Archive for the ‘Dominican Republic’ Category

Homeward Bound

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

I’m in the Chicago O’Hare airport getting ready to spend another night sleeping in the terminal.  Oh joy.

So I didn’t kiss the ground when I got off the plane in Miami, but did step outside to bask in the aura of freedom and prosperity this country exudes.  Great to be back in good ‘ol USA!

Even though my primary citizenship is with God’s Kingdom and my highest loyalties are there, nonetheless as I entered America I felt a swelling sense of pride in the great privilege I have of being an American citizen.  For all its’ faults, the US is truly still a great place.  At least I like it. 

I didn’t know what I had here until I left and saw my other options.

Having said that, Miami airport doesn’t really feel like America proper as it gives off a dinstinctly Latin American vibe.  I caught myself trying to speak Spanish with the US customs agent who looked and talked foreign, but was indeed quite American.

One funny incident happened as I was shuffling through a lengthy security checkpoint in Miami:  An airport staffer was being downright rude in directing people through the confusing labyrinth of cordoned off security lanes.  I could tell this lady in front of me was becoming disgusted with him (as we all were) because she was making ugly faces behind his back.  I had a hunch she wasn’t American, so leaned over and asked where she was from?  “Scotland,” she answered in a thick brogue.  I laughed, then told her confidentially something to the effect, “Well, I’m from Kansas and I want to personally say to you, ‘Welcome to America!’”  She seemed better after that and even began smiling, adding, “Aye, many an American seem ah-be friendly, but not all of ‘em, eh?” 

Language is truly a big deal.  It’s great to be able to understand and talk to people again.  I can even talk to Scotts, brogue notwithstanding.  I never realized how much I depended on speaking until I couldn’t anymore.  Over the last six weeks spending so much time with kids I couldn’t help compare it with the time earlier this summer as a camp counselor in Missouri.  There I was able to deeply communicate with my campers, regaling them with Bible information and personal testimonies, not to mention administer discipline and exchange jokes and banter.  All those activities are much more difficult (impossible?) when you can’t speak freely. 

“Comprendo?” they would often ask hopefully after jabbering some important tidbit of information to me.  Sadly, the answer was often no.

Despite the language hurdle, I have built connections with Dominican’s who only speak Spanish, like the neat teenage boy below.  His name is Haziel and his 16th Birthday is next week – feel really bad I’ll miss it…

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And I’ve gotten to know kids who speak only Haitian Creole, like my favorite girl from Son of God in the picture below (she’s the adorable one who burst into tears one day when she learned I had to leave).

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But regardless of what language people speak, they are all still people. 

One analogy I came up with regarding different cultures is different operating systems on a computer.  Like a Mac versus a PC: similar hardware but different software.  They act different, but do the same things.

Someone from America vs. Haiti make appear different on the outside in regards to customs and lifestyle, but inside they have the same hopes, desires, and fears.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has also frequently come to mind on this trip.

I’ve had kids literally beg me for a piece of bread (“Pen? Pen?” they would implore pitifully) as well as literally beg me for attention (and in some cases get angry when they didn’t get it).  These kids had pressing physical and emotional needs.

On the flip side, I’ve also met kids who had a consistent source of daily bread and attention ask me for help with their Math homework.  Their needs were as real as the former, but different: more along the lines of emotional support and educational guidance.

There have been other needs as well.

For instance, I’ve spent late nights with missionaries who perhaps had a need of expressing themselves with someone who could understand and converse.  I think they had a desire to debrief certain life experiences… and I had a desire to learn from their experiences.

I’ve met still others (and I may be in this category) who seem to have every need met… yet who are searching for meaning, who wonder if every pursuit in life is pointless or if there is a God who has meaningful work for them?  Work of a redemptive nature: overcoming the tide of evil in this world with a tide of good… through divine power, through supernatural guidance, and through the challenge of deep, vulnerable relationships. Is the possibility of living meaningfully pure fiction, or potential reality?

On a lighter note – and completely different topic – I’ve had fun hearing the music abroad and seeing the delight song and dance bring to young and old. 

The boys watched a movie last week with a catchy song in it and ever since have sung it over and over, often to the accompaniment of clapping and much laughter.  Good times.  They get into the singing on Sunday mornings too, but enjoy even more aiding Jon’s guitar strumming with sundry percussive instruments.  Sometimes on beat, sometimes not.

At the airports in both Port-au Prince and and Puerto Plata there were bands of live music playing “mariachi-style” repetitive upbeat tunes.  Kinda fun, yet also kinda odd as I’ve never seen a comparable equivalent in an American airport.

By far the most moving music I’ve heard in my travels was a group of Haitians singing at the YWAM base.  Their harmonies were beautiful, the language crisp and punctuated, and their lifted voices exuding such passion and emotion it nearly made me cry.  It was unique, uplifting, and special – wish I’d gotten a movie.

Below is a picture of several of us playing around with the keyboard:

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OK, enough soliloquy and waxing eloquent for one night.  Time for bed!  Thanks for reading all this if you did, hopefully it was beneficial and not too boring.

DR Update and… Are There Benefits to Being Materially Poor?

Monday, October 17th, 2011

I just snapped this picture.  It is the view out the double doors in my bedroom:

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I think it’s technically jungle around here, but it seems to me more like “jungly forest” if there is such a thing. 

Oh, and I can see the ocean far better in real life than in the picture above.  It’s the view I wake up to every morning.

Highlights of this past week include 1) having a Mexican supper over at Jon and Shannon’s, then watching videos of their ministry after 2) snorkeling in clear ocean water with tropical fish 3) playing a Sunday afternoon game of baseball with the boys and 4) jogging/walking to town and back (~7 miles).

Not much else to report.  Life is pretty much in a routine here.  Eat, work, play, hangout, go to church.  Once again I find myself in a community where I eat, work, play, hangout, and go to church with the same group of people.  Which I enjoy.  Bonds happen quickly in this type of environment.

I’m currently reading What’s So Amazing About Grace by Phillip Yancey.  If you haven’t read it yet I recommend it.  His thoughts are deep, but his style is conversational and he tells lots of stories so it’s quite readable. 

The main thing I’ve been impressed with from the book is how much God’s gift of letting me be his friend is totally free.  I can’t earn his favor, He simply offers his unconditional love to me in the face of my spiritual poverty because… that’s what he does.

Notice how I wrote above that I am spiritually poor?  It’s true, I’m quite poor spiritually.  Which in some ways is a good thing as there is a blessing associated with that type of poverty (see Matthew 5:3).  It’s odd to think being poor in any category would be a plus, but according to how I read the Be-Attitudes in Matthew 5, the journey towards God begins with an acknowledgment of spiritual poverty. 

I was recently struck with a verse I read in James on the subject of poverty:

“Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith…?” (James 2:5)

On this trip I have seen very materially poor people and in certain cases been immensely impressed at how they live their lives by faith: In faith they look to the Lord for the daily supplying of their needs.  The words in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us today our daily bread” hold literal meaning for them. 

I’ve seen those who have their faith stretched far more than mine because I have money to cover my needs (and enough to even cover most my wants as well). 

For instance, my translator (and his immediate and extended family) have many pressing needs that are easily fixable with cash, but he can’t fix them that way because…. he doesn’t have enough cash.  In fact, he hardly has any.

And it’s not just locals who are materially poor.  I’ve gotten to know a missionary family who basically live on financial fumes and I can tell it wears on them… even though they try not to worry.  God is stretching their faith in real ways because they are living at the end of their financial rope.

So that verse in James really resonated with me because it is what I have seen and experienced recently.

Almost enough to make me want to go broke myself.  Give all my money away and live by faith.  But not quite, I still enjoy my savings account.  In fact, my materialistic side has gotten quite the best of me recently – it’s really quite bad!  In the past several weeks I’ve bought a number of things online that I “needed.”  My return to the states will be kinda like Christmas.  But I really needed those things, believe me.

I heard a quote recently along the lines of how our giving often conceals our withholding.  I would say that is true for me.  There have been times where I’ve given generously but then as a reward turned right around and given back generously to myself.  Can’t remember if I’ve ever given to the point where it hurt. Don’t think I have.

I heard of a guy recently who was known as a philanthropist by any standard, he gave away generously to many.  One day his daughter told him she didn’t think he gave away enough.  “What, me? Why do you say that?” was his injured reply.  She answered, “Because you never give to the point where it hurts.”

Reminds me of the story in the Bible about the widow who put into the temple treasury two mites.  The crazy thing is Jesus said she put in more than all the others… which astonished those who heard because others had put in large sums.  How did Jesus explain the math?  Here’s what he said:

“They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:44)

In short, she gave until it hurt, which is all the more remarkable because she had so little to give in the first place.

Seeing generosity firsthand amongst those who don’t have much is inspiring. 

One day while I was at the orphanage in Haiti a group of American’s came to visit for the morning.  They lined the kids up and handed out candy to each of them: little bags of gummy bears.  Remember, these kids don’t get much and their living conditions are dismal so this was a big deal for them – they were excited!  But what did they do?  Several came up and gave me theirs!  When I protested, they insisted.  One older boy (who I had gotten to know and had spent time with) gave me all his candy. He went through the line, then promptly walked straight to me and gave me his whole bag of gummy bears and wouldn’t listen to my protests. 

I remember feeling a mixture of emotions… special and touched at the gesture, anger at the overall situation, and frustration his generosity got in the way of accepting even this very small gift. It does speak volumes to the issue of dignity though. People yearn for dignity, and being able to give something to someone else yields dignity.

Jon (the director where I’m currently at) told a story about one of the full-time local staff who works here at the Ranch (practically family, a neat fellow I know) who doesn’t have much materially but is a generous man.  Awhile back a bag of donated tee-shirts came through and were given to him.  Jon said he’ll never forget how this man excitedly just opened the bag right there, pulled out the first shirt… and handed it straight over to one of the part-time construction workers standing nearby.  “Here, this is for you,” he said.  Jon said it was crazy how he didn’t even check to see if it was the right size or how many were left in the bag or which ones he might want to keep versus give away, he just started passing out tee-shirts.  On the one hand Jon was thinking, “Hey! these were for you, not for you to give away!” but on the other hand he was amazed at this fellow’s generosity.  The time lag between accepting his gift and giving it away was instantaneous. He could have taken them all for himself (which he was supposed to do) but instead gave freely and generously.

Not sure how I got off on this (lengthy) tangent.  Was just sitting here thinking I should write a blog post since it had been awhile and this is what came out of my fingers…

In closing, here is a picture of me washing clothes with my friend Jonas:

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Update from the Dominican Republic

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

Food, Food, Wonderful Food

One of the difficult things about this trip has been not eating foods I’m used to.  For the first couple weeks in Haiti I ate lots of rice and beans.  Then when I got to Dominican Republic, a Latin American country, I expected burritos and enchiladas.  But turns out those are Mexican dishes and this isn’t Mexico, it’s the Caribbean.

So since arriving here I’ve primarily had the standard food of the tropics which consists largely of rice and fruit and vegetables.  Bananas, boiled plantains, guyabano, potatoes, etc. 

Lunch today was somewhat typical: a dish of rice and pinto beans mixed with fried cabbage and a type of fish meat.  The side was a banana.  Not quite the same as Church’s Chicken, but probably healthier.

Papaya is another fruit we have often, it comes from a tropical tree and is colored orange like cantaloupe but has the texture of watermelon and tastes uniquely sweet.  I like it ok, but everything new takes time to adapt.

But what I’ve really been wanting is pizza.  Yesterday morning I even wrote it down in my prayer journal during my quiet time with God.  I told him I really wanted a pizza.  Please?

Yesterday was Jessie’s birthday, another one of the volunteers working here.  The married couple running the ranch invited both him and I out to a restaurant with them last night to celebrate Jessie’s birthday.  Of course I accepted!  And immediately began wondering what type of restaurant we’d be visiting…? 

So evening came and we piled into their SUV and headed to town.  We drove to a waterfront area and walked into a fancy place and then out the back to the beach.  Turns out the table we dined at was actually on the beach!  The sand was smoothed out so you could walk on it easier, but we were literally right by the ocean.  It was the coolest thing, I’d never eaten somewhere like that before. 

But I was still thinking, “Ok, so probably a fancy place like this only serves crab legs and sushi or something.”  However, when I opened my menu, lo and behold, the first page was all PIZZA!  Almost an entire page of their menu. 

And at the same time I remember Jon opening his menu and saying, “Oh, the pizza here is great!” 

And it was.  Call it coincidence if you want, but I gave a special thanks to God for answering my specific prayer, even though it was a selfish luxury.

Working in Tropical Heat = Never-ending Sweat!

My time here in the DR has not been all picnics and sipping lemonade in the shade.  In fact, I’ve worked harder in the last week than I have in many moons!

In the mornings I help with construction for a new boys home they’re building (been doing electrical work) and also mechanical odds and ends that need done around camp (like fixing flat tires, working on their gas trimmer, etc). 

Of course there is no air conditioning here so we sweat tons.  Luckily there are ceiling fans in the bedrooms which help for sleeping at night (when the electricity is working).

The afternoons are largely spent with helping math at the school.  Not speaking the language is frustrating, but much of math is in numbers which transcend language.  I’ve been working on learning numbers in Spanish but have had some difficulty mastering counting from zero to a million in one week!

I’ve noticed it can be easy to forget our beautiful surroundings.  Like the classroom I work in is on a second story with open walls that look out over the ocean.  The roof is thatch and the floor is wooden plank.  It’s the neatest classroom I’ve ever seen, but when it comes down to it, when helping someone with their math it doesn’t really matter where you’re at, you still have to engage your mind (and theirs) on the problem at hand.  After awhile you end up forgetting where you are.  At least I do.

Healthio, Healthio, Where Art Thou? 

The heat here drains energy quickly.  The bugs don’t help.  I get bit by mosquitoes every day…  this morning I was washing clothes with the boys (by hand) and got bit by even more mosquitoes for my trouble.

(Side note: people that wash clothes by hand their whole life get it down to a science.  On this trip I’ve been advised by both Haitians and now Dominicans on the “correct” way to go about it.  This morning I felt proud when one of the boys told me I was starting to get it.)

But back to bugs, yesterday I got bit by a fire-ant which stung like crazy and left a welt.  Note to self, “Beware of fire-ants.”

And while I’m listing ailments, I should mention my right foot is not a happy camper.  I stepped on something sharp at he beach last weekend which left a nasty blister that has became painful to walk on.  Then on Monday I banged my foot on the corner of a block of concrete which caused the top of my foot to swell up the entire week.  Fortunately I’m walking on it pretty well today.

It’s easy to take health for granted…  but when you don’t have it you quickly remember how nice a gift it really is.

Language and the Lack Thereof

There is plenty of language flying around here.  Problem is, I don’t speak it. 

For instance, I eat with the boys three meals a day and during each meal the table is full of banter that I don’t understand a word of (sometimes I understand a word here and there but not enough to tell what’s going on).  Everyone will randomly erupt into laughter and I totally missed it.  This can really makes me feel left out and I end up frequently zoning off in my own world.

Someone told me you’re fluent in a language when you dream in that language.  Well, last night I had a dream where I was alone with people who only spoke different languages.  I kept getting my few Creole and Spanish words mixed up and no one understood me.  It was really more of a nightmare.  Then I woke up and realized our ceiling fan was off because electricity had gone out again and decided such a nasty dream was likely precipitated by the gnawing heat!

I find when I’m in places I don’t speak the language it begins taking a toll on me because it takes energy trying to figure out what’s going on all the time.  It’s hard to really relax.

Fortunately, here at this Boys home there is enough activity going on I’m not forced to speak ad try understanding all the time.  Versus in Haiti at the orphanage I was the center of attention and was constantly being stretched.

On the flip side, in Haiti I had a translator which helped a lot.  Here there are people around who can translate but that is not their job so you always feel a little like you’re imposing to ask.  With my translator in Haiti I didn’t feel bad to ask, that’s what I was paying him to do! 

Thankfully I hit it off super-well with the America couple who run this Boys home and can talk with them freely.  In fact, we were up until 2am last night talking!  So I get my talking out on them… poor folks! 

Yeah, they are such a neat couple who have amazing story after amazing story of God working in their midst.  There lives are – to me – truly inspiring.  It’s so fun hearing their experiences and discussing the Christian life with them.

Definitely a highlight of this trip is the people I’m getting the privilege to get to know and rub shoulders with.  Of course the downside is I’m missing getting to spend time with the people I love at home!  Ahh, life is never perfect. 

A final thought on language: I’m learning first hand how vital a prerequisite learning a language is before any type of deep cross-cultural relationship can be built.

A Fun Haircut

Jessie and I gave each other hair cuts recently.  Jessie had long flowing hair because he hadn’t cut it in two years.  But he wanted me to give him a buzz cut.  So I did!  It was a lot of fun!  Kinda felt like I was cutting Samson’s hair or something.  Just the type of thing you always want to do but never have the opportunity to.

Pain and Misery

I often think of the seventy kids I left behind in Haiti. 

In relation to food, they get two meals a day, usually pretty much always the same thing: rice & beans. 

I can catch myself complaining about all the healthy and tasty food I’m getting here (what? more plantains?) and wish for pizza (which I got!).  But honestly I felt a little guilty eating the pizza thinking of the kids back at the orphanage who have perhaps never had pizza or rarely even anything special. 

I consoled myself with the fact they probably wouldn’t like pizza.  Though I’m sure anyone would have liked eating at a nice restaurant on the beach.

Jon and I were talking about recently the difficulty in knowing how to balance enjoying the good things in life God has given us and how much to sacrifice in our attempt to help others. 

Jon talked about coming back to the States from the Philippines when he was younger and going through reverse culture shock where he wouldn’t spend any money on extraneous stuff (like buying a Coke) in light of the agonizing need he had just seen and knowing how big an impact even a little money could make in their lives.

There are no easy answers, but I think these are good issues to think through and this trip is giving me an opportunity to do just that.

Pictures

I haven’t taken any pictures recently, but here are a couple others took:

the group

These are the friendly folks I’m staying with here in DR for a month. Group shot taken from “Family Night” last Tuesday. 

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This picture was taken at the beach last Sunday.

My Heart is Hurting

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

My heart aches.  I have a massive lump in my throat and feel like crying. 

I’ve been transported from a place of incarnate misery and oppression to a place of incarnate joy and love.

To be honest, the way I feel now is in shock over the polar extremes I’m experiencing.

Where I’m at now is a boys home in the Dominican Republic.  Arrived last night after an exhausting two-day bus trip with a few crazy adventures thrown in.  To say it was stressful would be an understatement.

Currently ten boys live here, all of whom came directly off the street.  They are all either orphaned or abandoned and have each undergone tragedy in their life beyond what I can imagine… their emotional needs are immense.  But here they become part of a family… for life, literally.  It’s amazing.  Here the boys are well fed, well clothed, and live in an enviable tropical location.  It’s like Swiss Family Robinson.  The couple who runs the place have been doing this type of ministry for 20+ years. 

The property I’m at consists of several buildings on a secluded plot of land outside Sosua, Santa Domingo.  The location is knock-out beautiful.  On top a hill we have forest views surrounding us as far as the eye can see with azure ocean for backdrop.  The grounds are well maintained tropical green foliage.  Gentle ocean breezes waft through the open-style structures and intermingled throughout the property are quaint “resort-like” buildings with cobbled paths connecting them.  I can’t even describe the peace and serenity here.  Not to mention the outdoor basketball court, the wide grassy area for soccer, and an awesome beach nearby.

This morning we had a relaxed church service in a second story open-air pavilion.  We sang songs in Spanish to guitar and had a Bible lesson I couldn’t understand because I don’t speak Spanish.

Then we spent the entire afternoon at a nearby beach.  We swam, flew a kite (got it stuck in a tree), caught big waves with our boogie boards, snorkeled, and had a picnic.

Here the children receive an education, vocational training, recreation, but most importantly: Christian discipleship.  They learn about God and the power of restoration He can bring.  They also experience – probably for the first time – what it’s like to be truly loved and part of a family.

One of my main tasks here will be helping out with the school each afternoon.  So I need to start cramming muchos Spanish into my head quickly.

The contrast between here and where I was (which was more akin to a holocaust-era concentration camp) is so dramatic my breath is taken away.  Like, I can’t describe it.  Just want to cry.  Not sure why, but I think it’s because I feel so bad for the seventy kids I left behind in Port-au Prince who are so often hungry, who wear rags for clothes, who are desperate for attention, who live in a bleak unsafe building, who have only a tiny concrete yard to play in (and wash and cook and clean in), and who worse of all have nobody to love them.

It’s totally heartbreaking.  But this place is totally amazing.