In February 2017 we hosted a team from the Dakotas-Minnesota Conference. We traveled to the north coast of the island to the Samaná region. There we worked with Pastor Pedro at the Villa Clara Church where he serves.
We painted, did various sewing projects, visited the local school, walked the community, visited two chapels with gifts of school supplies, helped with a new extension Bible school start-up, and survived an excursion to the El Limón waterfalls.
When we take an excursion we seek an experience of the local culture. We knew a visit to the falls of El Limón involved a 45 minute horseback ride to get there. Sounds nice. It wasn’t.
It was a harried adventure involving steep rocky muddy trails that only a horse or mule could navigate, followed by a half hour descent on foot down another steep muddy crude stairway to finally reach the falls.
The beauty of the falls was tempered by thoughts of having to return the same way we came. By the grace of God and resilience of our team there were no injuries and we all escaped with only sore muscles and a good story to tell.
One afternoon we walked about a 1/2 mile to the home of a parishioner who is sponsor of a new class of extension Bible school. This class is designed for kids in poor communities who are not part of any church. About 20-30 kids showed up full of excitement. The outdoor space we had was limited but we somehow made it work. Together we sang, prayed, made name tags, played a jump rope game, and listened to a brief talk about God’s creation. What was impressive was the children’s focus and attention to the program. What appeared a recipe for chaos was instead received with an ordered excitement. What a joy to witness these children fully enjoying their new Bible school class. Each face tells a story and reflects the glory of God.
We would like to thank Carol K., Carol J., Wally, Jiggy, and Lois for sharing their time, resources, and love with all the Dominican people they encountered. We hope that they also received a full measure of love in return. You have new treasures in heaven. Well done friends.
If you want to get to know someone in a short time spend 10 days with them doing mission work. When I first read the list of names of the 14 volunteers from the South Reno team I could only guess what kind of people they are. After reading their biographical sketches I had at least a small window into their lives. Now after working with them I read their names again and feel a warmth and fondness, like we are part of a big family.
We invited the team to work in La Jagua, a small settlement of former sugarcane cutters. We worked on building a small apartment for the local pastor, teaching the children in vacation Bible school, and assembling and distributing solar ovens. Here are two verbal snapshots:
Construction: We had to move hundreds of cement blocks from the street to the second floor where the apartment is being built. Next door to us is a place that plays music loud enough to change the barometric pressure and that attracts young boys to hang out. They watched us moving block and sent over a couple of reps to make a deal to move the block for us. As older men we gave it some thought, maybe 30 seconds worth, and decided that “yes” we would allow these young energetic boys to share the load and would happily pay them their price. We are not lazy but neither are we blind to a smart win-win opportunity.
Christian Education: Carol Oliver from the Reno team has been working on her Spanish and was looking forward to putting it to use. The team was teaching the children the stories of Jesus healing the sick. Carol took great pains to explain the story to a young girl from La Jagua. In her best Spanish Carol said, “Jesus healed the sick.” The word sick in Spanish is enfermo, but Carol used the word enfermero, just slightly different, which translated is male nurse. So what the girl heard was, “Jesus healed the male nurse!” This did not make any sense to the young girl who then emphatically told Carol, “No te entiendo por nada!!!” (I don’t understand you, AT ALL!!!) As she said it she made a gesture with her hand as if casting words out of her mouth. Carol stood corrected but with a smile on her face.
These were two lighter moments in a week filled with a lot of hard work in an impoverished community. By the end of our time we were exhausted but also invigorated by sharing life and love with the people of God in La Jagua.
Our sincere thanks to Cheryl Eckert, Dawn and Dennis Blundell, Eleanor Raispic, Annie Hodge, Dave and Carol Oliver, Gay and Boyd Jeffrey, Bob and Ellen Thomas, Susan and Bill Boon, and Margery Marshall. It is a blessing to be working with you in mission.
Whenever I have made cookies, or any dessert for that matter, in the last four years, the Dominicans love it. So this Christmas, we decided to give cookies in a jar to the folks we work with in the church office. For those who don’t know what these are, you put all the ingredients for a certain cookie in layers in a nice jar and then include a little note that says what to do with these ingredients and what is lacking so they can add them when they bake the cookies in their homes. I chose an oatmeal cookie because it is the favorite of the pastor who I work with. I added chocolate chips and a handful of M&M’s to the jars to make them colorful. The little note told them they then needed to add an egg, ½ cup of butter and a tsp of vanilla.
We gave away 9 jars and each person seemed so happy and thanked us.
Yesterday, Rev. Betania shared with me about her experience with the cookies. She laughed hysterically the whole time she was telling me the story. Betania has three college age sons and they were all in on the baking together.
First, she had to light her gas oven, which she told me she had never used before so had no idea what would happen. She ordered the boys outside since no one ever trusts gas stoves here. She was very happy with herself that all went well.
She then ordered her sons to figure out the temperature in the oven, since this is the second big problem with gas ovens here, they run very hot. They told her there was nothing they could do.
Now she had to find a cookie sheet. I don’t know how she solved this problem but I imagine she used the closest thing she had in her cupboard.
She then mixed the cookies just like I had indicated but when she was finished she decided they were too thick, even though I said on the recipe that they would be. She and her sons looked at the dough and decided in needed another egg. Then she thought about me and trusted I knew what I was talking about, yet she still had doubts, so told her sons that she thought the cookies needed just a little milk added to the dough. Luckily before she added it, she called another person we work with, who had also made the cookies and Rada assured her that NOTHING else was needed.
She said they then had a great time making the little balls and placing them 2 inches apart from one another. When the first batch came out of the oven, they all cheered and had to make sure they were good so all tried one. Betania felt very confident finishing the dough and baking all the cookies. She put them in the cupboard and said they would have them for dessert after their meal of rice and beans that night, which was New Year’s Eve. She then went to visit another person in the church before coming home to start cooking.
When she got home, there were no more cookies, not even one. She calmly asked the boys, “Where are the cookies?” They all just smiled.
Gordy and I walked to the Malecon last night, which is the sea wall in Santo Domingo. It’s about a 20 minute walk for us. I wanted to show Gord the life size nativity scene that sits at the foot of a monument that the dictator Rafael Trujillo built. It is in the middle of a roundabout on an extremely busy four lane boulevard. If you face the nativity scene and look down the boulevard, on the right side are huge hotels and casinos as far as you can see and on the left side is the Caribbean Sea. I was so disappointed because the scene was not in perfect condition. The three wise men were blown over and the wind had moved the donkey from its designated place. I wanted to run out in front of all the cars zooming by and set everything back up and make it the perfect nativity scene we all know.
The lesson that Reverend Betania and I wrote for the children for Christmas Day this year was that the children themselves would take the Christmas story of Jesus birth and name all the characters in Jesus’ life to be people and animals from today. And then the children did a drama sharing the birth of Jesus today in their reality.
Jesus is born to us, not in the midst of a perfect world. This is our reality. God came to earth as a new born baby and is with us, in the midst of all the hurt and confusion and suffering of the world. We are not alone. This is our hope. We say that we love God and love Jesus and if our words are alive we can share love and compassion and mercy to ALL those around us. This is God’s hope for us.
Gordy and I are so grateful for all of you. We are so blessed to be together with you in this mission as we begin a New Year, 2017. Jesus is born anew and God is with us. We can speak of hope to others, live with hope in our own lives, and share this hope with everyone around us. Immanuel !
Prior to the arrival of the team it had been raining for weeks which is not a good sign for a mission that requires lots of sun to be successful. We were worried. We even had thoughts of rescheduling the event. But we decided to move ahead and adapt to whatever sunshine was available. We had 6 full days of sunshine and 6 amazing solar oven cooking demonstrations, thanks be to God.
We hosted another fine group of South Dakotans and one from Michigan, hardworking and dedicated volunteers. We traveled west and south to the Barahona region and visited Cabral, Fundación, Canoa, and Vicente Noble. It was a first time visit to each of these villages and all who attended the workshops were enthusiastic about solar oven cooking. The doors are open wide for follow-up visits planned for next year.
Solar Oven Partners sent two board members, Gene Bethke and David Silbernagel, to make a covenant agreement with the Dominican Evangelical Church. The covenant for solar oven ministry in the Dominican Republic was signed by the bishop, Rev. Miguel Angel Cancú, by the president of social action, Rev. Maria Bock and by Gene and David. Our common mission is now official and we anticipate many years of service together to get solar ovens into the hands of people who need it most, with the love of God as our bond.
We are very grateful to the volunteers for all their work and for sharing themselves with us. Our thanks to Gene and Wanda, David, Dale, Darci and Zach, Paula, and Wade and to the Dominican team members: Rev. Maria, Rev. Erasme, Pedro, and Mario. After 10 days together of hard work, laughter, devotions, worship, breakfast sandwiches, Pedro’s antics including arm wrestling with Gene at the Pizzeria, getting thrashed by ocean waves, David’s magic phone that translates languages, watching a strange assortment of videos on the bus – Pedro’s picks, we came away with the feeling that we have been touched by God, that we have treasures in heaven.