TESTIMONIES

 

 

 

Marietta Molly Bliss
Peter Beckendam Michael Robinson
Sue Norton Howie Gelles
Laura Savery Tammy Cadet
John Andrews Reflections
Cyndi Brittany
Tim Haut  

 

 

As I look at Angelique’s sweet-sad face, our first meeting floods my mind.  It was six years ago on a beautiful sunny day in the parsonage courtyard in LaRomana that I noticed a very quiet little girl sitting on a bench.  There were no typical signs of a pre-schooler - no giggles, no wiggling, no jumping or chatter box talking, just silence. She seemed barely alive as Phyllis and I tried to communicate with her.  Angelique has no parents, and so it was her grandmother who told us that she won’t eat and she has too many grandchildren to care for a sick one.  When she drank the water that Phyllis gave her - and wanted more - we discovered she was dehydrated.  The next drink included fruit juice in water, later a little food.  A few hours later and Angelique’s eyes seemed to be focusing, she had a small smile on her face and she seemed to be waking from a long sleep.  She gave us a hug and emotionally adopted us.

Angelique is basically on here own in a country where there are thousands of children who are on their own.  She had many illnesses, but she has captured the hearts of many of the volunteers who are visiting LaRomana to work on building the Good Samaritan Hospital.

The love that I feel for Angelique constantly stirs my passion for the work that needs to be continued with these beautiful, God loving people.

Marietta

Editor’s Note:  Angelique died from AIDS before her 11thbirthday.

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I was not prepared for what I saw today. I have seen poverty before on television - mostly on special programs that ask views to adopt a child from a third world country.  Something inside me stirred as I watched these pictures, but after the television was turned off, these emotions faded away.  Today I came to the full realization of how abstract television is; I only wish I had the capability to accurately put my thoughts and feelings on paper so that this letter might be more effective than television.

Ketly Pierre, with whom I am staying, asked me if I would accompany her and her friend as they visited the bateys.   The first mention of the word batey had no impact on me for I had never heard it uttered before.  From now on this word will be accompanied with strong emotions.

 The bateys are small villages which are located among the sugarcane fields.  They house the families of the men who cut sugarcane for a living.  Ketly informed me that these people, all of whom are Haitian, are the most oppressed and taken-advantage-of in the Dominican Republic.  I had no comprehension of what she meant until I actually saw a batey.

After driving through seemingly endless fields of sugarcane, we arrived at the first of two bateys we would be visiting today.  The ‘houses’ were 10 by 15 foot shacks constructed of wood and roofed with rusty scraps of tin.  There is no electricity or running water; there is usually a shower and water faucet which are shared by all.  A fire pit outside each house serves as a kitchen.  The doors are either cloth or a crude construction of wood and scraps of tin.  Gaping holes serve as windows.  In most bateys the houses are not owned by the families that live in them but by the company that takes advantage of these people.

The men are paid about US$2.50 for every ton of sugar they cut.  A grown man working hard can cut from one to two tons in a twelve-hour day.  The harvest lasts for six months.  Only a few of the fortunate men are able to find work during the rest of the year.  They are expected to support their families on less than US$5.00 per day.  With this money the people can afford only to survive.  The food must be bought at the over-priced batey stores because the trip to into town would be just as expensive.  But at least the ‘housing’ is free.

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Three Men
by Sue Norton

There wasn't any news coverage

Fireworks didn't light up the sky

As three humble men stood side by side

While the rest of us were quietly standing by.

 

One man began to tell of the faith

The other two possessed

Faith that began as a tiny seed

And faith, as promised, would always be blessed.

 

It was a faith that saw a place of healing

Rise up from a worthless land

A refuge for the sick and weary

Blessed by God's own loving hand.

 

After a prayer of dedication was given,

Excitement began to fill the air.

For it was then we all realized

the clinic would be open and we would be there!

 

The hundreds of volunteers who gave their help

Have a story of their own to share.

Not only had poverty overtaken these people

Also, they had a great need for good health care.

 

And now thank God, the clinic had opened

The pharmacy shelves were all well stocked.

Needy people filled the waiting room

From near and far, so many had walked.

 

Medications were given, along with instructions

No one was going to be turned away.

For this was a clinic for all people

Regardless of their ability to pay.

 

All glory and honor belong to God

What countless blessings we all received

Because God gave a vision to two faithful men

He'd show them how - and they believed.

 

This poem by Sue was written in tribute to the late Jean Luc Phanord, Rodney Henrikson, and Gordon Andersen.

 

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Reflections

By Laura Savery

          "Mother Teresa once remarked that Christ comes to us today in disguise: in the person of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger dressed in rags, the homeless, and the prisoner.  There is another person to add to the list: the Haitian sugarcane cutter in the Dominican Republic.

          Two and a half centuries ago, the French and Spanish brought African slave to the island called Hispanola.  These slaves planted and harvested sugarcane.  Today, the French have long disappeared, but laborers recruited from Haiti work in the fields and live under conditions many have called oppressive.

          Sugarcane covers hundreds of thousands of acres in the Dominican Republic.  The sugar industry is operated by the government or the Central Romana Corporation.  Plantation settlements called bateys are nestled amid the cane along dirt roads.  Workers living in the Central Romana bateys fare better than those living in government settlements, but they  are all very, very poor.

          The pay for a fourteen hour day is figured by the amount of cane cut that day- it is weighed and paid by the number of tons cut. If the weigh master is honest, the worker can expect an accurate and fair report, however, this is not always the case.  There are many, many workers who do not receive fair wages and cannot pay for food and other necessities without putting themselves in debt to the company provision stores" (excerpt from "Let My Soul Make You Strong" by Jude Baptist and Dee DeMusis)

          On September 23, 1998  Hurricane George arrived in the southeast section of the Dominican Republic.  In the wake of destruction there was hope and miracles.  Hope and faith that God would not fail his servants and  miracles in that only a handful of people died  and  that all was not totally destroyed.

          It is this spirit of faith and hope that I again witnessed, this being my third trip to this country since 1995. This time was different than the last two trips in that we worked side by side with the Haitians, in their bateys, rebuilding their churches.  The importance of these churches is more than that of spiritual worship-these buildings also serve as sites for medical clinics, schools and refuges during a severe storm.  The following are just a few of the  poignant memories I would like to share with you about this mission trip.

          In  the batey of Guacuma, a woman came up to us and asked us what we were doing.  A team member said, "We are rebuilding the church."  The woman then said, "You are rebuilding our church," and then she left.  She returned shortly  with about two dozen children with the intention of helping us.  You see she was a member of the church and the children were students  in the Sunday school.  You should have seen the children scurrying around like ants helping us clean and remove the rubble.  What a wonderful sight!

          In the batey of Magdalena, we had a Sunday service in the remains of their church-there was no roof, no louvered windows, the back wall was gone and rubble was strewn on the cement floor.  We celebrated God's presence  just as if the church were physically whole.  People prayed and sang praises to His name while tears of joy streamed down their faces.  During the sermon, the head deacon commented on the fact that his church did not know we were coming that day and reminded all that were present of the importance of "being ready"- for no one knows when Christ will come again.  The most memorable part of the service was when we sang "Amazing Grace" and our brothers and sisters in Christ sang along in Creole.  Two cultures joined together in Christ to honor and praise Him!

          In the batey of Lima, we had another Sunday service in the remains of their church-again there was no roof and no windows and rubble littered the floor.  We  celebrated the joy of the Holy Spirit amongst us during the sacrament of Communion.  In order for our group to participate, bottled grape juice, a box of crackers and small plastic cups had to be purchased by the church.  This probably cost the church at least a Haitian cane cutters wage for one day!  I hadn't even thought of this until an eighteen year old boy from New York commented on how much this must have cost the church.  This so touched me that I started to cry.  I did so again, when I remembered this event, during the communion service at our church when I first returned home in March.  For  I was part of a group of total strangers to these Haitian people and they went out of their way for us.  True Christian love and hospitality in action just as it is written in 1Peter 4:8-11.

          In conclusion, there are many reasons why I return to the Dominican Republic- to make me feel good about myself  by helping others less fortunate,  to meet old friends, to share the intense faith and hope that these people have in the Lord and to remind me about all the blessings that God bestows on me each and every day. Thank you for the  memories, the prayers and the support that you have given me.

          Dieu vous benise! (God bless you)         

Laura Savery                  

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La Romana Journal

John Andrews

  3/6/99, 2 p.m., JFK - Plane is four hours late

            What do you do when you've gotten up early and rolled up your sleeves, ready to do God's work in the world, and the bus is late?

 You wait.

            What do you do when you've gone the first leg of your journey, prepared for the next one, your eyes and thoughts and heart focused on the distant goal, and a piece of equipment is missing (the plane)?

  You wait.

            What else can you do when you think you're ready for God, but God isn't ready for you - or at least not for your intentionality, however high-minded, heartfelt or noble? How do we deal with the hours that seem so empty and so long?

            Well, what are the options? One can try to fill up those hours with distractions - Styrofoam peanuts like television, the insubstantial "seriousness" of newspapers like Karmelcorn, or some form of busy-ness. We can stuff our intentionality into every available instant, accumulating tasks, errands, paperwork like packrats. We can stuff ourselves with food, stimulation or others with conversation, chitchat, or the world with our intentions.

            Or, we can wait upon God and God's good time, like Milton when his blindness stopped his intentionality in its tracks: they also serve who only stand and wait. And in their waiting, listen for God's whisper.

  Sunday, 3/7 - 1 AM, La Romana

            Impressions - bus trip to La Romana along the coast road:

            Smells - smoke all the way, like a campground, but the fires burn other fuels, even trash. Then there is the smell of the sugar cane refinery, like cooking molasses.

            The road - high speed with a drop off to an unpaved, narrow shoulder, with buildings right up to the edge of the shoulder. Mopeds everywhere.

            Many roadside cafes, some with a single bulb, others brightly lit. Luxurious resorts interspersed with 1 story cement blockhouses, some affluent, but many more with a room or two. Mopeds ubiquitous. Windows and doors all barred and grated.

 

            Moon, waning gibbous, over the sea. Brilliant stars above the scattered palms; few streetlights.

 

            We are quartered in a 20' by 40' ground floor room - concrete. No electricity tonight. Unglazed windows covered with slatted metal louvers. Solid hospital beds, but mattresses mismatched with frames - firm, with clean linens. Toilet is across the courtyard - reeks (later we discover a few more, cleaner bathrooms upstairs).

 

            Women are housed separately, around the block. We're waiting for luggage, which will arrive with the Massachusetts group in the back of a pickup truck.

 

            Sleep - brief. Luggage arrives. Sleep.

 

  3/7 - Sunday morning

 

            A church bell, high and clear, cuts through the earplugs. The barracks rouses, John turns over miserably. Stirring. Then: "Guys, it's only 6:45 - breakfast is at 8 - we have another hour of sleep!"

 

            Dozing. Mopeds - or maybe at first just the same one again and again, buzzes by the door like an insistent horsefly. Then there are two, then more, in rapidly succeeding generations until the population seems to exceed the environment's carrying capacity. Alright, already - time for breakfast.

 

            But first, there are some logistics to be addressed. What goes in which bag, at what cost in carrying weight? Brushing teeth from the water bottle, where to spit? Remember - T.P. goes in the wastebasket, lest it clog the plumbing. Paul is grossed out.

 

            I may not be able to keep up chronologically from this point - and it is especially hard to integrate the powerful experience of the morning service - but I have to try.

 

  3/7 - Sunday morning, 10:30 am, service begins in Creole

 

            A large, open space, whitewashed and bright with the morning sun. We are seated in the balcony. It is communion Sunday.

 

            As the service begins, I am aware that at the same moment on another island, a service is beginning now, possibly with the same words, in a different language - "The Lord is in His holy temple, let all the world keep silence before Him."

 

            I am a link here, in this room; I am a wire, the cord, that connects the energies, the potential, of two places of the spirit, and placing my fingertips together, a charge passes from one hand to the other, one set of God's faces to another and back again.

 

            There is a voice that speaks, and I hear the words in my language too. There are familiar figures in strangely familiar places, and though the color of the skin is different, and the language, there is a Fred Brome playing bass guitar, and there a Norm Newberry with the eyes of his choir shining out through very black faces; there are ushers and deacons - a man with Chet Caswell's years and gentle radiance offers me the communion bread. With my eyes closed, the faces of Jamestown, of CBC - God's faces there - become present and blended with the Creole words and music, in the hymns whose words I don't quite catch, but whose harmonies I can pass into as into the next room in God's house.

 

            Psalm 61. Another hymn. Then the New Testament lesson, and quickly the words become clear to me: "Si Dieu est pour nous, who can be against us?  For I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor powers, neither height nor depth nor any other creature can separate us from the love of God..."

 

            And Rilke's perception comes again - God needs us, it is we who bring God into being with our love of every distinct piece of the world, for in out love and our looking, we see her, see him, in every eye, in every leaf and raindrop. As he puts it:

            All becoming has needed me.

            My looking ripens things,

            and they come toward me, to meet and be met.

 

            Julie and I have had a friendly disagreement about the correct words of the next hymn, "Beautiful Savior" or "Fairest Lord Jesus", depending on whom you believe. This choir settles it decisively - it is in Creole.

 

            And the Spirit descends, and we hear God's voices, even if the words are spoken in another language, we can understand in our own, see God peeking out through another's eyes, and hear him whisper in another's song.

 

  3/7 - Batey Esperanza, afternoon

 

            The dirt road runs straight northwest for about two miles off the highway ten minutes east from La Romana. The orange sand smokes lightly behind the bus tires, and on either side the sugar cane opens green fronds to a height of about five feet - a little more than half grown in these fields now.

  Dirt roads and tracks branch off here and there into the fields; the bus blares at each intersection, but  does not slow.

 

            Then there is a turn, and a couple of hundred yards beyond, the shacks appear. Weather-beaten wood, once painted green. Corrugated tin roofs, at best, many sheets bent, twisted, rusty. A sleeping pig, a chicken; in the doorways of the tiny huts the faces stare, the older with resignation, perhaps, or sometimes a slight smile; the young adults more often with indifference or even hostility; and the children  Children are everywhere: the teenagers more distant; the younger ones eager, curious.

  But we, uncertain, huddle at first by the buses, confused about how to connect with these people across a dizzying abyss of wealth and poverty, a poverty - and a wealth - that spreads its hidden roots far underground into the humid darkness behind our seeing, below our capacity to envision the possible.

 

            We are here in part to find a building built by Rhode Islanders on a previous work trip - to reestablish a connection that exists in our minds, but probably no longer for the people here. Who knows which building it is, we ask? Perhaps it is this one, we are told, or perhaps it is that one. Might it be the church?

 

            The church is an oven of corrugated tin, perhaps 20' x 40'. There are no windows, and a single bare bulb hangs from the ceiling to light the worship, the strings of plastic pennants crisscross above the bare wooden benches. There is a woman with two gold teeth - she looks about fifty but in this place that means she might be thirty. She invites us in to show us the place where God lives for her. God is in his holy temple God is even here in the midst of this hellish place; in the warmth of this woman's eyes and heart this is a sacred place - here she has brought God to life by her love.

  But the church was not the building the Rhode Islanders built. Perhaps it was the school - a box of unpainted plywood, a few desks and a blackboard, no more. Yes, perhaps, and perhaps it matters little. Esperanza - Hope. A cruel joke perhaps, or perhaps it is a guttering flame that is the last possession of people as desperately poor as these.

 

  3/7 - The beach, in the rain

 

            Here beside the hulk of a new condo complex-to-be there is a rough beach access. Palms, turquoise sea. And rain, a tickling, irritating shower that doesn't move from over our heads.

  For those in the water, the rain is a reason to stay in. For those that aren't, it is a source of irritation at those who are.

            At eye level, the drops make tiny fountains as they hit the water.

            The bus roof leaks over my seat for forty-five minutes back to La Romana.

 

  3/7 - Night

 

            The Spanish service is a merengue blast with an impossibly loud PA and a pair of Bible-thumping, rabble-rousing women in the lead. I am deafened, and am relieved to retreat to the (only relative) quiet in the dorm next door and earplugs. Paul and I call home, and learn that a friend may have a cardiac emergency. Several times through the night, I wake and think and pray for his heart.

 

            Paul is having a good time. His enthusiasm comes through in his call home. There are enough other

  teens here for him to feel very welcomed. He is beginning to feel his independence here, and that's fine with me, I welcome it. I have concerns about sunburn and heatstroke, but he is a strong kid and a sensible one (mostly).

 

3/8 - Monday

 

           I teach/sing our round after breakfast at 7 AM. There will likely be a repeat performance.

 

           We have different tasks today. Paul wants to work on construction all week, while I have volunteered to work with the medical teams, for at least one day - more if they want me. David has agreed to keep an eye on Paul for heatstroke.

 

           First step for us is the hospital, where medical supplies need to be sorted and packed for the day. It is a huge beginning on a hill behind the town - 75' by 200' in plan for the current phase, with the first of three stories completed. A clinic and pharmacy are operational already. But apparently, construction has been suspended for the moment on the hospital itself. There is too much work to be done replacing the churches in the bateys. These buildings serve in multiple roles - as community centers, clinical sites, churches, and sometimes as schools. Jean-Luc has an interesting idea here also - all the new churches will be made out of reinforced concrete, with rebar linking the walls and roof. This will make them hurricane-proof - so that they can serve as storm shelters.

 

           After we load supplies and do basic training ion blood pressure, we head out in two buses for two neighboring bateys - Kathleen and Tammy will assist one team, and I on the other. My team's destination is Los Estantos, about an hour's drive away. Highway first for about a third of the way, then mile after mile of straight dirt roads through the cane fields.

 

           The batey is not as miserable as Esperanza - the houses have clearly been rebuilt with fresh lumber since the hurricane, and the destitution is not quite so intense. Nonetheless, poverty, malnutrition, isolation and ringworm are prominent.

 

           Our clinic is the back half of the church where the tin roof is still more or less intact, though the block walls buckle outwards. The far end of the church is ruined from about four feet above the ground up. It's fortunate for us that we have a little roof, since it starts to rain as soon as we set up shop.

 

           There are three "doctors" here - the team leader is Dr. Bill from Massachusetts; "Dr." Sarah, likewise, is a physician's assistant back home; and we have a local Haitian doctor or advanced medical student, Dr. Ibel - a very slight young man with a broad smile and apparently, good medical training (so say our docs). I am surprised to learn later in the day that his grandmother still lives in the neighboring batey where the other team is working.

 

           In addition to these three, there is Dr. Kate, an oral surgeon from Auburn, Mass. - originally British, a volunteer to assist here, a couple of nurses to staff the pharmacy, along with one or two teen volunteers, Anatoly and I are on blood pressures, and Pastor Nancy is on crowd control and general gopher. There are several translators, including Lorenzo, a large, solid man who lived in Miami for eight years, and Moises, a good-humored young man on Jean-Luc's staff who is our liaison to the bus driver and to the local pastor, who receives the 15-peso clinic fee from each patient (about $1.00), and dispenses tickets. A young boy writes the name of each patient, their age and complaint, on a card record, working with the pastor to triage patients to medical (via the blood pressure honchos) or dental.

 

           The dental side is scary - an array of torture instruments, with a simple sterilizer bath and spray for cleanup. There are no fillings - just extractions. During a break, I watch Dr. Kate in action - she is quick and deft. With one man, she removes eight teeth inside of half an hour. Ouch.

 

           Blood pressures are a bit daunting - it is hard to hear with a defective stethoscope, a circular saw outside, and the crowds. It is a bit more by feel than by ear, and my systolic readings are probably on the high side. I do see a couple of readings at about 200 - apparently hypertension is a frequent issue here.

 

           Teeth are apparently not bad for kids, and the bone and periodontal areas are generally in good shape (making extractions necessarily more vigorous when decay does eventually set in.) Apparently if the kids chew on the sugar cane, it may act more as a toothbrush than as a source of decay, but eating the cane can get one in trouble, we are told. Nonetheless, it seems to happen pretty often.

 

           The prevalent presenting conditions today are headache, stomach ache and cough, with a few other issues thrown in. One mother of five days is still bleeding, and worried. One baby's right eye is swollen shut and oozing with infection. Our last task of the day is to dose as many people as possible - perhaps a hundred or so, especially the kids - with a medication for ringworm, an intestinal parasite that comes through bare feet.

 

           There is a mixture of names and languages here - both French Creole and Spanish. I try to figure out which is which, and offer a "Bonjour" or "Buenos Dias" as best I can - but I'm probably batting about 60%. Gesture seems to work mostly.

 

           The kids - kids are everywhere, it seems - around us at every window and in the doorway, staring intently, ready with a smile in the preschool and grade school ages, more often seriously curious in the infants and toddlers. There are kids angling for handouts, kids angling to have their picture taken, kids angling even for a second dose of the ringworm medication, against whom we must be especially vigilant.

 

           Even with our extra ventilation it is hot here, and the ring of faces around us makes it difficult to step back or away from the work. We eventually break for lunch, and I manage some pictures and a short walk as the demand for BPs slackens. There is a cane loader at the end of the dirt road, where the oxcarts empty their loads of sugar cane into railroad cars bound for the refinery.  Near the loader is a trough for the animals, and a tank where the batey gets its water and washes its babies.

 

           On the way home from the batey, Lorenzo talks a little about the cane workers in reply to our questions. The cutting season runs from December to July, and then there is little or no work until December. During the season, a cane worker with reasonable diligence can earn between $20 - $25 per week, depending on how much he cuts. Illiteracy among the Haitians not infrequently allows the foreman to undercount the weight of the cane, thus cheating the worker out of some of his pay.

 

           The diet apparently is "rice and beans, when I can get it," as a patient of one of the doctors says, perhaps with a chicken for special occasions. Some of the patients are referred for follow-up care to the hospital - though getting there has to be a challenge.

 

           There is no immunization program here at all. The logistics of record-keeping are simply too daunting at the moment. Yet perhaps the relative isolation of the villages is their best defense against epidemics.

 

 3/8 - Night in La Romana

 

           Diesel fumes are everywhere, streetlights are rare, the sidewalks are treacherous and the streets murderous with the traffic. Stop signs here are addressed more with horn than brakes, and the pedestrians are an endangered species.

          

           Many stores have security guards outside after dark with a pump-action shotgun across their knees. I remember the inscription at the police station: "Ley y Orden". Hm.

 

 3/9 - Batey Magdalena: Construction

 

           We are pouring concrete columns today for the church in Magdalena - the first batey church Jean-Luc built, apparently. This batey is not too far from our batey of yesterday, Los Estantos, but is larger (200+ houses) and built of cement block rather than wood.

 

           Our work is mostly in gangs - a rebar train to restack rebar outside the church, bucket brigades to pour concrete, and a gang of cement block passers unloading and stacking blocks from the back of a truck. Tammy and I agree that hiding out in the latrine would be more appealing than the latter task, but forego the thought. She has made friends with lots of kids during the day, but Fredo is her special charge. He takes her to his home across the street - a tiny house of block with his nine siblings and father - it's not clear at the outset what has become of mom, but we understand later that she died about three months ago.  Particularly affecting is that the children sleep on the concrete floor - no beds.

 

           There is a lot of kid control to be done - concerns about stealing, harassment of the Americans, and worksite dangers make for sternness in keeping kids outside the worksite perimeter. They invade some anyway, and one boy is beaten with a small stick as we watch. It isn't pretty.

 

           There is also a difficulty for us in having Haitian coworkers who aren't given lunches as we are. We don't feel comfortable about that, and try to find ways around it. Tammy even approaches one worker with the intention of sneaking him a sandwich. She practically tackles the guy to get him to accept a sandwich from her. I tell her later it's Jean-Luc, the guy who makes the rules. She is unfazed - and describes handing out sandwiches the day before as resulting "in only a small riot".

 

           I decide to show these kids the pictures from Mary's classroom at Rocky Hill. There is much interest in a little girl with Asian features, and careful study of the world map - it's scary to realize that the batey schools are so ill-equipped that a sixth or seventh grader may never have seen a world map. Child after child looked at each picture - some wanted to buy them from me - a message in a bottle, perhaps, or maybe something of the sort. In my avid conversation with these kids, I nearly missed the bus home.

 

           Getting the cement out of our clothes and off our bodies without enough showers is a problem. It's also in my hair - yuck!

 

           Evening: a walk with Kathleen as David and Tammy are off to a Rotary or Lions meeting at Casa de Campo.

 

 3/10 - Cacata Batey

 

           We thought we would be going back to Magdalena today, but were sent to another church in a different batey, Cacata. There, the first job was to pull down the roof framing (and watching the  4-inch spiders scurry away). Then came forms and the pouring. It is a largely overcast day, which is pleasant, but eventually rainy - and all are soaked at day's end.  I am struck again at the sight of children, roughly a third to a half, who don't have shoes and run barefoot through the rubbish-strewn streets and yards.

          

           I take some time with the kids today, and soon have a gang of 8-10 boys counting with me in Spanish, French and English. Eventually we move on to Mary's pictures, and again the children are riveted. One boy offers me a gift - a picture of a leotard-clad model advertising Lycra. I pretend to be slightly scandalized, and the kids love my grimaces.

          

           Today I have also made arrangements for a couple of Jamestowners to visit a school with a donation of supplies from the Rocky Hill money. Elza Phanord, the pastor's wife, will arrange our visit to Alta Gracia tomorrow morning.

          

           Also, on the way home, I hear from a return visitor that the housing on the bateys is for the workers - therefore if a woman loses her man, she also loses her right to live in the house. Because women are an economic drain on the family, and because compulsory education ends before high school, once a girl finishes the eighth grade she must generally find a man to take her in, unless through some miracle her parents have the money to send her on to high school, and if she has the ability to pass the necessary exams. This, of course, increases the birth rate something fierce. One of the reasons the hospital wants the surgical suite in place is to be able to do tubal ligations.

          

           The hospital will be offering a number of services at cut rates, and supplying necessary follow-up medications, etc. This is not true of the public hospitals, where patients must bring their own meds, apparently.

 

           In the evening, a couple of trips to the Codetel for a phone line home and an email connection to Rocky Hill, the latter without success.

 

3/11 - Batey Alta Gracia

 

            Thanks to Elza Phanord, we are to go to Batey Alta Gracia this morning. We are  supposed to leave at 10, and finally leave at 11, with a suitcase full of donated school  supplies and the promise of $600 more from remaining Rocky Hill funds for uniforms and  books.

 

            The batey is 45 minutes away to the north, towards the mountains. The roads are  worse than those to the east where we have been working. We pass through three or four  other bateys along the way, and mile upon mile of cane fields stretching out as far as the eye  can see, like Iowa cornfields. The cane itself is rather like (perhaps is) an outsized grass  plant, about 8-10 feet high at harvest. The long, thin, rush-like leaves branch upward from  the top of the stem, which is about 5-6 feet tall. The stem or cane is the useful part of the  plant - to make use of it the fronds are cut away, then the stem can be peeled and chewed.  The core is tough and fibrous, about an inch or a bit more in diameter, but juicy and very  sweet.

 

            Alta Gracia is a small batey, and most of the buildings are of new lumber, indicating  heavy damage in the hurricane. School is not in session when we arrive - the teacher's  moped is broken, so he cannot come, and there is no substitute. There is, in fact, no school  building at the moment (another casualty of Georges), so classes are being held in the back  room of the church. It is a space roughly 20' x 40', cement block, and very dark, as there are only gratings, no windows, and no artificial light. The school serves about 45 students in two or three sessions (timing is not clear - morning and afternoon sessions, I think). There are spaces for 30 students at two per bench. Other equipment consists of a blackboard dragged in from somewhere, a small table (stacked with Parmalat from the government's school milk program - one cupful every other day), one or two dog-eared workbooks, and nothing else. If the teacher brings other materials, they were not evident.

 

            Tammy, David and I make this trip, along with Elza Phanord, a student teacher named Estella, and two other ladies from the church who are to assess the uniform situation. Our driver is an entertaining English speaker named "Cookie".

 

            The children swarm into the schoolroom to take their places when our purpose becomes evident. These children seem a bit dazed to see us - they don't beg much, unlike children at the other bateys we have seen. Perhaps it is Estella and Elza's presence, or perhaps it is the school itself, but there is generally rapt attention here.

 

            We are all a bit uncertain how to begin, but Estella takes charge. First she prays with them, then asks whether students have questions for us. No, though one front-row child volunteers proudly that they have two books in his home. Do they sing in school, I ask.

  Well, yes, in fact. So they sing a song for us, and then we open our suitcase, passing out pencils, crayons, soaps, and about 3-4 sheets of paper per child. This is a real bounty.

 

            Next, Estella identifies students at each of the three levels in the school, so as to ensure getting the right number of books for each (using the Rocky Hill funds).

           

            We show them the pictures of Mary's class - the pictures will remain in Alta Gracia in the school as a mark of gratitude. In connection with these pictures I ask Elza if any of these children could have seen a world map before - she thinks it unlikely, even for the older students (up to 8th grade). Then the letters from Rocky Hill are passed around - they will stay here too. These children are then given the task of writing responses - and within half an hour or so, there is a sheaf of papers in our hands, one of the 3-4 sheets we gave them comes back with us.

 

            Next, I read them a picture book in Spanish, stumbling a bit, but o.k. Then there are a closing song and a prayer, and finally we hand out Parmalat to the children. We leave them the pencils, crayons and paper, but Elza will need to give the other materials to the teacher for use, so she takes them back for now.

 

            Someone fetches sugar cane for us to try as a return gift, and then we are on our way, arriving in La Romana at about 2:30. Along the way, I ask Elza about work in the off-season in the bateys - I mention the article I saw about micro-businesses in similar communities - such as the cell phone women in Bangladesh (funded through a microcredit loan from the Grameen Bank). I think she is interested in the idea. She mentions wanting to start a milk program for the preschool children, whom the government program does not cover.

 

            At 3, the three of us set out with Cookie (at our own expense) to Magdalena, on Tammy's secret mission to her beloved Fredo and his family. We are nearly spotted by the construction and medical teams, both of which are just leaving when we arrive. By going around the system we are sort of breaking the rules, but that does not stop Tammy. Fredo is about 8 I suppose, with big, serious eyes, nine siblings (he is somewhere in the middle), a dad, and no mother (she apparently died about three months ago). They live in a cement block house - three bedrooms about 8' square, a combined living room/dining room of about 10' x 16', a small cooking area with four gas ring burners, no oven or refrigeration, and a latrine out back, the contents of which flow through a short pipe into an open trench in the back yard.

 

            I think Fredo's father is perplexed by our intentions. Eduardos is a big, sturdy man, apparently a decent person, grateful yet dignified in his gratitude and his wonder at the American whirlwind in his home. Nonetheless, he accepts assistance - Tammy has brought a couple of sheets to cover the concrete floor where the children sleep, and shoes and socks for three or four of the children. Tammy swaps her own shoes for those she was going to give Fredo's sister Nina, but which are a bit tight. Eduardos works on the sugar train as a loader, would love to move into the city, but wouldn't be able to find an apartment there for all his children.

 

  3/11 - Evening: La Romana

 

            Jean-Luc tells the story of his vocation, of his imprisonment and exile by the Tontons Macoutes, and the challenges of his ministry and faith. It is an extraordinary account, a fascinating witness from a man of unusual vision and dedication. The same poise is there in Elza, and in their daughter Joanna, whom I meet today.

 

            I need to email Mary from the Codetel, then return for a bit of merengue music by the Maranatha band - it's wonderful stuff.

 

            One or two gems on stewardship from Jean-Luc's talk:

  :                      "All the money in the world belongs to the Lord - it's just in the wrong hands."

                       "As a member, we give you three pledge envelopes each year, and you're

                        responsible for all three. The first is for you, the second is for your best friend,

                                 and the third is for your worst enemy."

                       "All church members must give, as all clinic patients must pay - nobody gets a free

                                  ride."

 

  3/12 - Magdalena

 

            Today begins with the Andrews round again, rounding out the week, as it were. The reading is Ezekiel's dry bones, which seems to apply both here and at home.

 

            Our task today is to frame the supports for pouring a concrete roof at the church in Magdalena. We get underway with the typical delays, and arrive by about 10.

 

            Tammy looks for Fredo, of course, and he appears - barefoot. I can tell that that's upsetting, but a visit to Fredo's house reveals that the shoes are drying from a thorough cleaning, courtesy of sister Nina. Phew - not sold or stolen!

 

            In the afternoon, Paul begins to get upset because he has "no work to do". I think he senses closure and hates the thought. I ask him to help tile the bathroom at home next week, and that eases things somewhat. He has had a great time. No drawings yet, but what the hey - we have pictures, and we will have important memories.

 

            We work today with Jean-Luc in charge of framing. It is good to feel a little closer to this unusual and charismatic man. Clearly he is a strong leader, but equally clearly, a dedicated and compassionate one. He has been on the construction site every day this week, working alongside the rest, keeping an eye on things and nudging, guiding here and there as needed. There is little he misses.

 

            I have a longish conversation in French with the pastor in Magdalena, a young man recently from Haiti, Pastor Wisley Dennis. He is a warm, engaging man - and joins us in our group picture at the end of the day. He will look out for Fredo and family. He shows me pictures of his 12 year old daughter and 8 year old twins.

 

            We finish up about 4 p.m. - then go back to La Romana to pick up bathing suits and dinner, and to separate from the Massachusetts group. We are going to the beach, then fly out tomorrow - they are going to the Club Dominicus resort for two nights, departing Sunday. I can't imagine wanting to go straight from Magdalena to a posh resort - the thought strikes me somehow as vulgar, or something.

 

            Even going to the beach seems touristy, suddenly. I don't think any of us is really eager to leave. It is not common to feel so strong a sense of purpose over so focused a period of time. Watching the sun go down helps, in a way - like our finishing work, it happens suddenly, almost without our noticing that it has happened. But then the first star appears over the water, and soon the North Star will guide us home.

 

            Not before another bit of mischief, however. Dave didn't go to the beach - instead, he wanted to get Cookie to take him out to the batey to poach a bit more sugar cane. He's hooked. Cookie's price wasn't especially wonderful, however. As Dave considered his options, Cookie came up with another proposal. Apparently he has a buddy who works as a crossing guard on the railway, and apparently also, one of tonight's trains was mysteriously short about a dozen canes (about eight times what Dave wanted, but who's counting?) We'll all try to sneak some back through U.S. Customs, I expect - and maybe we'll be lucky.

 

            I can't really wrap this all up tonight - closure will come both quickly and slowly as the experiences of this remarkable week begin to sink in. I can say for certain that it is a wonderful way to spend a vacation - I hope we may be able to do something like this again before too long.

 

            Oh, I nearly forgot - the Haitians on the bus with us, our friends, singing all the way back from the beach - "A laborer, a laborer du Bon Seigneur," etc. -

           

            Amen to that.

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Reflections on going to La Romana

By Cyndi McNamara

 

A little background: I grew up attending First Baptist in Abington and I remember when it was time to celebrate our 100th Anniversary. The decision to do a hands-on mission project was to be a one time event.  I was pregnant with my 4th child so couldn’t go on that first trip.

TetoOver the next 18 years for one reason or another I never went to La Romana; finally in 2005 I made my first trip. I met some of the most wonderful people like our translators John, Emilio, Jr, Tedo, the bus driver Salvador and the so many more local Haitians plus Americans who had come to help. I knew I wanted to return the next year.

The knowledge that a difference was being mJrade in the lives of people to the Glory of God was something I wanted to be part of again. So in 2006 I returned and this time I stayed for 2 weeks. I had the unique pleasure of sleeping in a private room downstairs. My friendships with our Hosts the local Haitian people from the Maranatha church deepened. IGroup1now have a Dominican son, Wilkins; did laundry with Olear; tried to learn Creole from Jean Baptiste and Jasmine and so much more.

I went to new Batey’s up in the mountains, one the main road and back to some from last year. I had so many new experiences and I pray that it is God’s plan that I return in 2007.      

Here it is over 20 years since that first trip and we are still making annual trips to La Romana. ChristKitchenCrewians from all over the US from Maine to California to Florida and in between are now part of this Mission work. We have Amigo’s (friends) some of who were infants when our relationship began. The general health in the Batey’s has improved, a hospital building is now in operation where once there was a dump, there is a women’s dormitory at Casa de Pastoral. The men’s dormitory currently located beside the Maranatha Church hopefully will be over the Dining Hall in the near future.      

I feel like I have so much to learn about life for a Haitian in the Dominican Republic. It seems to me that the most difficult must be for those who have been brought to the Dominican from Haiti and find themselves living in a Batey, required to cut sugarWashClothescane all day and get paid $2 a ton? The company provided housing has no electricity or running water but I have been told that life in a Batey is better than life in Haiti. Children born to these people aren’t usually legal citizens of either the Dominican Republic or Haiti which means they are citizens of nowhere! From what I have been told these children are considered Dominican Haitians and if they move to the city (like La Romana) they can manage to get citizenship. Immigrants from Haiti are considered pure Haitians and are hated by pure Dominicans. Their quest for citizenship is expensive and lengthy. This is a problem that is bigger than life and something we all need to pray for God’s will to prevail. My personal thought is that we can best help our amigos by helping them help themselves. We can’t solve their social issues we can only support them in their attempts to help themselves.      

I think that it’s important for American’s to continue to go to assist the local people in the building of the hospital; however I think we need to work at involving them more in the process. We can build our relationship when we go by attending their church services; buying from Obadiah, (he paints and has local items for sale) and from Eric (a local artist); getting our hair braids from the local girls right there at Casa de Pastoral. There are many weeks during the year when there no one is staying at Casa de Pastoral so our friends need to earn as much as they can when we are there.      

There are needs all over the world and each person has to determine where God wants them to help. Personally I feel that helping in a small corner of the world I am really able to make a noticeable difference by being the hands and feet of Jesus. Please pray and see if God wants you to come to La Romana and you can come and have an experience for yourself. I am sure you will be rewarded by God.

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God’s Pesos

 

Out under the pulsing sun,

In the shimmering green of the endless cane fields,

A yellow bus raises a cloud of dust

As it bumps along a dirt path

And comes to a stop, spilling its cargo.

Soon the procession begins,

And outstretched hands will open

To receive and to give.

What is offered is medicine, food,

A pair of glasses, a toothbrush,

Or (glory, glory!) even a precious silver tube of lipstick--

All paid for with the currency of gratitude.

Eyes meet,

And sometimes hearts.

There is healing here,

And some little golden thing called hope.

Out in the road

Children run, squeal, leap,

Joy circling their heads like light--

Their smiles too bright for mere mortals to see,

(Like looking at God’s face.)

At the edge of the village

A lone figure leans on a fence post,

Watching this miracle.

A child of three chases a stray ball,

Hugs it to his chest,

And looks up with a wondrous grin.

At the man by the fence.

He laughs, then raises his hand,

Waves toward the child

As if in bright and holy blessing.

Perhaps it is Christ who passes here,

Watching his beautiful children,

Gathering their smiles as his most precious treasures,

Pesos in the pockets of God.

 

--Tim Haut, July, 2009

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Mary Bliss history

From the Ground Up:

The Evolution of a Hospital in the Third World

 

  Medicine and Health / Rhode Island   Mary J. Bliss  Vol 82 No. 4 ApriI 1999

                                                                  

       With 160,000 people, La Romana, a tourist-oriented city in the Dominican Republic, boasts the largest sugar cane company in the world. However, a poverty-stricken population of sugar cane workers receives little or no health care.   Some key people in the local community and multiple volunteer American medical and construction workers have together spearheaded the creation of the Good Samaritan General Hospital in La Romana.

            Reverend Jean Luc Phanord, a leader of the local Haitian community was the hospital's founder: he recognized that the most extremely impoverished, who are primarily Haitian immigrants, could not afford services at the other hospitals in La Romana; hence, they were not receiving treatment.

            Reverend Phanord initially raised money to buy an eight acre plot of undeveloped land in a run-down area adjacent to the city.  The building of the hospital began in 1989. It has been funded and constructed entirely by American volunteers, and with every visiting American construction team the hospital has grown. Institutions such as Rhode Island Hospital and the

  Lahey and Mayo Clinics have donated and shipped all equipment and supplies. At this point the first floor of the hospital has been completed. The ambulatory clinic officially opened on November 9th, 1997.

Editor’s Note  -  Pastor Jean Luc Phanord was killed in the tragic crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in Queens NY on November 12, 2001.

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THE BATEYS

            "Bateys" are the small villages where the sugar cane workers and their families live on a subsistence level. Men are recruited from Haiti to come work in the cane fields, since the cost of manual labor is less than that of machinery. (About 90% of the twenty-five thousand people living in the bateys are Haitian. ) The immigrants, almost all of whom are illegal, arrive with their  families and sign on to a life of brutally hard labor. They live in tiny, filthy, make-shift shacks  without electricity or running water. The communal latrines are shallow trenches, often located  next to the primary water supply. Most of the inhabitants do not have access to medical care.  There are over one hundred bateys in the La Romana area alone, each one having between  500 - 1500 residents.

            The GSGH was created with this population in mind.  One service provided by GSGH is  a mobile clinic that travels to these rural areas several times per week. A fundamental source of  the health care comes from volunteer American medical workers. Medical teams from RI have been involved with the project since 1992. A team of 40-50 medical and construction volunteers from RI travels annually to La Romana and works for up to two weeks.

            My first trip to the bateys was with Reverend Phanord's wife Elza, a public health worker,in 1996. We drove for about an hour and a half along bumpy dirt roads in an old family jeepearly one morning to visit two of the villages.

                Outside of the city are endless rolling fields of blue-green sugarcane that shimmer against the expansive, deep blue sky. We passed many weathered-looking people along the way, with most of the women balancing impossibly huge packages on their heads. We also passed several garbage dumps where starving horses and pigs foraged for food.

            The first batey we stopped at was called "Lima." As we drove up we heard a swelling chant of "Americana, Americana!" which referred to me in the back seat. When I stepped out of the jeep I was instantly surrounded by children. They were pointing at me and laughing and all wanted to touch my white skin, which would make them shriek and laugh even harder. A few reached up to touch my red hair, which made them squeal with disbelief. Any attempt on  my part to speak Spanish was relentlessly mocked and then mim-icked in a silly voice. Every child wanted to hold my hand, so when I walked anywhere I had a different child attached to all ten fingers! Some of the children surprisingly had blondish-reddish hair, similar to the Aborigines in Australia. (This is a sign of severe anemia.) Most of the children were barefoot and wore only the remnants of donated American clothes.

            The GSGH oversees the monitoring of the growth rate of the babies and toddlers to determine who is malnourished. Each month the babies get weighed. We placed them in a little sack and put them up on a scale on the wall. None of the toddlers weighed over 17 Kg. Most weighed under 10. Many had distended bellies signifying nutri-tional deficiencies.

            "Batey 203" seemed even worse off than Lima. One half-naked little girl was sitting on a tiny chair in the middle of a footpath, holding a loudly crying baby. The girl could not have been more than three or four herself. An emaciated woman emerged from a tiny hut and brusquely pulled the baby out of the girl's thin arms and brought the still crying infant over to us. I held her for a few minutes and by what must have been pure coincidence she stopped crying. She felt as though all she wanted was some warmth and security. Her little nose was running and I detected a rasp in her tiny chest when I patted her back. The delicate little creature turned out to be six months old .  I have seen bigger two month-old infants.

            Various medical teams from the U.S. volunteer their services to the GSGH and the bateys throughout the year. When the medical teams visit, an average of 150 - 200 people are seen  each day. A large batey will have approximately 350 children (age 0-18) while a smaller one will have on average 170. The most common complaint for children and adults is stomach pain, which is generally due to parasites, gastritis, or simply hunger. Many of the women, especially of childbearing age, are severely anemic, with hemoglobins of 6-10 Hg range. Diabetes is also common, with subsequent visual deficits. Most of the children are underweight and lethargic,often due to not consuming enough calories.

 

  THE HOSPITAL

  In January 1998, the GSGH hired one local Haitian doctor to work in the clinic half time, six  days a week. On average 25 -  30 people are treated each day. Like the population in the bateys, the most common complaints are of non-specific gastritis, anemia, and hypertension.

  The most generic consumables received by all patients treated are anti-inflamatories, antihypertensives, parasite medicine and vitamins.

            In addition to the resident physician, the current staff includes the Hospital Administrator, Chief Accountant, two secretaries, and one pharmacy worker. Local doctors and nurses are commissioned separately to work in the bateys. The projected salary for clinic physicians at the  hospital is approximately $4500 annually. The goal is for the hospital to pay these salaries and those of the doctors hired to work in the bateys with money earned in the ambulatory clinic.

  The cost of a general consult at the hospital is $3.20 (50 pesos) while in the bateys patients are charged between $0.19- $1  (3 - 15 pesos), depending on the relative poverty status of the batey.

            Presently the primary source of income is derived from medications donated from the U.S: the hospital sells them at a maximum of 1/3 of the current rate found at any of the local pharmacies. For example, if a 50 pill bottle of aspirin is donated, 30 pills are marked for the bateys while the remaining 20 are sold at the hospital pharmacy. This system has been able to  almost meet the costs of running the clinic, although the GSGH continues to rely on American donations.

 

  1999 BUDGET

  In 1999 it is projected that between the visiting American groups and the local doctors at the hospital, 2635 patients will be seen in the hospital clinic and 38,751 in the bateys. An additional 234 patients will also be treated by American doctors outside of the hospital £,r surgical  procedures at a separate clinic. This gives a total of 41,620 patients treated in connection with  GSGH. The projected annual budget for 1999 totals $80,140  (1,242,176 pesos). The  projected income totals $93,048. However, this figure includes an expected 
$22,279 in U.S.  donations in addition to the volunteer medical help and donated supplies. Without these extra  funds the hospital would only expect to gross 
$70,769 - $9371 short of the projected income.

 

  FUTURE PLANS

  In 1999 GSGH plans to open its laboratory which is close to being fully equipped. Within the

  next two years the hospital hopes to add two surgical suites. There also are plans to add a  pediatrician, a cardiologist and a gynecologist as  well as a part time (weekly) ophthalmologist and dentist. Eventually the hospital hopes to grow into a Hill care facility with at least three additional floors for inpatient stays.

 

  CONCLUSION

            The sugar cane workers and the indigent of La Romana live under appalling conditions.

  The GSGH is the first hospital in the Dominican Republic designed with the primary goal of providing health care to the people in the bateys. It is unusual because it does not rely on government funding but is supported solely from American donations. Right now the hospital is in a critical growing stage. It wants to develop into a full care facility.  Once the hospital is fully  operational, it hopes to be financially independent, no longer tied to United States aid.

  The public hospitals in the Dominican Republic arc generally of poor quality, medically and administratively. Patients are expected to provide their own bedding, food, and often their own medicine. Hospital management information in developing countries is also difficult to obtain  due to a lack of standardized information systems. Results from a study on public hospitals in the Dominican Republic showed all surveyed to be grossly inefficient, chaotic, and poorly  managed. The authors found the budget of the Aybar Hospital in Santa Domingo to be over 50% higher than the actual service costs, demonstrating terrible waste and inefficiency.

            The GSGH is a small, modest institution, but as it grows it will have to eliminate some of the inefficiency common to other health institutions in the Dominican Republic.  The GSGH is an example of a community that has taken the initiative to provide its own non-governmental system of health care, to help a population that needs it the most. If the GSGH is a success, the knowledge gained from the growth process can be shared.

My decision to go to La Romana began two years ago after I heard Jonathan Mayo and Alfred Toussaint describe their experiences during a worship service. I thought to myself, "I'd really like to go", at that point I made a promise to myself that the next time they went down I would go with them. Two years had passed since I made that promise. The opportunity to fulfill that promise came in February of 1996 when Jonathan approached me about being a missionary in La Romana. I had a million excuses as to why I couldn't and shouldn't go. Many of those excuses seemed legitimate at the time, however I remembered the promise I made to myself before God- I could do nothing but say "yes, I will go." 

I went to La Romana with a belief that nothing I could see or hear or experience could shake me. After all, I was born in Jamaica, another so called "third world" country that was very similar to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. I said to myself, "I've seen hungry children, entire families living in cardboard houses with zinc roof tops. As a matter of fact some of my own family members still live in those conditions." What I witnessed in the Bateyes blew away all my preconceived notions and barriers. Men working in the sugar cane fields amidst snakes, rats, and other disease infested vermin. Teenage girls who's only recourse to find shelter was to become pregnant by some man so she may be taken in as his common law wife. Looking at wide eyed children who seemed to be the only ones at times that laughed and seemed "happy", yet all I could see was skin and bone because of the malnutrition. The children however did something more for me, than the adults. It was as if God held a mirror as big as everything I could see and said "LOOK AT YOURSELF!" In those moments with the children I did see myself, and I became utterly speechless before God. I could find nothing really differences between the children and myself. They looked like me, played like me, and was just as curious about things as I was at that age. I asked the Lord throughout the entire trip why me Lord? Why did my parents come to America? Why am I not amongst these children? Why didn't you take this boy or this girl? Why? The Lord answered me throughout the entire trip, "I've got work for you to do." This is something the Lord has told me before back in the States, however it was confirmed and made real in the Dominican Republic. I began to see my life as not just a series of coincidences and random acts of fate, but as a life that has been sustained by the grace of God. There was a time as small child I was deathly sick, ( I don't remember it because I was so young, I relied on my mother for this information) , as a teenager I put myself in life threatening situations, but "somehow" I was pulled through them- that somehow WAS God. My life was spared on many occasions not for my sake but for service God. I understood that better as we served the people in La Romana in the name of Jesus Christ. 

It really hit me that serving the Lord is a non joking matter. I've been spared death long enough to be redeemed. God owns my life, and there is so much joy in knowing that in owning me, he's got me. There was so much joy in being a part of and witnessing the gospel in action. Many of the Bateyes had church buildings, a place were believers in the Lord Jesus Christ could come together and worship. It was very clear to me that no matter how fancy the building we call "church", or how many people it can hold, the church is the mystical body of believers in Jesus Christ that is not bound by the physical world or limited by time. It was interesting to watch Deacon Kevin Pearson, identify with the Deacon at one of the Bateyes. We both watched as the local Deacon took a leadership in getting the people organized so that the cloth could be distributed decently and in order. It was additional confirmation that our service, our very lives are required by God.

 

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Reflections on the 1996 LaRomana Mission Tour

by Howie Gelles

 

                 In the mid-1960's, Paul Quinlan, S.J., wrote a song based upon esus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane that has the following refrain:

 

Father, bless this Work that I have begun.

Father, bless them that they may all be one,

just as I in You and Father You in me,

in the Love of God made one for all to see.

 

These words are at the very heart of those who are part of the LaRomana Mission Tour.  Once again, answering a call to go on the Mission tour, I presented myself as one who would carry the banner of Christ to help build a hospital, bring needed medicines and clothing, and perhaps even teach the people a thing or two about the "real" World.  It doesn't take long to discover that we "missionaries" are the ones that get "missioned".

 

Each tour group consists of about 40 or so people from various Church affiliations, many of whom  met for the first time.  In essence, we are strangers. The call to be "One in the Body" begins as soon as the group arrived at the airport.  Unloading and moving over a hundred pieces of 60 - 70 pound baggage is no small task.  We learn to work together.

Sunday morning Church services are held in the Batey.  For many,  this is the first time that they have come in contact with true poverty.The sight is depressing. Yet despite this, the people are very cheerful, they worship the Lord with numerous joyful hymns and listen intently during the readings and the lessons.  Although they have very little money, they do contribute to the cost of the church.  It is a clear reminder of the Widow's mite story (Mk 12:41-44).

After the service, the children of the Batey demonstrate one  constant of the universe:  Kids are kids are kids. They see a camera and all want you to take their picture.  You hear the children's familiar chorus of "hey you!", as they hope for a ball or a piece of candy. You are taken by the playfulness and cleverness of the children. Smiles and tears come to you as you see their innocence merging with the harsh reality of their life.

Once at the work site, the concept of "cheerful service" becomes areality.  We joke among ourselves that only "Fools" for the Lord wouldactually pay to work daily 6 to 8 hours in the hot brutal sun, shoveling sand and stones, pouring tons of concrete, moving cinder blocks, pulling wires and more. It is not unusual for a  person to get a warning from someone about over-working themselves, or the need to get out of the sun.

       We become our brother and sister's keeper.

 

A mid-week medical trip to the Batey is a real eye opener.  Gone are the "Sunday best" clothing.  Instead, one sees the barefooted children wearing underpants and perhaps a shirt,  some even less.  A close look reveals conditions of scabies, improper diets, infections, and more.  One sees young mothers struggling to care for their children without understanding many of the most common healthcare practices that we take for granted.  The few gifts of vitamins, antibiotics, formula, and clothing mean a great deal to these people.  They trust that we can cure their medical problems. But due to insufficient materials, we knew that we could not; and that just cut into our inner Souls.  It reminded us of how fortunate and blessed we are.

 

Work continues on the Clinic.  A new wall was poured that will become part of the new Chapel. It is of worthy note that Prayer is an active part of the medical practice within this community. Columns for the next floor are being poured, there is electric power inside the building,the terrazzo floor is nearing completion, and more. In short, the Clinic is nearly ready to open for limited services. This is a very exciting time.

The end of the week soon arrives, and with it a sense of accomplishment and sadness.  We are no longer strangers.  We have lived in a Christ-filled Community that brings within itself a sense of inner Peace and Fellowship that reaches far beyond our respective churches. We have been taken out of our comfort zones with hardly a notice. We have witnessed the Power of God move among His people. But now, it was time to return home, knowing that we would be back hopefully for a longer stay.

As we look upon the unfinished building for one last time, several questions come to mind. Can it be that the real mission is not the building of a Clinic, but rather the building of our own communities?   As the bus drives past the small one-car sized homes, can it be the Lord trying to teach us what is really important?  Are we so caught up with our time driven, consumer oriented, God-when convenient, high stressed society, that the Voice in the Wilderness has been replaced by video games, computers,micro-waves and Ricki Lake?  Have we, as a society, lost contact with the teachings of Christ?

When we said good-bye to our host and our new and old friends, we were reminded that the Body of Christ is wherever His name is being proclaimed, whether be it in LaRomana, in Holden, Massachusetts, or wherever. That is the True Mission.

 

Again, the lyric to the song comes to mind, but with a slight change:

 

Father, Bless this work that YOU have begun.

Father, bless US that WE may all be one, ...

 

       Gelles Family

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Tammy Cadet 

 

 So much to be thankful for. . ." is the best way to sum up my experience in La Romana. The luxury of taking a hot shower for as long as I like or even flushing the toilet after each use. Better yet, having electricity all the time and drinking water from the faucet are luxuries we take for granted here in the United States. Despite what eventually became minor inconveniences for me, it was amazing to watch people in a country with so little be so happy, so grateful and so much to be thankful for despite their needs. 

I found myself constantly reflecting back on many things in the Dominican Republic. Many of my reflections were not necessarily about the things that we did or saw, but it was an internal process. I did a lot of thinking and comparing of my life and my family and my relationships. I know that it was meant for me to go on this trip and during the whole trip I struggled with the question of "why was I here?" I had left my daughter and her father. I felt guilty and worried quite a bit especially after I found out they both had been sick and Carlo had exams to take that week. I was supposed to be home, not gallivanting in another country while my family needed me. But the Lord had arranged it so that Carlo and Dominique were taken care of. It was a leap of faith that I even considered this trip. I have been and will probably continue to remain caught up in rearing our daughter and supporting Carlo while he is in school, that I do not even thinking about helping others in a way as significant as in La Romana. Perhaps, that is why He sent me. Perhaps, that is why my relationships developed even more with everyone on trip particularly the women. I did walk away knowing that I may not have had a particular role in La Romana other than to just help where help was need and to serve. It was okay to just serve. I did not have to play wife or mother. I could just play Tammy. To just play Tammy was to just be helpful in whatever way was needed.

I was able to spend good, quality time with ten of my brothers and sisters on this trip and got to know them in a way that would have never happened. I am honored to have spent that kind of time with them. I think about the bateyes and how on one hand, people seemed so desperate that they would take anything but yet on the other hand, they were so proud, they wanted a choice of clothing to be given. One extreme to the next. I remember those feelings all to well as I was growing up. These are feelings I have not had in years and frankly would have like to have forgotten them. 

I constantly think about how it was truly through God's work that those of us representing New Beginnings were able to do for La Romana in two and a half days what it has taken us over a year to complete. I would be crazy not to say there is not a lot of jealousy on my part because we left La Romana in a better place than we were with New Beginnings. I do pray and hope that all goes well with their school, but it is difficult to imagine them moving on ahead of us. Not that we are not going to get there, but we could have been there sooner. I guess this is what the Lord had planned and maybe we are supposed to use our year-long experience on New Beginnings to do work just like in La Romana. Besides all of this, everyday I thought about how we see the poverty and happenings that are occurring in La Romana right in our backyards in the United States, yet we walk by, ignore or do nothing. It is wonderful to have been part of this missionary trip yet I wonder about the number of missionary trips to Boston. I know they exist, but am I going to do anything about it. 

There is tons more I could say, but I will say that I know that a smile or a hello or giving a hand was a way to serve and it was okay to do that. To just play Tammy was to just be helpful in whatever way was needed. I have so much to be thankful to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ for and need to always keep reminding myself of this. Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28)... So should I as woman of God must be willing to serve. I who seek his love, and understanding, and believe in his Word, should care enough to pray for others and be humble enough to serve others.  

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LAROMANA REFLECTIONS:

Why are we here?

 

Some years ago, I wrote a reflection for a musical presentation called "A Journey to Life Fullness". The central theme of the reflection concerned the concept of what exactly is a journey.  What I wrote then, still remains the same:  A journey means to go somewhere you have never gone before, do something that you have never done before, having no idea what to expect, nor when you will arrive.  It is only after one starts on a journey that its purpose and reasons begin to become clear.

How does one answer the question?  For some, the reason he or she goes on a Missionary trip is help build a building, or to provide medical care, or to teach, or do whatever the stated purpose of the trip is.  For them, the purpose of the mission seems clear.  But then, the real Journey begins.  One quickly learns that the stated tasks are secondary.  The truth of the Mission lies ahead.

The goal of this year's trip was (and still is ongoing) to rebuild the buildings in the Batey's that housed the Baptist Church / Medical Clinics that were destroyed or damaged from Hurricane George.  During our brief stay, three concrete buildings were completed.  Because the buildings are solid concrete, they now will also serve as refuge centers in the future.  Work on the main clinic would have to wait.  This would be the first time for most of us to spend any extended time in a Batey.  In addition, about half of the group worked on the medical team providing health care to those in the Bateys who would normally go without it.

Traditionally, we go to Sunday morning worship services that are held in the Bateys.  The group is split up as not to overtax the small church buildings.  This year was no different.  Quite often, one of our clergy members would co-celebrate with the local Haitian Baptist pastor. In our group, Alan Coe, who is the pastor of the Congregational Church in Leominster and who lives next to St. Francis, gave a teaching, and later consecrated the bread and wine (real).  The church was one of the unfinished buildings that we would complete later in the week.

The activity within the Batey is non-stop.  At one point, I got up and went to what would soon become a window and observe a few residents performing their daily chores.  A woman was hand washing her laundry; another was preparing a meal in a make shift kitchen.  I saw children who were either in Sunday School or playing with hand made toys.  And I saw much more.  While I watched, I heard the words of the Consecration being said.  I felt peace, but great sadness.

The next day we began our work. One person reflected that one of the Haitian woman asked why we were there.  When told that we were rebuilding "this" church, that person was corrected.  "This is OUR Church," she said.  With that, she left.  She returned shortly later with a number of others and informed the person that they are going to help rebuild THEIR Church.  What an incredible attitude. The question begins: why am I here?

During the week, I often observed four and five year olds arguing over a small pail that one of them would use to haul away rubble.  Ten year olds would fight over who would use a wheel barrow or a shovel,  often walking bare foot.  Teenagers ask your name and you theirs.  And very soon, "these people" are no longer strangers, but are brothers and sisters working for a common cause.

Upon reflection, the words of the Consecration rang in my head: "Do these things in memory of me."  I asked myself, "Do what?"   Then I was reminded of the words Jesus said, "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink.  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me."   And "when you do them to the least of these, you do them onto me."    And I remembered the last instructions Jesus gave to Peter: "Feed my sheep."  Again, the question: Why am I here?

My friend Michael tells of a nurse from the Bronx, NY.  As they were flying home, she told him of her experience one day while on medical rounds.   She was asked to do a house call to treat a sick child. While inside the home, the mother asked her to take her child home to the US so that he would have a better life.  Taken by the request, the nurse broke into tears.  "Before that", she said, "I didn't know why I was there.  Now, I know."

I went to the local Episcopal Church on Wednesday evening for the Lenten service.  I was surprised to see Caroline, the SAM missionary there. We had met two years ago just as she was finishing up her tour.  I was thrilled to see her again, as she had just been re-appointed to serve in LaRomana.  She invited me to the Friday evening service to which I said I would try to make.

I did get to go, bringing along one other person.  At one point, a member of the Congregation handed me a hymnal.  When told which hymn we were to sing, I noticed that the piece was in English (This is a Spanish speaking parish).   Shortly thereafter, we sang another song, again, in English.  After the service, I introduced my companion to Caroline. Among the many topics we spoke of, we mentioned how surprised we were with the hymns in English.  Caroline smiled and said that the congregation knew I was coming and wanted to sing English songs for my benefit.  I was taken back.  What compassion!

Time there goes by quickly. Before you know it, it's time to return home.  Knowing that a loving family and friends await your safe return, you are still very hesitant to leave.  No, you don't want to leave.  You have made new friends and are re-united with old ones. Those who must stay behind are now your extended family.  You have established tight bonds with others. You have been reminded that as you work and pray for others, others are working and praying for you.  Yet,  leave you must.  I wondered, is this how Jesus felt in the Garden?

The Journey continues.  Each step along the way is like starting on the Path anew.  I may not know what is going to happen along the way, but there is one thing for certain, I know why I go there.

Howie Gelles

 

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My name is Brittany. I am 17 years old. I am a senior in high school in Columbia, Missouri. I recently went on a short term mission trip to La Romana with my church. My church typically has an attendance rate of about 100. No one ever thought we'd go on a mission trip outside the country. But we proved them wrong. In less than 6 months, we got a group of 13 people from our church (+ our group leader from Iowa), we raised around $13,000, and prepared for the trip. On July 7th, 2006, we left St. Louis for Miami, then La Romana. We primarily did work with the people of the bateys. We delivered food to the houses and did programs for the children. One of the days, we did a construction project on a classroom at a church on a batey. We also visited the orphanage in La Romana. The children there tugged at my heart strings. Our trip changed me, as a person and as a Christian. My faith is much stronger now. The faith of the people of the Dominican Republic caused me to reevaluate my faith. I realized that they were extremely poor, but it didn't matter. They were happy because God was taking care of them and would provide for them. I realized that "things" don't matter, people and faith and love and community are what really matter. It doesn't matter how much you have as long as you have people who love you around you.

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If you have a journal of your trip to La Romana or would like to write a summary just email it and I'll publish it here.