Sunday, July 27, 2014

DR Trip 2014: Day Five

Day Five. Sunday number one for our group. Father’s Day. After breakfast, our entire team gathered at the apartment to pile into the twenty-one-seater bus that awaited downstairs. Our driver, JosĂ©, steered the streets well and we eventually ended up at the correct church after stopping to ask for directions. I guess it is kind of normal to get lost when someone gives you the wrong address for your destination. But get there we did with no bones broken, and filed into a crowd of very welcoming brothers and sisters in Christ. 

This church, Iglesia Fundamento, is located in a poorer part of town, less safe and speckled with more tin roofs and more trash than what we had so far seen. But the church itself was cheery and bright and clean, all four stories of it, and the people were so very loving and immersed in the beauty of Christian fellowship. It was all different, but I think we as team felt at home in a sense, too. We worshipped together with great joy and learned from Scripture with glad song and simply enjoyed the communion of “foreign” “family”. Despite the drip drip of faucets, despite the doubling up on toilet flushes, despite the dearth of air conditioning and the surrounding scenes of poverty, we were blessed and with people we loved because they loved God, too. The church kindly sang songs that were likewise in English, and put the English lyrics side-by-side the Spanish ones. Everyone chose their language and sang, sang with life. 

Then Dad came up to preach on Ephesians 2:1-10, a heart-stirring passage that you absolutely must read to once again relish the grace God has showered upon us undeserving sinners. The team sat upstairs, near the fans and basking in the yellow light bouncing off the sky-blue walls. Sure, it was hot, and, sure, the whirring of the fans made translating difficult, but Josh and I and the team worked together to hear God’s word and were blessed. 

After speaking with some of the members there and being passed cokes and chocolate (they are very kind to foreigners), and after a good degree of baby-holding, we traipsed back into the bus to eat at Viscaya, a favourite Dominican restaurant with strong Spanish (Spain Spanish) roots. We were twenty-one people, not to mention all the fathers who were eating out to celebrate Father’s Day, so the food took a while to come, but that provided ample time for good conversation. Half of the fun and growth on these trips comes from getting to know the other members of the team itself, and this provided us with the perfect context for that. The food came in rounds, first Spanish tortillas (think omelet or quiche-minus-crust laden with potatoes), then baskets of garlic flat bread, then a grilled assortment of meats, then a round of fish, then rice and beans and tostones (fried green plantains), maduros (ripe fried/baked plantains), fried potatoes, and finally avocados. It was a feast, wrapped up well with a dish of flan (a sort of custard) and strong Dominican coffee laced in its own creamy foam. Yum. One experience I doubt team-members will forget was having bites of Dad’s favourite mondongo, a dish of stewed beef tripe. It was hit with some of us (great for GAPS!) and not so much a favourite with others. But everyone ate something they liked, and walked away very, very satisfied. 

Now we are gathered at the apartment again, waiting for news about Jorge Daniel and relaxing before evening service begins. Tonight we will be attending IBNP, something about which we are all very excited because we know people there and it will be nice to see the place we painted buzzing with believers. And the music. And the preaching. And everything a church is about. 

I am at the church now, brimming with internet and postability. I will check back next time I get wifi, which will probably be in a week because tomorrow we are leaving to a place in the mountains, brimming with non-internet and all the lovelinesses that brings. Enjoy the week! I know I will. 

(please excuse typos)

Thanks for remembering us in your prayers!

DR Trip 2014: Day Four

Next day began slow and steady and ready to finish our paint job. But first, many of our team members got to sit in on Dad’s closing class with the group of pastors he has taught for three years. For me, it was exciting. I have seen Dad start the survey of the Bible, proceed to systematic theology, and end in counselling as the men in his class got married, had kids, and grew in the knowledge of God and His word. Today was the last class of those three years, and our team got to be there. Josh translated for most of the English speakers while I translated in a corner for the rest. I won’t tell you what the class was about because we will be studying it more in depth during the rest of our time here. 

Following the morning-long marathon (what they call Dad’s Saturday morning classes), it was most definitely and assuredly time for vittles. We walked the dusty streets to the same restaurant as yesterday, La Quinta, but this time the cooks were ready for our herd of nineteen hungry stomachs. The music was again odd, the food was again good, the air conditioning was again…mercurial, and the conversation was again pleasant. Refreshed and revived, we walked back to the church to finish the paint job. Reinforcements of paints and brushes had arrived, so we were ready. 

Everyone except Jessie, Joanna, Dad, and myself. We went with an elder of IBNP who works for an organic-friendly supermarket in the city in order to buy food for this following week. IN Jarabacoa, where we are heading next, there are mountains, beautiful mountains. That means less than smooth roads and a wee bit of isolation. Actually, a lot of isolation. So we needed to bring from the city whatever we wanted to eat in the country. 

Shopping in the DR was an interesting experience, one which with I am familiar, but never have I done it for a week’s supply of food for twenty-two people. I thoroughly enjoyed, partly because we had Daniel, the elder who works for the store. Jessie, Joanna, and I put our heads together, came up with a meal plan, and basically sent Daniel on a store chase to fetch our always growing list of items. We say cauliflower of purple, green, and cream, rows of okra and yucca eggplant, a wall of peppers all bright red, and an entire floor section filled with exotic fruits and vegetables you would not know of. 

Our team had been craving veggies, so you can imagine how our hearts leaped when we reached the produce section. We had already oohed and ahed over the REAL milk we were bringing home and the block of cheese bigger than my head we would seen be frying up for breakfast, but when we saw the antioxidant-laden colours of fresh produce, our day was made. We bought succulent mangoes and bright green avocados ready to ripen and fuchsia-coloured cactus fruit, as well as little round fruits of a sugar cane hue called nispero. On top of that, two sizeable coolers somehow fit into our Ford explorer, and we returned to the church feeling satisfied with a job crazily but well done. Praise God for Daniel, who understands all our “weird” food needs and desires!

By the time shopping for twenty-two people was over, the paint had been slathered on and dried and the team was renewing their appreciation for Ninja, Zip Bong, Cheese, and other pass-the-time group games. The team split up to take showers (“freshen up” for the evening meal ~ how charmingly old-fashioned to the American mind) and then regroup for another round of sandwiches and shakes. I had snagged (and payed for) some spinach and mushrooms so my meal of pork chop from was scrumptiously accompanied by green and darling little edible buttons. And it was hot. Every time I come here, my gratitude for a warm meal redoubles. 

The day closed with another study, this time one that began our “Heart Surgery” course. We opened to the book of Genesis to read of the temptation of Eve and what it all entails, both then and now. Prayer and singing again followed our study, and then we turned in early for the night. Tomorrow was Sunday and church, after all. 

Except Group One. Group One tumbled into their house only to be regaled by a symphony of fireworks, including those happy smily face ones, in honour of Dominican Father’s Day. Way to close the first week here with a bang, eh?

More tomorrow, and we are thankful for your prayers. 

(excuse typos)

*P.S. We just received news that Jorge Daniel, a dear friend and fellow worker who always helps us out when we stay with IBNP, got into a car accident this (Sunday morning). He is walking and okay, but stuck in the hospital until he is given a clean bill of health. Please pray for him and his sister, who are here alone because their parents are in the States to figure out what is wrong with their dad, Pastor Hector, who has been having seizure-like episodes. Yeah. It’s nuts. Please keep them all in your prayers!

DR Trip 2014: Day Three

Day Three began this morning. The problem is this morning feels like ages ago. So let’s give this post a whirl and see what happens. 

We woke up at an earlier time today and managed to have breakfast at 9am. Group Two’s morning carried itself much like yesterday morning. I am not sure how Group One’s morning began, but they showed up at our apartment look bright and fresh and well fed, so all indications indicate good things happening. 

Today we worked on the building of IBNP, the same church who ministers in the village we visited yesterday. We were unsure of what our specific tasks would end up being, but we did know the church is adding some space to the front of the building and we were supposed to help prepare for the construction. So, we arrived in ditchable clothes and with lots of water, curious as to what the day would hold. 

It held paint. Lots of paint and not enough paint. Upstairs in the church there is an open concrete area for fellowship, and it all needed a fresh coat of paint. Also, the office space beside the fellowship area needed to be unwired and unceilinged. You know those styrofoam-like tiles at the top of everyone’s basement? The ones you always wanted to poke with a stick as a kid and see what was in between one floor and the next? Yeah. Those. We got to poke them up and out and to the ground to our heart’s content. ’Twas fun. 

And painting. Who doesn’t enjoy painting? Roll up and roll down and sideways and tape everything and be careful not to smudge the door frames or window sills. Peach on yellow was not a bad colour combination, either, and with the sun beating down everyone felt fun and thirsty. 

Everyone except Emily Leich, Daddy, and myself. We had to go to the American Airlines office in Santo Domingo because (I forgot to explain this before), Emily Leich has identity issues! Yes. As we were boarding the flight from Miami to the Dominican Republic, Emily was stopped by the boarders and told that she could not be here because an Emily Leich had flown to the DR on the previous flight. Well now. Emily Leich was indeed right here with us, not on some afternoon flight to Santo Domingo. It was a bit of a tense moment, but eventually Dad and the person in charge worked something out to let Emily fly with us with a coupon. Praise God! But to sort out what happened, we needed to visit AA’s Dominican headquarters and make sure the same thing would not happen on our return trip. Also, we were just a slight bit curious about who might be posing as Emily Leich, if anyone was. 

Thankfully, everything in the Emily Leich category was sorted, and she is flying home with us and she is a real person with no identity issues. God is taking care of us!

The office visit turned out to be surprisingly short, and after a bout of traffic we returned to the church in time to throw ourselves into painting until lunchtime. We were a little short on paint and brushes and rollers, but everyone took turns between brushing and taping and playing Ninja (it’s an actual game), so everyone kept busy. 

Lunchtime brought us to La Quinta, a little eatery for workers needing a warm meal on a hot day. While playing American pop music from all eras in the background, the restaurant served us a meal of rice and meat and avocados, plus a by now extremely popular chinola (passion fruit) juice. Three types of rice, three types of meats, and bowls of habichuelas (stewed beans) all around! It was a good meal and prepared us for walk back to the church for more painting. 

And that’s we did. More painting ’til the paint ran out. I stayed close to the ground and worked my thighs to paint baseboards while others faced their fears and climbed up ladders to hang over the roof edge to paint high walls (you go, Jessie Bear!). 

And then there was no more paint. So we trekked home to shower and eat a supper of grilled sandwiches filled with DR’s famous pork, beef, cheese, onions, and condiments accompanied by, you guessed it, more chinola juice. Although some free spirits broke the mould and got zapote or mango juice instead. 

After this scrumptious repast, ’twas time for our first study. 

We went over the first two verses of Colossians, remembering God’s great holiness and how He has made us holy. It is amazing to think that God made people like us saints and fellow brothers. It was hard to think of ourselves as holy because Christ is holy, even through our sin. But He lives in us and that is where our holiness comes from, what bears the Fruit of the Spirit, and how we can become more like Christ. We also went over the familial relationship we know have with God and our fellow brothers. That bond of similarities because of God’s indwelling grace holds us together so that we may and should and will live in fellowship with our family in Christ first, before any other earthly relationships. God living in us and loving us allows us to live with and love those whom He loves. 

In short, we kicked off our series of Colossians studies with a glimpse of glory and mercy, and a taste of the fellowship we hope to cultivate over the next two weeks. Our session ended with an hour of singing, heavenly singing and rhythmic, soothing guitar accompanied by the gorgeous other-worldly strains of a violin. 

Of course, sleep was sweet.

(please excuse typos)

Friday, July 25, 2014

DR Trip 2014: Day Two

Day Two, our first full day in the Dominican Republic, began as first days often do: whiplashed, jet-lagged, and doggone tired. But happy.

The Groves brought a special treat of bread and honey, so Group Two breakfasted like kings and queens (I guess, if I were being historically accurate, we breakfasted like peasants, but whatever) and spent most of the morning journalling about all the new sights and sounds and reactions that being in a new country entails. It was a lovely slow start we all needed to pull ourselves together. 

Group One breakfasted like kings and queens (again, really Dominican peasants of the past), encountering their first sumptuous feast of mangĂș, ham and cheese, scrambled eggs, and anything else lovely and nice. And they have two maids and internet and air conditioning, so, parents, no worries. Around noon, Group One flied into Group Two’s apartment looking bonnie and bright, and we went over what Mumsie would teach the kids at VBS. 

Because Mumsie was told there would be a VBS only a day ago, in the wee hours of the morning before sleep. She woke up early and prepared a lesson about Elijah and the Widow: God always provides even though He works in strange ways using strange means, and all for HIs glory. And His best provision is Christ, the bread and water who will never run out or run dry. Then Dad and Mumsie taught the whole team a lil kid song that went along with the Bible story. It was probably the first song I ever really learned, and I had not heard it in ages, so there was definitely a bit of nostalgia going on. 

After learning a bit about Spanish pronunciation and a few brave attempts at forming Spanish vowels, the team was ready to sing. We ate a quick lunch of ham and cheese and bread and butter (special Farmer’s cheese that is just so very delicious but you have to get used to it type-thing), and then crammed into two vehicles to head out towards Villa Alta Gracia, not knowing what to expect. 

It is about an hour’s drive from our apartment to the village, giving the newcomers their first opportunity to see Santo Domingo in broad daylight. Everyone made great observations and took in all the newness like champs. Our driver managed to keep up three phone conversations on two cell phones at the same while manoeuvring around motorcycles brimming with bread and trucks overstuffed with various and sundry comestibles. Plus taxis. Taxis here just. stop. Right in the middle of the road, where pedestrians are merrily waiting for them. Welcome to the DR.

Eventually we escaped the sound and fury of the city and were ushered into the island’s majestic mountains, some bright green and patched with pastures, others covered with richly-coloured pines all the way to the very tips of the mountain tops. Everything was punctuated by palms, tin houses, and startlingly red flowers. It is a wild calm beauty, a release from the crazy rush of the capital. Our first view of the mountains took our breath away and then let us breathe easy. Did I say majestic? Majestic.

Unfortunately, the majesty was rather spoilt by a huge beer advertisement. Welcome to the DR. 

We reached the village. After a while, the other car reached the village as well. Our experience in Villa was one of mixed of surprise, joy, regret, longing, and change. The surprise, for some, was the poverty. The surprise for all was the number of children gathered to hear us. There were easily 100 children crowded onto the cement floor we had laid last year. They welcomed us with loud applause, and I think we were all humbled that so many eager children were so happy to see us. Us. With no clue of this 24 hours ago and felling unprepared and overjoyed and uncomfortable and glad all at the same time. 

We went through some introducing, and more clapping and loud “Siiiis” (yes) from the kids, and then Mumsie went on a vim and vigour retelling of Elijah’s story with the widow. Jeannine had drawn some beautiful pictures to go along with the story, and those visuals coupled with Mumsie’s engaging narrative, not to mention the prayers in which everything was covered, helped make the presentation an excellent one. 

But the theme of today was not Us, but God. God did it. God does it. We were completely lacking, and He was completely full. In Elijah’s story, Israel’s disobedience had brought on a drought, and Mumsie ended her story with God’s promise for rain, real rain that represented the provision God through His Son Christ Jesus provides. Talking to all these children about hunger and thirst, children who don’t always know where the next meal will come from, talking to these girls about the way God is sovereign and works in mysterious ways, girls who could easily be trafficked and prostituted tomorrow, was at once heartbreaking and hopeful. We prayed and prayed that this little, not-enough seed, would be used in the chain of providence God orchestrates to bring some of these children the assurance of salvation, even when everything else falls apart. 

And then Mumsie’s story finished, with that promise of rain. And you know what? As soon as her last word was spoken, the heavens poured down rain, loud pounds of water clattering the tin roof as though it were in a percussion competition. We could not hear anything, but everyone was excited about the rain. 

A girl from the village had cooked arepitas (seasoned and fried balls of yuca shreds) to sell, and Dad bought them all to hand out to the gathered children. Not everyone got some, but it was the best we could right there and then. After (most) tummies had something in them, we got to interact with some of the children on a more personal basis. The little girls just came up and hugged us and asked to be held while the boys, well, goofed off with the boys. Knepps had photo prints of children she had photographed last year and the girls mobbed her (again) with smiles and laughs as big as anything as they got to hold their very own pictures of their very own selves. Knepps, as usual, you are brilliant. 

Soon we trekked up the hill, baby on hip and girl clinging to hand, and caught a beautiful panorama of the village. How can something so desolate look so beautiful?

But it wasn’t desolate. There were people. There were people with lives and souls and hardships and happiness. They do what they can with the land, and it bears fruit. They do what they can with they have, and they play games and work, just like anybody. It is beautiful. 

And ugly. Ugly because of the continued sickness and danger and prostitution. Most people do not know Christ, and that is why I am so, so grateful for the people Iglesia Biblica del Nuevo Pacto (IBNP), who have invested in this village for years. Right at the crossroads there is now a church. Now there is a pastor and children and parents learning and loving the Word. I believe there is hope, and hopefully that hope will spread. 

Time to say goodbye came. We all felt like we should’ve done more, stayed longer, talked more, helped more, done something, with all these faces and hearts behind them. But it was time to say goodbye. 

I was not quite sure what to think on the way home. Honestly, I felt terrible we could not do more. 

We went home and changed and went out to a restaurant, introduced some hungry people to the delights and differences of Dominican food, and met with a dear and long-lost friend, Ricardo. He will be moving to the States soon to attend seminary, so he and his family could not travel around with us like they did last year. But at least we could eat dinner and ice cream with them. Mr. and Mrs. Grove and my parents talked with Ricard about homeschooling, a subject about which he is anxious to learn since his family will begin that adventure once they are settled in the US. Exciting, no?

And then, we were really, very, honestly tired. Not even hazelnut and coconut and mango gelato could change that. We split up into Group One and Group Two again, and went to our respective homes. 

But here’s the point. Dad talked to us about how we were all feeling about Villa. We felt like such a small part in something so big, and we were. But he reminded us that it is not about us. God uses all our talents and gifts and time. We give them over to His care, and He puts them to use. God brings a story of people into the different stories of our lives, and some play big parts and others little parts. They are all important and they are planned by the One who knows best. We may have just been a very small puzzle piece in the big picture called Villa, but God wanted us there for that time and we were there. We gave what we could, just like the widow, and God will use mysterious and obvious means to bring His children to Himself, even in Villa. Because, really, the lesson for today truly was the lesson for the day: God always provides even though He works in strange ways using strange means, and all for HIs glory. 

Please keep IBNP in your prayers as they continue to be the tools God uses in one, small, precious village. 

(excuse typos)

DR Trip 2014: Day One

And we are doing it again. Going to the Dominican Republic with a bunch of crazies for two weeks full of introductions, recognitions, growth, and random service projects. Really, there is a lot of random. 

For me, the DR Trip 2014 started long before we landed here last night (this morning). It began with the planning meetings and the emails and the early flights to Dulles for an early round of fellowship and getting to know near strangers whom we love because they love Christ, too. 

But there is something nice about airports and departures and arrivals. We are really here at long last. Again. 

The day began with people sauntering out of bed. I use the word ‘sauntering’ sparingly because I do not really care for how it sounds (it needs somebody with one of those artiste moustaches, no?), but this morning people really were sauntering out of their beds, moustache or no. Josh cooked breakfast for a crowd and people ate at their own good time, then sat around chatting and pulling some last minute things together before the rest of the team arrived to our house around eleven o’clock. Dad and Timothy, one of our teammates, travelled around Northern Virginia and Maryland doing yet another batch of errands. People from past DR trips relived old memories and beckoned the new faces into the fun. And there was something about sheets and notebooks and missing checks. I submitted my final exam, packed the infamous green cooler, and managed to squeeze in most of my course’s last discussion session before popping off to the airport. 

Our airport experience was singularly boring compared to last year’s trip, but considering last year’s trip included being stranded in a parked airplane for four hours and bright blue shirts flashing by to catch a connecting flight, I think boring was a welcome surprise.  

And, honestly, it was beautiful. We had two first-time flyers who experienced the exhilaration of taking off and the excitement of landing, the glory of seeing things from above, and flying face to face with a rainbow. That rainbow was majestic, as if it were saying, “Peace, be still.” As the sky darkened and we neared Santo Domingo, the island lights glittered like jewels across a black ocean, and we were regaled with a different kind of majestic. 

Oh. I forgot Miami. Between the rainbows and the glitter, there was fish. Fish on my plate at the delicious Cuban restaurant in which we ate and then fish on the walls past which we walked. Yeah, seriously, there are walls of dead and colourful and arranged fish lining Section D in Miami Airport. And they are lovely, really. 

But enough of that. We are here now. We were picked up from the Dominican Airport by Tomas Toribio and Bronco Chen(m). Tomas, you may recall, is a student and fellow missionary pastor with Daddy. He cooks breakfast to classical music. Bronco Chen(m), whose real name is something like Alex Almonte (but nobody really knows), was the driver for the team Dad took to Haiti and he attends one of the churches we know here. His name is hilarious. You might think, “Okay, Bronco’s weird, but, hey, he has a chauffeuring business, so Bronco kind of makes sense. Who knows about the Chen(m).” 

But it’s better. Bronco Chem is the name of a medicine here for Bronchitis, and somehow the name stuck to an unwitting Alex Almonte (or something like that). He ran with it and stuck on his business truck. So the name of the business and the name of the driver are one and the same. Thank you, Dominicans, and thank you, Bronchitis. 


Bronco and Tomas drove us to one of our homes, we unloaded our 19 suitcases plus carry-ons, and spent much time discussing who should sleep where and if a cold tile floor sounds more appealing than a soft warm bed. 

Sleep won out in the end, and half of the team went Pastor Hector’s house while we stayed in our apartment. Group One, who stayed at Pastor Hector’s house, included Emily and Andrew Knepper, Jessie Blomgren, Katy Leamons, Timothy Rogers, James Caldwell, and Emily Leich ~ everybody without parents. Housing just worked out that way. Group Two was made up of everyone else, namely, the Groves and the Raimundos. It was hot out, but the city seemed to sleep that night and eventually everyone drifted off to a wee bit of rest before morning light really began. 


Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb…you know. Now the team is breakfasted and back together in one room (and it’s only noon!) and we are going to have our first study session/information seminar before heading off to Villa Alta Gracia to host an impromptu VBS. But more on that in the next post. 

Thanks for praying!

(excuse typos)