Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Dominican Republic 2013: Part Ten

Well, well, well. Here we are, at Part Ten, a whole month after it happened. I was going to just let this post lie sleeping because it is so late in coming, but I had decided on a perfect ten in this series, and Mumsie says I need to get better at finishing what I start anyway. So here is the last, broad-brush-stroke glance at our final week in the Dominican Republic.

First, I guess I need to back up a bit and talk about our time in La Tinajita. You all heard about the dentistry on Thursday and the waterfalls on Friday, but a lot more happened during our five-day stay there. Friday evening, a few of us who still had energy went down the mountain into the poor village. We passed out some goodies from the States to the slum's children, and, while doing that, we were given the interesting opportunity to compare the life of this village to the life of the other village we had worked in only a week before, Villa Alta Gracia. While life was difficult but bright in Villa, the mood of La Tinajita somehow weighed heavier on our time. Things were grey and dirty and loud and TVs were everywhere. A new government-run public school was being built in the middle of this once-farming village, and the half-finished project loomed huge and imposing at the heart of the town. While we knew prostitution was big in Villa, it was obvious here. We went further and further down the hill until our goodies ran out ~ right in front of a club.

But there were bright spots. Mainly, the ever so shy but smiling children, plus the stories some of the adults told us about how kind Hermano Ambiorix (our host) has been to them. It is amazing what Christ working through a Christian can do, even in the dark places of this world. It is also amazing to consider (yeah, so what if that makes no etymological sense?) just how much of a difference one's ideology and beliefs make in one's actions and circumstances. It is not like Hermano Ambiorix started out rich and did not have to work very hard to reach his current financial state. It is not like the the people in Villa "have it better" than the people in La Tinajita. Nope, the rich people and happy people and the dismal people all started in the same place. It's not about circumstances; it is about the beliefs we have. So this observation was yet another reminder that, instead of making excuses and blaming my agitation on my current situation, what I really need is to have a heart check. To be like David and cry, "Search me O God and know my thoughts. Try me in all my ways...." To think like Gandalf, who admonishes, "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us." To be mindful of what Elisabeth Elliot so wisely says, "The discipline of emotions is the training of responses" to whatever life (aka the all-wise, perfectly loving Father) brings me.

Major tangent.

So that was Friday. On Saturday, Daddy and Josh went to the city, Santiago, where Dad held his marathon class with the seminary students who learn under him every week on Skype. It is always a treat to see your teacher and students in person, eh? While my brother and father were away, the rest of us played Phase 10 till our brains were pouring out of our ears, listened to and discussed the merits of our music, ate snacks, and took pictures. Sometime in the late (or early; pick your country) afternoon, Hermano Ambiorix fired up his hearth outside in preparation for making his famous goat stew. That night, Pastor Eric and his family, Ricardo and his family, Tomas and his family, and Ambiorix's household would all be sharing this meal together, and, boy, was it fun. First of all, the goat pot was obtrusively outrageously ridiculously huge. It had two goats and three sacks of potatoes in it! Then, the people who came over were loads of fun and fellowship, too. After filling ourselves with farm-raised, chef-selected Dominican chivo, we broke out the instruments and loosened our voices and began to make music. Flute, keyboard, guitar, hand drums, and a few other things, plus lots of harmony, filled that mountain with song and laughter. It was pretty cool.

Sunday follows Saturday and Sunday equals church, so down the mountain (the other side of the mountain) we went to the city of Samtiago. Rogers, Joshua, and Daddy were going to provide the instruments for our worship singing that morning, but, halfway through the first song, the power went out. Everything went dark ~ well, as dark as it can get on a Caribbean morning ~ and very warm and very quiet. No mics, no air conditioning, no lights. This was ironic because the song we were singing when the lights went out was "Shine, Jesus, Shine" (which has better lyrics in Spanish, by the way).

Now, according to the church members, the last time this power outage had happened on a Sunday morning was the last time we were there. More irony. But they still love us, so all is well.

To be honest, the power outage was a very good thing. It allowed everyone to be more gracious, less proud, more open with each other. It forced Rogers to play practically on her own, and she did a beautiful job, blessing many through her quiet yet melodic service. It humbled me, because I was getting quite comfortable with this translating thing, but when the speaker has no mic and the translator is sitting beside a loud, generator-powered fan, translating becomes somewhat of a miracle. Yeah, God did not let me rest in my own powers for long. We rely on Him for everything, even translating.
And Pastor Eric preached an excellent sermon from the book of Joshua, when some of the Israelites raise up monuments and the rest of the Israelites are ready to go at their brothers for the sake of God's holiness. We learned about the zeal we ought to have for God's glory, which implies we encourage our brothers in the faith, correct any deviations when we find them, and know His word enough to know what to encourage and what to foresake. Yeah, it was a great sermon.

Another tangent.

The only event important to our narrative that took place during the rest of the day was that Mariela, Pastor Eric's youngest daughter, decided to come along with us for our last week in the DR. Our group had picked up Patrick and Emanuel, so Mariela made us a perfect team of guys, girls, Americans, Dominicans, quiet people, loud people (I think the loud people won out in the end, though). We so enjoyed having her during that final week!

Which went accordingly, to be brief:

Monday was full of Bible Study and Critical Thinking sessions, more good food, more pictures, and more games. Ricardo took time to teach us about a heart of service at church, especially in areas that are invisible necessities like working the sound and networking. I think that thinking about these ministries with that perspective was something we all needed to hear, and we were blessed to see it lived out in Ricardo's life of generous service on multiple fronts.I could go on about everything we learned in 1 Peter and Critical Thinking, but, hey, notes are personal stuff.

From Tuesday to Thursday we were at the beach in Las Terrenas, a little touristy place along the coast not far from SamanĂ , the town in which the DR's oldest evangelical church is located. Every time I go to that church, I learn something new about the dedication to Christ that one must have to spread the gospel. Young, young couples who died long before they were old give their short years to leave an Empire and live in a totally isolated island. Quick-thinking believers hide people underneath church basements when wars break out in their front lawns. Church members fight for their land, so rich with gospel history, to not be seized and turned into a night club. At the heart of it all, simple but wise Christians who have given their all for God's kingdom because He has given them everything they could hope for. It was neat to see the tombstones of the people, and the church that they began by God's grace, but it was saddening to see how those examples can so easily pass out of memory and mind.

Other things we did and saw during that last week was, yes, go to the beach. For a day. Sand and coral and sharp reefs and sunsets and currents and salt water and babies and Ninja. Shrimp and garlic pizza with mushrooms and hot pepper oil, taking over a restaurant's guitar and singing whichever songs we chose. Late nights of studying and growing followed by later nights of giggling and growing (not that I giggle, ahem).

And then you leave. You go back to the city, away from the sea, and, one by one, the people that you have lived with for a month and who somehow feel like Family (oh, wait, that is because they are) slip off to their own homes. And it's just you and your American team drinking chocolate syrup and playing, what was it, a piece from Madagascar 2?, until your 3:30am departure for home begins.

Oh, well, that is what Skype is for.

I could recount the adventures we undertook to get back to IAD safely, but that would be redundant because you already know the moral of the story: NEVER go to New York City and never ever ever ever go to JFK. Just don't.

I know, I am so good at heartfelt climactic endings. (facepalm)

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