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 mangú, 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.