to listen to their stories and to care about what these stories mean. Those of us who volunteer for this mission cannot know what it is like to be a Haitian mother with no legal documentation, or a Dominican grandmother who likely has a blood clot in her leg that requires an expensive test and treatment she cannot afford.
We do not know how to respond to a situation that is more than an matter of compassion but also requires justice. And justice can be a part of our mission if we have enough courage to face the high cost. If we do not, it will still come by another way.
But there is hope. We can believe that our ‘cold cup of water’ is not enough or we can believe that each act of goodness is multiplied thousands of times in ways that accumulate. When that happens justice will come and it will roll down like waters and the salvation so sorely needed will come. Jesus lives and that gives us hope and courage to go and listen and care. It will always be that way and what a privilege it is to participate, to follow Jesus.
So the churches and communities of Los Alcarrizos and Buenos Aires say thank you. The Dominican Evangelical Church says thank you to:
Julia, Meredith, Karen, Ruth, Ariana, Carrie, Teri, Reuben, Maria, Nelson, Kristin, the many people who prepared our food, Susan, Carissa, Louisa, Tony, Carmen, Ana, Reuben’s mother, Gordy, Erasme, Mario, Cancú, José Rafael, James, Dan, Serenity, and the supporting cast behind the scenes. Well done!