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LTS Seminary Students on a Mission Trip

As part of the Masters of Divinity program, Lancaster Theological Seminary students are required to complete a two-week cross-cultural experience.  As students cross borders, they are encouraged to understand and embrace the historical, social, cultural, and religious aspects of a different country.  Understanding and cultivating cultural immersion becomes necessary in all ministerial work, whether it is local or international, for pastors minister across boundaries every day.  This year we will be travelling to Haiti and the Dominican Republic from January 5th through January 19th.  Join us on our cross-cultural immersion through the daily journal entries.  May all that we experience give glory to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Peace,

Tamie Scalise

01/06/16 – Tamie and cohorts arrived safely in Haiti at 8:05PM last night.  She texted Frank while going through customs.  Thanks to everyone for your prayers:-)

01/06/16 (3:35PM – text) Today has been a great day. Made ground coffee from coffee beans and enjoyed breakfast at a local cook in the village.

01/06/16 (8:00PM- text) …I tried to send you pictures but they wouldn’t send. The experience has been indescribable. Amazing. 

01/07/16 (8:42AM -text)  …Just had my first cold shower and survived. We will see a voodoo ceremony. My window of my hut looks over the mountains. It is beautiful. Have a great day!

01/07/16 (1:55PM – text)  About the “voodoo ceremony”…

The ceremony was about love…a celebration for today. It was filled with prayer, rhythm, good smells, and the earthy elements of coffee, water, beans, peanuts, and corn. Quite the experience.

01/07/16 (9:20PM – text)  Bon nuit! We are traveling through Haiti for the next 2 days. We are staying at a different site and then returning here on Saturday. I am exhausted but having an amazing time.

Day 1 Reflection – by Donte A. Jones

We made it – Safe & Sound!  Our plane touched down in Port Au Prince at 7:35pm. Although many of us were tired from a full day of travel, everyone seemed to be in good spirits. As we exited the airport, we received a huge welcome by Carla Bluntschli and her transportation team. Carla and her husband, Ron, are co-directors of Na Sonje Foundation, located in the mountains of Gro Jean Pernier – Petionville, Haiti. This location will be our home for most of our stay in Haiti.

Our journey to Gro Jean Pernier – Petionville required us to travel through the city of Port Au Prince. To set the tone for our first impression of the city, Carla taught us a saying that is popular in Haiti. She said, “The bones that you now see once had flesh on them”. This proved to be a powerful statement as we traveled through the city that night. The streets and buildings were dilapidated; there were no traffic lights, and very few buildings seemed to have electricity.

On our way to the Na Sonje Foundation we had some trouble with one of our vans. It would not shift into drive, and we were force to temporarily wait at a gas station approximately 30 minutes from our destination. Half the group waited while we shuttled people to the Na Sonje Foundation. Green Kitty Cats Fly!

We all arrived safely. We gathered in plenary to meet the staff who would be working with us for the remainder of our stay. We had a light dinner and went off to bed.

01/08/16 (text)  Bonjour! I am very tired this morning but excited to take the Earthquake pilgrimage today. We will journey to the sites of a village that was evicted violently twice from their homes. They hope this third place, called Canaan, will finally be their home. Have a wonderful day.

Day 2 – Jackie Ravenel

Bonjou Family and Friends,

Last night we fell asleep to the sounds of crickets and cicadas, and then awakened this morning with greetings from the dogs and roosters. Today marked the first full day for us to become emerged into a community that offers plenty of hospitality, love and grace.

We started our day by enjoying coffee, tea and peanut candy provided by our hosts. This gave us enough energy to walk up the rugged, rocky road to Adelle’s home where we were served an Akasan breakfast. It is made from cornflower, condensed milk and sugar. It looks and tastes like vanilla pudding.

Following breakfast, as we began our journey back down the mountain our guide pointed out the water reservoir that is utilized by the community. Unlike the reservoirs we are familiar with, it has multiple uses. We observed several women carrying five-gallon water buckets on their heads to take home. Another woman was washing clothing while the dogs moved about the stream of water enjoying the opportunity to drink. Our guide, Carla, informed us that there are times when a neighbor may have a donkey to assist with taking water back home. Unfortunately, the reservoir is suffering from corrosion which will lead to the depletion of the water supply for a community with the absence of a residential supply.

We returned to the center for a lesson about the Creole culture from the multi-skilled staff. We were informed that the Haitian culture has integrated and lives by more than thousand proverbs. However, they have three key proverbs that they passionately expressed. First, we learned Be’l bonjou, sa pocspo’w which translates to “beautiful greeting is your passport” and translated as you can go anywhere. The word “bonjou” means greetings and is a very significant word in the Haitian culture. This greeting is EXPECTED from everyone regardless of age. If one neglects to say bonjou one is considered rude and there is a possibility for consequences unless you are in Port au Prince. One can get away with not saying it in Port au Prince because of the diverse population.

The second proverb they observe is “antre ak one’w, pou soti ak respe’” which means honor and respect. The instructor’s explanation was “go in with your honor and leave with your respect”. For Haitians, foreigners need to know how to make connections. They need to know a little about the country and learn how to collaborate.

The final key proverb we learned was “manje kuit pa pen me’t” or cooked food has no owner. Simply put, it stresses that sharing is important in the Haitian community. The instructors passionately explained how some don’t have hope to put a pot on the stove, but no one needs to worry about eating because food will be sent or you can go to another home to eat.

Since Creole is the primary language for Haiti our guides provided us with a lesson. We were given the very basics which enabled us to engage in conversation with the staff and others throughout the community. For instance, we were taught “Ki jan ou ye” or “Ko’man ou ye” – how are you? And, our response would be “M wen”.
We also witnessed and participated in a coffee roasting experience or the journey of a coffee bean. In this process the beans are roasted then pounded by hand to what we know in America as ground coffee. As we sat through this process, the guides shared several stories about the importance of balance and how the act of balancing is necessary for the Haitian community.

Our evening ended with a conversation with Ron (husband of hostess) who talked about the development of the country, problems with foreign organizations, the need to decentralize after the earthquake and the need for support from local organizations.

Time seems to stand still in Haiti so take this as only a recap our full but very educational day.

Peace and love to all.
Pray for us.

01/08/16 (text)  Today was a long, hard day. I met people today who have no home, no water, and no way to grow food. We traveled a long way in a very bumpy car ride through the mountains. Tomorrow we will visit reforestation projects.

 01/09/16 (an email update from Tamie’s husband, Frank)

Just got off the phone with Tamie (7:35 p.m.). It was just so nice to hear her voice. It made the whole family feel so much closer to her than we have been feeling. Sam and Juliana, especially, really miss her as do I.

But you could tell in her voice how much she treasures this experience. She explained that they are housed in a little wooden cabin in the mountains that is open to the air since it is so warm there. The group takes cold showers and all the water is filtered. They have power during the day but not in the evening. Tamie said they don’t sleep well, since at dusk dogs come out and howl and bark at each other, and, in the morning, roosters being crowing.  Not a good formula for much sleep.

The group usually walks to the village on paths that are extremely narrow, rocky, and very treacherous and through the mountains. At night time, it is even more dangerous. They have visited people in the village often.  They are friendly and curious.  Poverty is at an extreme level. Tamie did indicate that the food has been very good and chewing on a sugar cane was a real sweet, sugar high. She has made friends with a man who is a teacher.  She is teaching him English, and he teaching her Creole, and they communicate, as best they can, through French.

Tamie has taken a ton of picture, almost 1500 already. She had planned to send some each day with her texts but has been unable to do so as of now. The group will have dinner this evening, a moment of reflection, and then sleep. Tomorrow they will visit churches.

I can’t begin to tell you how great it was to hear her voice. Much better than texts. Although she missed us very much, she really cherishes this experience.

Frank

Day 3 – Reflection by Suzanne Schwarz

Today was such a very full day. It began with breakfast at 8:00 AM; to our surprise we were served Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce.  While unusual, the food was, nevertheless, delicious.  After breakfast our host Carla took us out onto the balcony of the main house and showed us a model of the Memory Village (“Vilaj Memwa”), a village that she hoped would one day be built that would retell the history of the people of Ayiti from its first people to the arrival of the Spaniards and the slavetrade.  People would enter the village at the beginning and exit with the question “What Now?”;   unfortunately it is unlikely that this village will ever be built as real estate is a difficult topic and a commodity in Ayiti.

After breakfast, Dieuny, a Vodou practitioner, came to give us an introduction to Vodou. He spoke to us about Catholicism being forced upon the slaves and that love was preached but that slaves were mocked and treated like animals and things. We also learned about Boukman, whose real name was Duty, named this way because he always carried a book around. The book may have been the Quran because Boukman had become Muslim prior to his arrival in Ayiti.  According to Dieuny, Boukman played a central role in a great slave revolt that took place August 14, 1791 and Vodou was part of that ceremony.  Dieuny also told us that history often talks about the devil having been evoked in that ceremony in 1791, but instead it was the Creator that was invoked.

After the Introduction we went to observe a Vodou ceremony. We watched the practitioner use cornmeal to draw various signs on the floor, heard him pray, and listened to him and others present sing. During the ceremony I noticed that something sounded like a prayer and our host Carla stated that it was indeed the Lord’s Prayer that was spoken.  At another time some of us noticed that people present responded to the Vodou practitioner with the Hail Mary.  It was interesting to note such close ties between  Vodou and Catholicism.

In the evening, Carla had asked local faith leaders to come for a forum to N a Sonje. There were two Vodou practitioners, and three Christians (a Catholic priest, an Evangelical Pastor, and a non protestant student).  What made the forum really memorable for many of us was that all faith leaders agreed that without our presence there, they would not have come together to talk about and listen about each other’s faith.  A sad aspect was that one of Carla’s female employees heard about what the Christians thought and felt about women in church leadership and she heard that they really do not believe that women should teach or preach in church.  Some of her male colleagues tended to her after the forum and that was a relief.

The day ended with a dinner of peanut butter that was home made by Madame Antwan. We finally fell to bed after a very long and full day.  We are thankful for the experiences today and for the hospitality that has been extended to us every place we go and we are blessed to have been instrumental in bringing the local faith leaders together.  God is with us, there is no doubt.

Peace to all and please continue to pray for us. Everybody’s  prayers are very much appreciated.

Day 4 Reflection – Kelsey Wallace

Bon Soir! I am happy to be writing to you after a long day of pilgrimage and travel. Thank you for your continued prayers for us on this journey, it means so much to know that all of you in the states are thinking of us. Today while we were traversing some rocky terrain, John slipped and sprained his ankle. He has been in quite some pain and we as a group ask that you might pray for his healing and comfort!

Tonight, at the end of day four of our time in Haiti, Debbie offered to us the following scripture in our devotional time, it comes from Exodus 3:

Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Egypt?” He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”

I share this scripture with you because today it came to life in front of us.

This morning we woke up a bit earlier than the last few days and followed our typical routine of spring water showers (invigorating!) and coffee, while enjoying the spectacular view off of Carla’s balcony. We were treated to another wonderful breakfast (the food so far has been spectacular!) of homemade mac and cheese with hot dogs! Yum! Then we piled into the vans and set off on the first leg of a two day journey away from the N a Sonje Foundation’s guesthouse and across the country. We will return to NSF tomorrow night.

Our first experience today was to go on what we have been referring to as an earthquake pilgrimage, following the journey and the trials of a group of people who formed a camp together after the earthquake, called Mozayik. So we journeyed down the mountain on which the guesthouse is situated and into Port-au-Prince to the location of the first camp. We learned from several of the leaders of the Mozayik camp about the settlement there. The members of the camp organized themselves and searched for aid from NGOs and the government to no avail. Instead, they were attacked and violently evicted from the land so that a bank could be built in its place. Today, there is an empty, trash covered lot where previously over 120 families were living. The leaders of Mozayik found land near the coast where they could relocate the camp, land that was unsettled and open to them, with the help of a pastor from the area. However, when they arrived and settled on a flat piece of land just across the street from the sea it didn’t take long for the government to come and demand the land from the people. While those who were literate in the camp were away, officials entered the camp and told those who resided there that if they moved off the land there would be homes built for, thus allowing them to leave their days of living in tents behind. What the people of the camp truly signed, unbeknownst to them, were eviction papers. Shortly thereafter, bulldozers were brought in and their tents, their homes, were razed. They moved back from the flat land into rocky foothills with no shade to speak of and a constant wind off of the ocean. Their homes are constructed of little more than tarps, and if they can happen to get it, sheets of metal. The sun makes remaining inside during the day unbearable and their access to resources is limited to a small town that is a significant distance from their homes. The name of this settlement? Canaan.

This is a people in the midst of an exodus, a forced and at times violent exodus, but hope lies ahead. The leaders of the camp shared with us that they have found another piece of land and are currently raising the funds to build true homes for all of the families of the Mozayik camp. The land was described to us as shady and full of mango trees. Sounds a lot like milk and honey to me! Amidst all of the day to day struggles faced by the people of the camp, they welcomed us with open arms and gestures of hospitality. They cleared space for us, gave us shade and seats, as well as cold water and some of the best food we have eaten this far, prepared by Juliette and some others from the camp. Their generosity was deep and their hospitality wide.

We left the camp with full hearts and after a short while, full stomachs! We ate in the car as this was only the first part of our journey today. I am writing now from my bed in the guesthouse of the Mennonite Central Committee. A two hour journey from Canaan, we are now on the other side of the country and on the other side of the mountains. Tomorrow we will learn about the MCC’s reforestation project in this area. I could go on and on about the towns and the people and the cities that we drove through today – there’s so much to say! But instead of continuing on (I’ve already been quite long winded – sorry!) I will leave you with this: Bon Nuit! Good night, friends, and wherever you may be (and whatever time of day you might get this) rest well.

Day 5 Reflection – Fred

Peace to all at home. We have been through 30 hours of different ends of the spectrum in experiences here in “Ayiti,” as the locals call Haiti.  We have travelled a great deal during this time, not only in miles but in the scale of socio-economics.  We travelled over the mountains from the coast to the MCC Guest House, where we spent last night, in the town of Desarmes.     This morning we awoke to a breakfast of fresh baked bread, from a local person, hardboiled eggs, topped off with wonderfully dark, rich, Haitian coffee and tea.  We toured an MCC ‘mini-forest’ project with Franklin, an MCC Field Director, and two Haitians who worked on re-forestation projects on their properties.   A quick history lesson about Haiti, when Christopher Columbus ‘found the new world’ on this island, the forests encompassed the entirety of land.  Since that time, through colonization, slavery, independence, and even today, the forests were cut down and shipped to Europe, stripping the mountains.  Without proper reforestation, the mountains remain bare and dangerous due to mudslides during the rainy season.   The mini-forest was a hectare in size, which is equivalent to a couple of acres, of different varieties of trees planted over the last few years.  We stood in the shade as Franklin and the two local men answered our questions about how the project is progressing and relationships with the local government and community.  As we stood in the shade of the new trees, it was hard to believe that the precious resources of the trees had been stripped from the very top of such high mountains, surrounding us, all the way down to the seashore and valleys for the purpose of furniture and homes in other countries without caring for the people and land left behind.  As we left the valley, to head back to NSF, one could not stop thinking about the abuse by foreign countries on this land as we crossed back over the bare mountains back to the coast.  We stopped along the coast at a resort called ‘Kaliko’ for a brief respite from our travels.  The resort was typical of resorts found in the Caribbean.  We stayed at the resort for three hours where some of us swam in the Caribbean Ocean, others were in the pool, and we all ate at the buffet.    As we sat this evening as a group, after safely arriving back at NSF, sharing what we had seen over the last two days, the experience of the Mozayik Camp where people were struggling to live on Friday, the efforts to reforest the island, to the Kaliko resort where food and drink was in abundance on Saturday has our team struggling with processing the waste of resources that occur not only here in Haiti, but in the United States, and what will we do when we come home.  We expressed our thanks to Carla, Ron, and their team, who have been doing a fantastic job of helping us see the beauty of the people and the land.  Our thoughts and prayers are with all of you, as we know your thoughts and prayers are with us in “Ayiti”.

Day 6 Reflection – Tamie Scalise

This is the day that the Lord has made, and here in Ayití, we give praise and thanksgiving for this glorious day of rest. In the community, there are three different churches: a non-denominational charismatic church, a Catholic church, and a Pentecostal church.  Our group sent representatives to each faith community to worship God and experience a Haitian service.  Donté traveled early in the morning to the non-denominational church and sang a solo for them.  Another large group attended the Catholic Church where they were greeted warmly and asked to sing as well.  Just across the road a small group attended the three hour praise and worship service of the Pentecostal Church.  Though the language spoken was Creole, praising and honoring God as one is understood by all.

In the spirit of Christ, everybody found a way to rest in God’s strength and be renewed. Jeremy led song on the porch as we overlooked the valley and the distant mountain range.  Others read, reflected in their journals, or took naps in the fresh air.

Meanwhile, a group of women arrived to clean our laundry by hand. Pooling the spring water in large basins, the women lathered our clothes with soap and scrubbed every part of each piece of clothing.  I sat alongside to clean some whites and could not scrub hard enough.  Our clothes were strung among the trees, on the walls, and on lines in order to dry.  We are all so grateful for the strength of their hands and their gracious spirit to help us.

Finally, we had an opportunity to walk through the community and pray for the elders. Everybody was very busy, washing their laundry, weaving palms, preparing food, and carrying water.  Yet, everybody paused to recognize us as we passed.  Like goats, we walked the thin, steep trails of the mountainside and greeted everyone.  One group visited a man who was 105 years old, and of course, he lived on the top of the mountain!  At each house, we circled around the elders and prayed for them and Ayití.  God’s grace is painted in the beauty of the earth and in the loving spirit of its people.

We ask that you send prayers for its people, that they may live with God’s peace, love, and hope and spread the joy and wisdom of their culture to the world.

Day 7 Reflection – Jeff Caldwell

The Land of Haiti continues to be a blessing through both the people and the island’s innate beauty. Today was our last full day in Haiti. We began the day with a trip to the offices of the Mennonite Central Committee in downtown Port-au-Prince. We learned about the difficulties facing faith based NGOs looking to do development work in Haiti. The volunteer staff talked about how they lobbied the American Government on behalf of their Haitian partner organizations. The MCC staff also discussed the circumstances facing Dominicans of Haitian descent who were recently deported from the Dominican Republic.

After lunch at a Haitian fast food restaurant we met with an organizer for Wozo, a group that helps the Haitian people recover from trauma. Afterward we traveled to the Nazarene Seminary and talked to a group of fellow theology students. The Haitian students wanted to know what studying at LTS was like, and they told us the role of Haitian cultural practices such as Voodoo within protestant Christianity.

Later we came back to the Na Sonje Foundation for a farewell dinner and a performance by the Dreadman Band. We are looking forward to crossing into the DR tomorrow.

Love and Peace be with all of you.

01/13/16 – (email from Frank…forwarding a text from Tamie) 

Make sure you send my love to everyone. Thank you for the encouragement. Today is difficult day because goodbyes and the unknown of a new country. Talk Soon.

At around 7, I received another text indicating that they had arrived in the Dominican Republic. They are in a hotel this time.  Talk about juxtaposition!

God is Good.

Frank

01/14/16 (texts from Tamie)

Tuesday: Back to our room after a dinner of cold cheese sandwiches. Well, we have hot showers.
Wednesday: Today was horrific. Disorganized and meaningless.
Thursday: Well, we are up and moving. Going to a small village today and traveling again.

01/14/15 (evening text from Tamie)

We are back from our journey.  Today has been a better day, but it is nothing compared to our experience in Haiti.

(then a little later on…)  Just had chocolate ice cream, so all is well!

Day 8 Reflection – Jeremy Graeff

Transition
Monday night, we celebrated our last night in Haiti with a party at N a Sonje. Ron, Welele, and Nadjee sent us off with a fusion of Haitian and American styles. Dancing ensued. Ma Antione made her famous donuts (the recipe for which was revealed to her in a dream). Our revels were bittersweet, not only for the impending departure, but also for the news that our friend Routson’s wife was being taken to the hospital with a miscarriage. We’ve had no update on her condition, but their whole family is in our prayers.

The next morning, we planned for an early start to catch our bus. Despite the fact that our tickets were bought in advance, the carrier sells seats if there aren’t bodies present and accounted for 35 minutes before departure. Ma Antoine led the N a Sonje staff in a sending song and prayed for us in Creole, then her daughter Anna told us that the first time you come to Haiti, you’re a friend; the second, family; the third, a naturalized citizen of Haiti. We said our goodbyes to Carla, Rom, Anna, Gorat, and Ti Blanche. Once more our faithful guides Jean-Davide and Wake ferried us safely down the mountain and through Port au Prince traffic. More than a few of us felt like we had more to do in Haiti and had a hard time parting from our new family at N a Sonje.

The bus was fairly luxurious; a nice, tall tour bus with airco, food service, and the possibility of movies in transit. We noted that the service was more hospitable aboard our bus to Santo Domingo than we experienced on either plane here; ham and cheese sandwich on a baguette, bottled water, and a can of peach nectar.

On our road to Malpasse (the Haitian border checkpoint), we travelled along a highway that was mostly paved. While the paving wasn’t terribly wide, we found that our bus tended to get right of way from the variety of tap-taps, motorcycles, and the few freight trucks along the way. As we got closer to the border, we travelled along the south shore of a spectacular, blue lake. At home, this would be the kind of place that would be turned into a resort, clogged with speedboats and multi-million dollar homes. I wondered why I didn’t see more signs of villages so close to the water.

At Malpasse, we had to disembark from the bus with all of our luggage so it could be inspected. There were a few people who offered to help us with our bags (with the expectation of a tip). I’m pretty sure most of us opted to fend for ourselves. When I got to the front of the line, I was waved through after barely opening either my bag or my guitar case. I’m pretty sure most of had the same. The guards seemed a lot more fastidious in examining the baggage of passengers they thought were Haitian.

Once the bus was loaded again, we were only on the road for a brief period of time before we made it to the Dominican Republic’s border checkpoint. It’s hard to convey the level of disorder we experienced. I’m used to seeing checkpoints where only guards, immigration officials, and travelers can be found. Here, there were vendors, beggars, shoe-shiners, and variety of others inside the checkpoint. While the guards seemed to be dressed in military garb, the officials seemed to be dressed in business casual, and the baggage inspectors had no apparent uniform at all (each was dressed in different colors, different t-shirts prints, hats, etc.). There were no apparent queues initially, but a man in a khaki linen suit directed us bodily into a serpentine line that switched back on itself. Right up to the window, we could each get a shoe shine. Through a combination being incorrectly directed by guards, a lack of official uniforms for baggage handlers, and my own inability to speak Spanish, I paid an extra $20 US. I found out that it was a fee to enter Haiti. A guard tried to extract a bribe from Jeff and Gabi to bring the Haitian coffee they were carrying into the country. Gabi called his bluff and they were waved through the check. Most of us didn’t get any kind of baggage inspection at all.

Soon after, we noticed infrastructure; street signs, tarmac, curbs along the road, and power lines. The closer we got to Santo Domingo, we noticed traffic lights, familiar fast food, and the increased presence of vehicle dealerships (BMW, Maserati, and Bentley were some notables). Traffic adopted the same kind of regular, congested rhythms we all knew as rush hour traffic, and I thought a lot about how Haiti is uncluttered with billboards, very much light pollution, or much consumerism.

I miss Haiti already.

01/16/16 (texts from Tamie w/email from Frank)

(12:45) – Eating lunch now. Spent the morning doing bible school with lots of children. So much fun!

(5:02) – We are finally back but off to reflection and dinner in a half hour. 2 days and a wake up before returning home.

Tamie loves working with children, but I can sense from her, and others, the hope of returning to their loved ones.  I am sure it has been tough on all of them, as well as their families, but I am also sure of the wonderful spiritual and uplifting experience they have had.

It will be good to see her.

Frank

01/18/16 (text from Tamie)

(2:35PM)  Just returned from a late dinner and exhaustion has settles in. one more long day here and a travel day.

Reflection Day 12 – Allison Carnahan

We began our day today by visiting some rural communities. These communities are composed of Haitians who are no longer considered Dominican even if they were born here. There was a change in the law in 2010. The community that half of our group visited was begun by one of the men present in 1973. We enjoyed lunch in a restaurant in the community where the other half of the group went. This afternoon we were able to visit a beautiful waterfall and many of us were able to swim under the waterfall.

When we met with the elders of the community an older gentleman explained that since the sugar cane companies had pulled out they have no hope of getting work, no medical care, no way to fix their leaking roofs. He said they exist by the “grace of God.” Oh that our faith might remain so strong when we are challenged by our lives. They are teaching their children to garden on a small piece of land that used to grow sugar cane. It is now growing a variety of vegetables. Most are used to feed the community. The community is quite a distance from the main road and so they don’t have an opportunity to sell their excess food at a market. Often a person will come and pay them 2/5 of what they should be paid for these vegetables, but the only choice to selling at such a loss is to let the vegetables rot.

We were told today, “Our children are not our future; they are our present.” I have been very aware of the scripture, Matthew 19:14. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” All during our trip to each country we have seen children and babies. Yesterday I was able to hold a young baby about the age of my new granddaughter. I was so grateful to have made a connection with the mother to the point that she was willing to allow me this gift.  Sometimes language isn’t necessary when we allow our hearts to speak for us. I did feel like the kingdom of heaven was in that precious child.

The opportunity to swim in the waterfall today was renewing for a group who is growing weary spiritually and physically. As I stood under this large waterfall feeling the water fall on my face and body I raised my arms to simply enjoy the moment. As I did this the hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” began in my head. What gratitude I felt for being in this place at this moment. I have been truly grateful each day for the opportunity to be on this journey with this group.

Reflection Day 13: Debbie Campbell

Dominican Republic Day 6

We had a breakfast of Dominican sandwiches. They were made of white bread, cheese, ham, lettuce, and cream cheese. It would be what we Americans would have for lunch, but it made for a nice breakfast in my opinion. After breakfast, we piled in the trusty vans and headed off to church.

We went to a Christian Reformed Church in Santo Domingo where the missionary Steven whom we had met before attends. The church congregants were friendly, laid back, and enthusiastic. Most of the people, not least the children, were good and strong singers. Our group of LTS students was introduced in the service. The sermon was about not worrying about your life. It was about putting your best effort in and helping others who cannot come through on their own while leaving the rest to God. Trusting in God keeps everyone healthy in all aspects.

I thought that was appropriate not only for the congregants and but also for our LTS group. We are getting ready to come home and share our adventures and our insights. We are trying to process all that we have seen so far and are anticipating a change point soon. Thus, the message about not worrying and trusting in God was fitting, it seems to me. This goes to show that ministry is two ways, something which has struck us on this trip so far as an encouraging pattern. We minister to the people and they minister to us in a beautiful sharing and blending of spirituality that transcends any and all barriers. We then had lunch at a nice restaurant that served Dominican food. During the meal, we connected more to each other and to our interpreters, all lovely people.

After lunch, we went to a barrio that used to be a batey (a village for sugar plantation workers) but was since enveloped by the city of Santo Domingo. This was one of the urban projects of the Christian Reformed Church. Pastor Mario whom we had met before invited us into his church that was in the barrio. We stopped inside to talk to him and his staff members.

Pastor Mario described the abject poverty and the horrid abuse that characterize life in the barrio. The two biggest businesses are drugs and sex. Children as young as five have been found to be on drugs. Teenagers and adults sell these drugs. Last year, twelve people died within thirty days due to a war between rival drug lords. Starting as young as eight years old, girls are made to start selling themselves for sex. Many times they have children and STDs as a result. Often, they then drop out of school and are trapped in the sex trade. Besides selling their bodies for sex, these girls can easily be raped and abused by sexual predators, many of whom fly in from far away to partake in sex tourism. This is but a taste of the harsh reality of the barrio and others similar to it.

Though limited in its resources, the church is stepping up to the task in what it can do. Besides spiritual help, the church is providing education, childcare, loans, connections to other helping agencies, and more. The theology of this church is practical and non-judgmental. This was attested to not only by our talk with Pastor Mario and his staff but also by what we experienced in our tour of the barrio. We saw houses that were in process of being built thanks to the loans provided by the church. We saw the impact that the church had in the barrio residents’ lives when we did home visits.

The church is more than succeeding in the area of ministry in the margins. It seeks to empower the people, walking beside them in a spirit of service as Jesus would to show the Gospel in one of the darkest places on earth. I only wish more could be done to change the systems of abuse that create this terrible suffering, for then and only then will the people of this barrio (and all others) be free. I pray that a practical approach will be perfectly married to a theoretical approach in a powerful movement that faces down systems of abuse abroad and at home in the United States. The first step in this ministry endeavor is listening. The second is sharing. We did both with Pastor Mario and his staff. I could feel the power of the Gospel moving today.

Day 14 Reflection – John Teixeira

January 18, 2016

On this second to last day of our 14 day cross-cultural trip, we started the day with devotions. Jeremy led today’s devotion. He discussed “food as a metaphor for sharing.” It reminds me of the story we were told in Haiti about how the community makes enough food for neighbors and whoever may visit at dinner time. The devotion was powerful as it brought us closer together through the movement of the Holy Spirit.

We left for the Universidad Nacional Evangélica at 8:15am. We arrived there at 8:30am and met with the university’s staff for service. Although the staff prayed, spoke, and read in Spanish, it was so powerful. God moved in there, and the Holy One’s presence was felt. The musician was playing the instrumental of the song, “This is the air I breathe” by Michael W. Smith. The extemporaneous prayers and worship made it feel like home for some of us. Prior to the sermon, the whole congregation sang the aforementioned song. Jackie Ravenel gave the message of the hour. She encouraged us as the Apostle Paul encouraged the church in Philippi, to not be anxious but instead trust that the Lord will be with us as we do the Lord’s work.

After worship, we broke up into four groups and met with about 20 seminary students from the university. We discussed whether or not we experience anxiety, particularly when doing pastoral work. We also pondered ways that God’s peace keeps our hearts and our minds on Christ Jesus. It was great to share different perspectives from people of different social locations.

We ate brunch at Fábrica Contemporánea, which is where we have been eating most of our meals. We enjoyed yucca with sausages, which we chased down with coffee or water. Immediately after, we met at SSID for reflections. They, unaware that we had eaten, provided us with a wonderful lunch. We continued with a day of reflections, including debriefing about our meeting with students from Universidad Nacional Evangélica.

Finally, we went to dinner at Adrian Tropical restaurant with our hosts. The food was delicious. In addition to our group, in attendance were, Josué Osquil, Rosa Lourdes, Marta Peña, Dania Grullón, Pérsida Grullón, Steven Terrero, Pablo Ayala, José Delgado, and Bryan Terrero Tejada, Mario Mattos, Yolanda Mattos, Steve Brauning, and Sandra Brauning

After dinner we said farewell to some of the people with whom we’d met, including our wonderful interpreters, Steven and Bryan, who are also brothers.

01/19/16  @ 12:27PM (Text from Tamie in email from Frank)

Tamie is coming home!! I will be picking her up late this evening. Can’s wait.  I believe this will be the last entry I make since all the rest with be details about her travel.

Good morning! I am coming home! Can you remember to bring my winter jacket? I will keep in touch throughout the day. See you soon!

Thank you so much for your prayers and thoughts and your willingness to share in her story.  It is greatly appreciated.

Frank

The seminary students all arrived home safely and are recovering from their trip.  Thank you for your prayers.

Comments

  1. Jenn stevens says

    Great hearing about your experience. I think you have to see REAL 3rd world poverty to really understand how good we have it here in the states. “Aqua clima” is always an eye opener. Continued safe travels and prayers for your journeys!

  2. Sounds like you are having a real life changing experience. What a great opportunity! Lyle & I are praying that you & your colleagues continue to have safe travels & opportunities to share your love. Take care & see you soon
    Cheryl & Lyle

  3. Absolutely amazing stories. Wonderful detail. Thanks you for sharing them with us. I pray for safe travel and look forward to the things you will each accomplish because of the experiences you are having on this trip.
    Jim

  4. Vicky Kefer says

    I have just caught up with all the posts. What an amazing experience! The culture sounds intriguing and rich. Haiti is definitely a place I would like to see. Everyone describes their views so eloquently. Prayers for continued safety and open minds. Blessings from PA.

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