I’m sitting on the porch of a beach cabin overlooking the ocean on the southern shore of the Dominican Republic. The evening breeze is comfortable as it blows in from the water. Five palm trees loaded with coconuts are gently swaying in the breeze.
Earlier in the day, Nilda, the Dominican lady who is cooking for us had her young son climb one of the trees to bring down some fresh coconuts for us. This was served along with fried fish, fish soup, a traditional rice dish, and batter-fried bananas. This day at the beach is our reward for working hard all week painting the Free Methodist Church in Santo Domingo, the capital of this island nation.
My church plans short-term mission’s trips every year. When I was appointed to be the pastor of the Ripon church I challenged them to go on annual mission’s trips. They accepted my challenge. Our first two-week trip was to Ethiopia, Africa in the spring of 2002. There we worked in a new medical clinic in the capital of Addis Ababa. We also helped register children in a church run school in the truly remote village of Arbagona (You can’t get there from here!). Our next trip was to Malawi, Africa where we built a church for a Free Methodist congregation in the northern town of Mzuzu. This was all brick and mortar work. Last year we traveled to Tacna, Peru in South America near the Chilean border, where we again helped construct a church.
Our group of sixteen brave souls left Oakland International Airport Sunday, March 19 just before midnight. It was Jet Blue’s “red-eye” to Fort Lauderdale, Florida where we made a connecting flight on Spirit Airlines to Santo Domingo.
More than half our team is on their first mission’s trip. To volunteer for such a trip is pretty involved. You have to have a current passport; you have to pay your own way (anywhere from $1500 to $3000 per person); you need to make sure you are up to date on any shots that the host country may require (I had to get Typhoid, Tetanus, and Yellow Fever updated, as well as get my doctor to authorize me to take Malaria pills – something each member is to take coming to the Dominican); you have to fill out a raft of authorization papers which in turn must be notarized before you can go; and there is of course the obligatory requirements for each person, making each one aware of the responsibility they have to support the team and be a good ambassador for the Lord Jesus as well as for our nation. In addition, some folks take vacation time to go on these trips. This year four married couples came knowing our housing was not adequate to allow couples the luxury of having their own room. In fact, the men’s quarters are a ten minute drive from where the ladies are.
Some of the humorous things that take place on such trips are usually the most memorable. You are probably aware that the Dominican Republic is on the eastern side of the island they share with Haiti. Well, the two peoples are not very fond of each other, and it’s obvious. Haitians are Negroid, and Dominicans are Hispanic. Since the Dominican Republic was once a Spanish colony, and Haiti was a French colony, each country speaks the language of their one-time European colonialists. So the other day we men are leaving our apartment to start our work day when we realize the keys were left back in our room. The security guys for the building are Haitians. Not speaking Spanish, I attempted to communicate with them in my long-unused French. They in turn would convey my message to the apartment manager in Spanish. We went back and forth like this until it was understood and agreed as to what the problem was. It was comical! The owner of the building was the only one with extra keys, and she worked clear on the other side of the city.
Elwood Cooper and I decided we simply had to figure a way to get the door open before our guys were done for the day, knowing they would want to come back to the apartment to shower and get cleaned up for dinner. There was a Mormon church next to the apartment complex, so Elwood went over there to see if he could borrow a ladder, while I attempted to pick the lock with my Leatherman (a multi-tooled device carried on the belt). Though I came close in getting the door to open, Elwood was successful in obtaining the ladder and a piece of PVC pipe. By reaching through the louvered second story window, Elwood snagged his trousers with said PVC pipe from off the chair, thereby managing to get the keys out of the pocket, finally gaining us access to the apartment. Taking pride in the security provided for the apartments, the owner was very interested in knowing how we managed to gain entrance. I thought it prudent not to mention I was trying to pick the lock!
We all found great humor in this event, something that is essential when embarking on mission’s trips. A sense of humor is a must, and you have to expect the unexpected.
We’ll be back on April 2nd with many more had-to-have-been-there stories. In the meantime, I’ll just sit here a while longer enjoying the cool tropical breezes off the coast of the Dominican Republic.