Friends Reaching Friends, 2011 Mission Trip to the Dominican Rep
Saturday, June 11, 2011
It is now 8:55 p.m. and after a long and eventful day we have arrived safely in Bonao, Dominican Republic. After months of planning, the mission trips to the Dominican Republic and Jamaica are on the way. The day started at 5:00 a.m., at which time the Dominican Republic (DR) team members began to arrive at the Holy Sacrament Episcopal Church, Pembroke Pines, Florida, to leave, as a team, at 6:00 a.m. to Miami International Airport. Actually, the day began earlier than 5:00 a.m. if we consider the time we awoke from our slumber. Patrick Dunkley, a member of the parish, graciously agreed to drive me to the church in order that my children could enjoy uninterrupted sleep.
With the help of church members, family and friends, our baggage was placed in the coach in a timely manner. Before our departure, at the request of our Team Leader, Karen Eddy, and me, we invited Veronica Francis, President of our Daughters of the King, to lead the team in prayer. As always, Veronica gave a moving and inspiring prayer. Veronica and Sonia Blake were present to wish us well and see us off in spite of the fact that they were leaving later in the day for the Jamaica mission.
We had a smooth ride to the Airport although some of us (like me), missed parts of the journey as we tried to catch up on some much deserved zzzzzzz. At the Airport, checking in baggage for 15 persons and making sure that everyone stays with each other can be an interesting task. But we did it! I wonder what it was like for the Jamaica contingent of 26, of which half are teenagers. In addition, when traveling, we always tend to forget something and I was no exception. I forgot one of my prized possessions, COLOGNE. So accompanied by Linda Schlepp Gray, it was off to a cologne store to get a must-have, at least for me. After purchasing a cologne named, “L’eaupark Kenzo Eau Indigo” (do not ask me how to pronounce it - smile), Linda remarked that I will be the best smelling team member on the trip. Nevertheless, after we were checked in and had breakfast, it was off to the gate for our departure. During our period of waiting at the gate, I had an enlightening conversation with Audrey Burgher. One significant aspect of this trip, at least for me, is that it gives me an opportunity to meet and to know the members of my parish in a less formal setting as well as those who are friends of our parish.
At 9:35 a.m., AA Flight 1711 lifted off into the skies, ON TIME. I had the wonderful privilege and pleasure of sitting next to Carol Bhim and Bibi Achaibar, two dedicated nurses who have made this mission trip for many years. They were also some of the funniest travel buddies I have ever had on an airplane. I cannot ever remember having so much laughter on an airplane before. You may ask, ‘What was the joke all about?’ Well, the first concerned filling out the customs form for the Dominican Republic. Learning to speak and read more than one language is important when traveling to a country whose first language is not English. I will say no more on that matter. We also engaged in ‘Word Search,’ which also brought about some hilarious segments, and a game named, ‘Sudoku,’ which I have never played before. It’s a game where the same number cannot occur more than once in the same row and column. I had a blast sitting next to them. I probably need to arrange with the ticketing desk to have us sit together again on our way back.
At 11:27 a.m., we arrived safely at the Santo Domingo International Airport in the Dominican Republic. Before reaching immigration, we purchased tourist cards at a cost of $10.00 each in order to enter the country as tourists. Ellen Snow and Karen Carroll, Diocesan Mission Coordinators, greeted us after we had completed the immigration process and collected our baggage.
During the 2 hour drive from the Airport to Bonao, I had a great conversation with our Team Leader, Karen Eddy, on a number of subjects including the history of the Dominican Republic which included a home, owned by Christopher Columbus. We also spoke about some of the team’s earlier trips and missionary work in the DR. Our journey to Bonao took us through Santo Domingo. I enjoyed the natural beauty of the country side interspersed with the city life. What I found most interesting was wherever we travel the people of the DR are so full of life. Men were chatting outside of shops, some were playing dominoes, women were shopping, children were playing and there was so much Saturday hustle and bustle as people went about their lives. While traveling to Bonao, Dr. Pat King also spoke to us about the dos and don’ts in terms of our health and remaining healthy during our stay.
We arrived at the Jacaranda Hotel, Bonao, one of the hotels which housed some of our earlier missionaries, where we met Father Vincente Pena and his beautiful wife, Nancy. He is a very gracious, genuine and hardworking priest who has great fervor and love for the Lord. After greeting the missionaries, he invited me to join him and his wife in their car for the trip to the hotel at which we were staying. On the short journey, he spoke about being the pastor of eight churches and having to celebrate five masses (Eucharist) each Sunday. He mentors a seminarian, who conducts services at two of the churches every Sunday. The other church receives a mass on a weekday. Father Vincente mentioned that the churches in Bonao are growing and residents in Bonao are very receptive to the ministry being offered by the Episcopal Church. I enjoyed chatting with him and look forward to sharing in ministry with him over the next week.
Being unable to stay at the hotel we originally had intended to stay, we had to make some adjustments before settling into a new hotel. The new setting, however, allows us to be the only inhabitants of the building. Thank God also for air-conditioned rooms since the Dominican Republic is hot and humid. It is weather for being in a pool or the ocean. Nevertheless, so far we are doing well with the language since Karen knows Spanish, having been born in the Dominican Republic but grew up in the United States.
Tomorrow is the Day of Pentecost (Whitsunday), the day on which the Holy Spirit came to the church. We will embrace ourselves with God’s Spirit as we engage in missionary work over the next week. We will put aside a day like today, light-hearted, yet a day of adjusting, and begin to engage in earnest the work God has called us to do on His behalf in the Dominican Republic.
Stay tuned to tomorrow.
The team wishes all of you a Blessed and spirit-filled Pentecost!
Sunday, June 12, 2011
With a knock on my door from Karen Eddy at 6:52 a.m., I awoke from my slumber. Having completed my devotions, I headed to the great room where we gather for our meals, our meetings and socializing. Having said my “Good mornings” I proceeded to the balcony to experience the freshness of the morning. As I look at the town from the third floor, the huge sign bearing the names, “Karna Bar” and “Coco-nut Disco,” was erected across the street from the building. Nevertheless, although it was rather early for a Sunday morning, people were already on the move. An interesting feature about the town of Bonao is that it can be called the “Capital of Motorcycles.” From my 24-hour observation of the city, there appears to be far more motorcycles than cars, at least five cycles to one car according to my count, while on the balcony this morning. They were even as many as three persons on a cycle which was as tight squeeze, but it worked.
We were not too far into the day when one of the missionaries provided some excitement for the group. One of my two fun-loving travel buddies, who shall remain nameless, sat on Melissa Schleifer’s bed and it collapsed on one side (either bad construction or …). Suffice it to say that Melissa and I felt this was a blogging moment; obviously our dear friend was not amused. We certainly do not want Melissa sliding off her bed so the hotel plans to have the matter rectified.
After breakfast, it was off to San Juan Bautista Episcopal Church in Bonao, one of Father Vicente’s eight churches, for the 10:00 a.m. Eucharist. The church was about a ten minute walk from the hotel but in hot, humid weather, one can be perspiring in no time. Yesterday, Father Vicente invited me to read the gospel in English, and he will read in Spanish, and to con-celebrate with him at the altar. The church building is small by Episcopal Church standards but the church family at San Juan Bautista is extremely hospitable, energetic and spiritual, and is incredibly charismatic in their worship style. Their vociferous and enthusiastic singing and praise to God is a hallmark of this church.
There was no doubt that the San Juan Bautista congregants were elated to see us as we reacquainted with old friends and made new ones. On significant reunion was between our own missionary, Linda Schlepp Gray, and a young lady, named Yani, whom she met nine years ago when Yani was 9 years old. Linda and Yani have maintained their friendship through the years. Yani’s presence at worship this morning was a total surprise for Linda since Yani, her husband, Juan Carlos, and their two children live a 2 ½ hour ride on a motorcycle from the church. Karen organized it with Father Vicente and what a wonderful gesture it was. In addition, during the sharing of the Peace, which exemplified a ‘glorified fish market,’ 90 Dominicans and Americans embraced and kissed each other with tearful eyes. These portrayals of love and affection demonstrate the fruitfulness of the work done by our missionaries and the lives they have touched and continue to touch in unique and special ways.
An amazing observation in this congregation is the youthfulness of its members, which is not typical for an Episcopal Church. If I was to make a guess, I would say that the average age in the congregation this morning was between 25 and 30 years. Furthermore, from my viewpoint, I would add that at least 70% were less than 40 years of age. In my address to the congregation, which was interpreted in Spanish by Father Vicente, I mentioned that their youthfulness is a sign of a healthy church and will serve San Juan Bautista in its future ministry.
Another significant opinion is that in a Spanish-speaking country, one’s English name is changed to a Spanish name. So for the next week in the Dominican Republic, my name is no longer “Father Tony” or “Father Anthony,” it is now “Padre Antonio.”
Visiting and sharing with the people of San Juan Bautista on this day of Pentecost was extremely appropriate. Sharing the reading of the Eucharistic Prayer with Father Vicente in both English and Spanish alternatively epitomizes what took place on that first day of Pentecost when the people of different languages gathered together and spoke in their own language through the coming of the Spirit on the church and it grew by thousands.
After the service ended, the fifteen missionaries took a picture with the congregation. After saying our good-byes, we returned to the hotel for lunch and then to unpack 16 large boxes and 15 huge duffel bags of medical and Vacation Bible School supplies – the reason for why we are here. A few of the members from San Juan Bautista, led by Nancy Pena, Father Vicente’s wife, also assisted with unpacking arranging the supplies.
Tonight, after dinner, we discussed our plans for tomorrow and reviewed today’s highlights. I asked the members to share a highlight that took place in their lives today. Linda shared her story about Yani and the joy of seeing her today. Ron McDonald spoke emotionally of seeing a family who lost their husband and father last year. I shared with the team members two highlights for me today – first, the friendliness and hospitality of the people at the church and second, the ‘God-incidence’ that we were worshiping with our Spanish-speaking friends on the Day of Pentecost and sharing the Eucharist in both English and Spanish.
As I am ending my blog for the night, our missionaries are all huddled quietly in their rooms having just seen the stunning defeat of the Miami Heat by the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals held in Miami, Florida. We were watching the game in Spanish but the good thing is that actually watching a game has no language barriers. For those who do not know, we are from the Miami area. Congratulations to the Dallas Mavericks!
Monday, June 13, 2011
Day 3 began at 5:25 a.m. when Ron McDonald, designated as our human alarm clock, knocked on my door. He later said that I was the second person he awoke, the Team Leader being the first. I guess he prefers to start with the person in the senior position first and work his way through the pecking/ranking order, forgetting that those at the top of the ranking file are the last to awake (smile). Nevertheless, we were to be at the church for the Eucharist at 7:00 a.m. However, in true Caribbean fashion, our transportation did not arrive until 7:25 a.m. and on arrival at the church, the Altar Guild was just beginning to prepare the altar for the Eucharist. Nevertheless, the Eucharist was celebrated and God was glorified, and that is what is important.
The readings used at the Eucharist were: Acts 10:23-33; Psalm 22:22-30; and Luke 10: 25-37. Jordan King, Matthew Campbell and Audrey Burgher participated in the readings. I gave a short message on the Gospel text, which was the story of the Good Samaritan. In my address, I reminded the missionaries and our friends that we are called, not only to serve and minister to those who we love, know or of a similar social strata to ours, but to love all persons irrespective of who they are. I reiterated that we are all God’s people and when we serve, we are “God’s people serving God’s people.”The set-up and preparation for Vacation Bible School (VBS) and the Medical Clinic, with emphasis on pediatrics, were scheduled immediately after the Eucharist. With all hands on deck, and as people gathered we received our first patient sometime after 9:00 a.m. The clinic was divided into the following areas: waiting, reception and recording of patient information, physical examination of patients, and pharmacy. The Clinic was ably led by Dr. Pat Rowe King, a Pediatrician, and Head of Pediatrics at Broward Hospital, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, while Pharmacist, Audrey Burgher headed the Pharmacy.
Meanwhile, the first day of the VBS started at Iglesia de San Juan de Bautista with about 30 children. Actually it was a half-day. The expectation is that as the week continues the number of children will increase. Our missionaries – Maryella Reed, Jordan King and Matthew Campbell led the organizational part of the VBS. They did an incredible job. The children received religious education through a workbook format titled, “Solomon: A Reign of Peace.”The workbook consists of pictures to color, crossword puzzles, lessons, filling in the missing words, etc. They also enjoyed having fun by playing various games including musical chairs. The children had a blast with that game. Even some adults – Maryella, Jordan, Matthew, Mary, and me - had fun and were being kids again while playing musical chairs. In the end, Mary was victorious but I did not do too badly since she and I were the last remaining two. At the end of the VBS, I gave each child a blessing and they took home gift bags. In addition, one of the highlights of my day was while sitting outside observing life in Bonao, a number of children gathered around me requesting to have their picture taken with me.
In the midst of all of this, name tags for the Medical Clinic and VBS staff, and for the children attending VBS, were made from wood and beautifully decorated by two teenage girls, who are sisters and members of San Juan Bautista.
During lunch, I had a light-hearted conversation with Dr. Pat on child-rearing. Suffice it to say we share a similar style. Talking about lunch, we have been treated to delicious meals for lunch and dinner. The church has provided a Spanish chef for us… “Nuestro sincero gracias al jefe de cocina” (“Our heartfelt thanks to the chef”).
Then it was off to our second VBS. Since I was the one floating around today, I decided to go with the VBS staff to the next venue for the second Vacation Bible School. The area to which we went was a much more underprivileged part of Bonao. Originally, we thought we were going to the same venue as last year but to our surprise when we arrived at the venue, it was an open spot under a huge tree, no green lawn, no tables, no chairs, just a blue-colored tarp. Furthermore, there were just a few children, probably about 5. In fact they were more parents than children. We were surprised at the number of children and the venue (neither did it help that we were not told about this venue) and Maryella thought we had the wrong venue. But to cut a long story short, the venue was the correct one. It meant that Maryella, Jordan and Matthew needed to make adjustments to their program and this they did admirably.
But what was absolutely amazing was the fact that between 2:15 p.m. (VBS was to start at 2:00 p.m.) when we arrived and 3:30 p.m. about 100 children were present. Obviously, a decree, faster than a speeding bullet, went out from the village that the Mission Team of Holy Sacrament Episcopal Church had arrived. Children came from every direction imaginable and were ready to enjoy the afternoon’s program. Parents brought their chairs from their homes to sit under the tree and watch their children and us. Maryella, Jordan and Matthew worked tirelessly to get things under control and they did a superb job. They really deserve the rest of the mission off. But to tell you the truth, it was fun, but it was also a new experience that was surreal – the children came as they were but it was also an example of meeting God’s people where they are. The moral of the story is that you never know where God will place you in any given day among His people.
During the second VBS, I visited the new home of the Senior Warden who lives next door to where the VBS was held. The church built her a two bedroom home which she appreciates more than words can say. While the VBS was taking place, our missionary, Ron, and William, a member of the church, were painting the Senior Warden’s new home. They had earlier painted the wall of the Police Station. The Senior Warden expects to pursue a three-year diaconal program culminating with the hope of becoming a permanent deacon.
On another subject, the language barrier is becoming more and more real each day and there are just a few persons who can interpret effectively. I was having problems speaking to a number of persons today at the medical clinic and at the VBS. I express my heartfelt thanks to Jordan and Matthew who were my translators today at the VBS and they did a very good job – 1000 more times better than me. But today was noticeably difficult and sometimes frustrating so much so that I am planning on learning Spanish. (As my parishioners at Holy Sacrament and my wife read this, I can hear their voices ringing in my ear saying, “When does he expect to find time to learn Spanish?”) But I think the time has come for me to learn another language.
Since I last wrote of the number of motor bikes in Bonao, they seem to be multiplying more. But today, I also learned why there are so many bikes (my interpretation of things). On our way from the second VBS we traveled on a road that should fit two cars, the only problem is only one could travel at a time. So the persons coming in the opposite direction had to reverse until the road widens so that we could pass.
In our team meeting, apart from discussing what took place today, I asked the missionaries to share their thoughts on a question - "Give a situation in which you saw God at work today?"
I think I have said more than enough. Tomorrow is another day in the mission field. We go surrounded by the armor of God to love and care for God's people.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
The day started at the usual 5:30 a.m. with a knock on my door from Maryella. Being not accustomed to waking up at this time, I am amazed that I could get up this early and be alert or somewhat so. But it is the grace of God that is keeping, not only me, but all of us going each day. It is truly marvelous what our missionaries are doing this week. They have dedicated a week of their vacation time to minister to the people in the DR and in our other mission in Jamaica.
As usual we gathered at Iglesia de San Juan Bautista for the Eucharist. The readings were taken from Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 57 and John 17:20-26. Brian McClain and Ron McDonald read the first reading and the psalm, while Father Vicente and Maryella Reed read the Gospel and the Prayers of the People respectively. While the VBS team held the second Vacation Bible School at the church during the morning period, the medical team and I journeyed for 20 minutes to a village named, “Piedra Blanca” (“White Stone”) to conduct a medical clinic there. Father Vicente drove the team. The clinic was held in a small, abandoned government building which had no electricity or running water. The people placed an American flag on the outside of the building to welcome us. Father Vicente is seeking to acquire the building from the government to be used for worship and school. In addition, he would also like to acquire an uninhabitable house next door to use as a pharmacy for the residents in the area. Father Vicente took me to see the building he is presently using in the area as one of his mission churches. It is the home of someone from whom he rents. About 70 members worship in that church. Then it was back to San Juan de Bautista Church to get Father Vicente’s car which needed repair. I drove for the first time in the Dominican Republic since I needed to pick up Father Vicente after he took his car to the garage. It was an interesting experience. However, if we, as Americans, drove in the United States like they do in the DR, our driver’s licenses would be revoked PERMANENTLY (the redundancy is for emphasis). But it was fun while it lasted – I did not hit anyone and no one hit me. Thanks be to God!
Next, Father Vicente took me to his home, the Church’s rectory. It’s a nice home in a quiet and beautiful neighborhood. He gave me a tour of his home and showed me the changes that he has made since he and his family resided there. His horticultural exploits are an important aspect of his life. One of my highlights at his home was the passion fruit juice he offered me. It was the first time I had real passion fruit juice, made from passion fruits in his garden, since I was living with my parents whose home I left 22 years ago (now I am telling my age). They also grew a passion fruit vine in their back garden.
The time I spent with Father Vicente was wonderful. We bonded very well. I believe this is the case because we share a lot in common. We realized that we are the same age (he is just 6 months older) and our wives are similar in their nature and character. They are exactly one year apart in age with his wife being the older. You would never believe that Father Vicente was ordained 4 years ago based on the number of things he has already done including starting 7 mission congregations, having a total of 8 churches. Each church averages about 70 members – all of whom attend services every Sunday. Father Vicente is very much a workaholic, passionate for the gospel and ministry. He is a faithful priest who has a caring and loving heart and is also a visionary. In other words, he is a lot like me (smile) although the “workaholic” part is not a good thing. We have truly built a wonderful and genuine friendship and relationship which we plan to continue in spite of the distance that separates us. We relate as if we have known each other for a long time.
Meanwhile, back at the Piedra Blanca, the Medical Team was dedicating enormous time and energy in caring for the children in the area. Some of these children do not see a doctor until our Medical Team comes each year. Several of the 84 children they saw were in worse health than the 80 children they had seen the previous day at San Juan Bautista Church. The children at Piedra Blanco were very ill with many of them having parasites and cerebral palsy. They were several who were under weight. In fact, a one year old child weighed only 16 pounds. Dr. Pat and the medical team gave the mother a few cases of formula to nourish this child to a satisfactory state. Another discovery was the many young mothers with multiple children, and no job to support their families. It was truly heartbreaking. But the team reached out and cared for these children, giving them the help within their capacity.
This is a proper time to thank God for the people in our homeland of the United States who donated several cases and tins of formula, medication, and medical supplies for the benefit of these children. Your generosity and kindness are beyond imaginable. We assure you that all the donated items are put to very good use and are helping children who are so badly in need of them. We really cannot thank you enough.
In the afternoon, I attended the VBS and thought of ways to make a surreal situation real. While they were nearly 100 children on the previous day, they were now 125. The answer came in purchasing more tarps and dividing the children into groups. I do not know why that was not thought of before. However, we were able to divide the children into 4 age groups – under 6 years, 7-8, 9-10, and 11 and over. It worked beautifully. Each group was assigned 2 groups leaders. I continue to feel handicapped by the language barrier and am unable to communicate as effectively and quickly as I would like. I truly thank Jordan King, Matthew Campbell, Brian McClain, Karen Eddy, and Yamilex, a young member of San Juan Bautista, for interpreting on my behalf.
I had an exhausting day and decided to take a nap before going to dinner with the team and with Father Vicente, Nancy, their children and other members of San Juan Bautista. We went to the Berlin Restaurant where the chef, assigned to preparing our meals, works. It was an opportunity to dress up a bit and to have a wonderful evening together. We were given a tour of the restaurant and grounds and some of our missionaries played a game of pool while awaiting their meal. After an absolutely delicious meal, wonderful fellowship, beautiful ambience, and a team meeting, I was too exhausted to blog and instead went to bed.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Wednesday at 5:30 a.m., the magic hour of the day: Knock, knock. “Who is it?” “It’s Bibi [Achaibar], your human alarm clock this morning.” “OK! Thank you!” Knock, knock, “Who is it?” “It’s Bibi, and I am not going to stop knocking on your door until you open the door and I can see that you are up.”
And so the day began! We got ready and off to breakfast at 6:15 a.m. You better get there on time or you will be serenaded to the song: “Why are we waiting? Why are we waiting?” It is a song that is used when you are late for an event. By the end of the day I would have been beautifully serenaded on two occasions, since being here. In my opinion, it should only be once since on the other occasion I arrived early for dinner and it was going to be late. I waited for a few minutes and then returned to my room to continue blogging. It was a good thing that I did because dinner arrived an hour late. At the Eucharist, we heard biblical readings from 1 Chronicles 16:19-27, Psalm 105:1-15, and Luke 13:22-30. Beverly Monteith and Linda Schlepp Gray read the first reading and the psalm respectively while Father Vicente read the Gospel. I presided at the Eucharist as I have for the past two days. It appears as if the team members are getting shorter or at least one of them. One of the team members had to cut the hem of Dr. Pat’s pants before she got into the van. They were too long. I am not quite sure what is “up with that.” I realized I had to turn up the hem of my pants today as well because it was touching the ground. So I am hoping I am not getting shorter too. Warning: “Check your height regularly when you are in the Dominican Republic.” Nevertheless, the Medical Team went to the clinic site which incidentally was the Senior Warden’s home, situated next to the venue of the evening VBS program.
I remained with the VBS team at the church for the morning half of the Vacation Bible School. About 30 children attended the morning session. There was a 5-year-old boy who has been a challenge to everyone for a couple of years and this year is no exception. I took on the responsibility of trying to find out why his behavior was so erratic, (with a translator, of course). Although, I needed to be firm with him, my heart really went out to him because his mother is struggling to be both mother and father to him. I am afraid of how his life will evolve without the appropriate help.
After blessing the children, Father Vicente drove through one of the wealthier areas of Bonao named Falcon Bridge Residential. There were some very lovely homes in this neighborhood. Father Vicente spoke of being asked by persons to set up a mission church in the area and he was not sure if he wanted to do that. I told him that although it is a good proposal, I did not think it was practical presently or in his best interest and that of his health and family since he already leads 8 churches on his own. Unless he receives help with some of these missions, forming any more missions is not of bounds for him. We spoke of some of the dynamics between the middle and rich class and the lower class as it relates to co-existing together in a church. We also visited a person who the goodly priest knows very well. The experience was very good.
The Medical Team had a very interesting but hot day. They were appreciative of Carmen’s hospitality in allowing her house to be used in this way. The group treated 79 children today. On a side note, I made the mistake of telling the medical team that I had receive an email from our missionary counterparts in Jamaica and that the medical team there was treating 42 patients a day. They declared that they wanted to be a part of a union and requested better conditions and perks since they are seeing about 80 patients on average a day (twice as much as Jamaica) and they conditions were not as good as those in Jamaica. Furthermore, in many of the venues where they are setting up clinics, they do not have running water or electricity and yet they are doing some fantastic work. I responded to the Jamaica contingent speedily and them that I prayed they will step it up before I lose my team. I have not heard from the Jamaica team since then.
Now, getting back on track, the children were not as ill as the ones they had met the previous day. However, they were some who had the “pink eye,” which is contagious, and there was a 13-year-old girl who was pregnant.
For those who may be wondering how the process works, it is similar to a doctor’s office policy. Tickets are normally issued to the parents prior to our coming to the Dominican Republic so that we know how many persons we are going to be treating. It is very difficult for the doctor to see other patients who have not received a ticket. But she has done so on a few occasions because of the urgency of the situation. When the parents arrive at the clinic with the children there is an area in which they wait to be registered. Karen [Eddy] and Brian [McClain] have handled all the registration process. Then, they go to Beverly [Monteith] and Tom [Ungleich] to have the children weighed and eyes checked. Next, it is to see Dr. Pat [Rowe King], who is assisted by two nurses, Bibi [Achaibar] and Carol [Bhim]. When the doctor has examined the child and made a diagnosis and prescribe medication, the prescription goes to the Pharmacist, Audrey [Burgher], who dispenses the medication to the patients via her two assistants, Linda [Schlepp Gray] and Melissa [Schleifer]. After the parents receive the prescription, the process is complete.
The afternoon VBS was being held the same usual place but the medical team was at the same venue. We were to have our largest number of children to date – 185. The lesson of the day was about Naaman being healed of leprosy.
Meanwhile, Ron [McDonald] and William painted at the rectory, the home of Father Vincente and his family, giving it a spruce up.
After a delicious dinner provided by our chef, Tomas, and enjoying the presence of Father Vicente and others, we held our team meeting. The various components of the team shared aspects and highlights of their day. After the recap, I presented a question to the group to discuss – “What do you think was your purpose in all that you did today?” Every member of the team was given the opportunity to speak and to say what they perceived to be their purpose for the day. Some of the responses brought many of us to tears. They were not many dry eyes in the team. Following the responses we pray for two members of our mission team who were in need of prayer at a critical point in their lives. The team really bounded together in a genuine, caring and concerned way. Let’s see what happens the next night.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Thursday began with Bibi ringing my doorbell once again to wake me up. Since I knew what took place the previous morning, I jumped right out of bed, opened the door, and gave Bibi a broad ‘I am awake and looking at you, Bibi’ smile. Then it was time to take a shower, get dress and run downstairs to breakfast at 6:15 a.m.
The usual drill of getting everything I needed for the Eucharist, and the taking the duffel bags and other supplies into the van had to be done. Next, it was off to the church to begin our missionary day with the Eucharist. The readings from 1 Chronicles 16:28-36, Psalm 33:12-22, and Mark 16: 12-20. Carol Bhim and Karen Eddy read the first reading and the psalm respectively while Father Vicente proclaimed the Gospel. The prayers of the people were led extemporaneously.
As the Medical Team was about to journey to another part of Bonao to set up a clinic there, we learned that the Bishop, The Rt. Rev. Julio Cesar Khoury, was coming to the village to preside and preach at the Eucharist right across the street from where the medical clinic was held. The clinic was being held in a person’s home. It is so humbly to see how people willingly give up their homes for a whole day to accommodate us. They packed all their furniture and items into one room so that we have rooms to work. At this particular house, we entered it by crossing over a make-shift bridge, since a stream lie between the road and the house. It was an interesting experience because we had to be careful not to fall off the narrow bridge and into the stream. We did not want singing, “London Bridge is falling down.” By the end of the day, Dr. Pat treated 63 patients, the lowest of any of the days, but this was partly due to the team attended the Eucharist, celebrated by Bishop Khoury, later in the afternoon. The day went well without any major hitches. The Medical Team prepared a small stool for Dr. Pat and wrote the words: “Dr. Pat’s chair.” It was suited for a child since it was small and low and not suited for Dr. Pat but the reason they did it was because she is a relatively small woman. I was ordered not to take a picture of the chair so I do not have one to show you on my blog. Nevertheless, I guess these nurses and health professionals do have a lot of respect for their doctors (LOL).
I returned with Father Vicente to the Rectory where I spent a part of the day, chatting with him and his family, and working on my blog to catch up since I was a day behind. Tomas, the chef, and his wife, Hilda, also came by the Rectory and I had a lengthy conversation with them, with Father Vicente’s assistance, of course. Then it was back to the church for lunch.
Meanwhile, the Vacation Bible School had its most students during a morning session of 45 students. The lesson of the day was the “Parable of the Good Samaritan.” Students are always very participatory in the lessons. However, the morning session seems to always get through their lessons faster than the evening session. But again, there are only a quarter of the children in the morning session as they are in the afternoon VBS.
In the afternoon, there was a shortened form of VBS since the team was going to be attending the Eucharist, presided by the Bishop. The group taught part of the lesson and then gifts were given to the children. You can well imagine the joy on the faces of these children. They felt that it was Christmas (Navidad) in June. This was the last day for the afternoon VBS; however, the morning VBS session concludes on Friday. One of my highlights or joys of the day took place at the afternoon VBS session. A 7-year-old girl came up to me, gave me a great big hug around my waist and said, “Te quiero” (“I love you”). It was an amazing experience and one that brought some emotion to me. I responded with similar words.
The second one came when I returned for the Eucharist. Earlier when we took the Medical Team to their clinic site, Father Vicente, Ron, our painter, and I went across the street to the home at which the Bishop was coming to celebrate the Eucharist. The home is also the venue each Sunday for worship of the Misión San José de Arimatea (St. Joseph of Arimathea Mission). However, when we saw the house in the morning, its appearance was that of raw concrete cement with galvanized shutters at the windows. When we return, I thought I had seen HGTV. The house had looked like a different place with the walls painted in colonial white and the galvanized shutters removed from the windows. Ron [McDonald] and William worked very well. If I saw so much joy in the painting of this house could you imagine how the owner of the house felt? What was even more heartwarming for me was the sacrificial love the owner made in extending her home to the church every Sunday for services and now God had rewarded her with such a beautifully painted home at no cost.
Bishop Khoury and Father Vicente arrived at 3:40 p.m. The Bishop met with persons at the house and then he came across to the clinic to meet the medical team. I met and spoke with the Bishop since he speaks English fluently.
The Eucharist was originally scheduled for 4:00 p.m. but started at 4:15 p.m. As expected, the service is in Spanish and although I could not speak the Spanish words, I was able to do so in English since the structure of the service is the same as in English. Immediately after the service, I presented the Bishop with a gift for his wife and grandchild, on behalf of the team.
While the Medical Team returned after the Eucharist to treat more patients, the VBS team and Ron returned to the hotel for the night. It was a long night with a late dinner followed by team meeting and spiritual exercise with the question: “What brought you the most joy today and to say how God was reflected in that joy?” I concluded the session by inviting the missionaries always to find their purpose in life each day and to highlight the joys they experience in their daily lives.
We then received our palanca from family members and friends and missionaries both on the Jamaican and DR teams. I received a beautiful letter from my wife and children, cards from my parish family and friends, including my Senior Warden, which I thought was pretty nice. I also received a book entitled “Poke in the Box” from one of the members in the Dominican Republic team who is also a dear friend and parishioner. I plan to read it on the flight on Saturday. I also received a wonderful card from another dear friend and parishioner who is on the Jamaica Mission Team and she told me to hug and kiss every member of the team.
While the rest of the team retired for the night, the team had appointed 4 members – Karen, Pat, Maryella, and me – as a sub committee to look into certain matters and to tell them of our recommendations at breakfast the next morning. The 4-member team met until the wee hours of the morning. At the end of it all, I had a 20 ½ hour day. To God be the glory!
Friday, June 17, 2011
We began the day knowing that this was the penultimate day of our trip and the last day of missionary work. We were awoken or perhaps I should say, supposed to have been awoken by Jordan King, one of the two youngest members of the team. Actually, his room was next door to mine. I say supposed to because I did not hear when he knocked, I believe I was in a deep sleep having only gone to bed 3 hours before. I was totally exhausted. My life-saving grace was the alarm clock on my blackberry which was set to alarm at 5:40 a.m. Even that I did not hear until 5 minutes later. Some may wonder why I went to bed so late but I was in a meeting very late that night and then I was blogging so that you could enjoy what we are doing.
Nevertheless, it was off to San Juan Bautista Episcopal Church, Bonao, after breakfast for the Eucharist, the last for this missionary trip. The readings were Acts 14:8-28, read by Dr. Pat Rowe King, the Psalm 33:12-22, read by Tom Ungleich, and the Gospel from Matthew 28:16-20 was proclaimed by Fr. Vicente. I presided at the Eucharist, led extempore intercessory prayers, and preached a homily as I had done the previous mornings.
The Medical Team went to their fifth place for the week to treat 46 children. They had originally planned to spend half a day, but were not able to return to the apartment until 4:00 p.m. The clinic was held in a community center and the various stations of health care were divided into a wide open space.
I remained with the VBS Team for the Party they were organizing for 60 children who attended. It was a fun morning for the children, playing a number of games and receiving gifts. I also gave each child a blessing before they went home. The VBS staff – Maryella, Jordan, Matthew, Ron (who did not have any painting assignments today) and me concluded our work by 12:00 noon and decided to take the afternoon to shop. We proceeded the shopping by visiting the Medical Team at the clinic. On our way we passed by the Bonao Museum and Cultural Center. Then it was off to shopping. We visited a few stores and supermarkets and bought a few items. There was only a small souvenir selection from which to choose.
After returning from shopping, we attended a dinner party at the invitation of Father Vicente and Nancy Peña. The party, which was held at their home, was an opportunity for us to have a light moment and to let our hair down, those who have hair. We had a fantastic evening with delicious food, wonderful company, and beautiful Spanish music to which we danced the night away. It was also an opportunity to exchange gifts. Father Vicente and his wife gave each member of the team a gift. I received a nice plaque while the other members received a souvenir mug. Other gifts were given by our friends of San Juan Bautista Church and a wall hanging was presented to me on behalf of all the missionaries. We also gave cards and gifts to all persons who made our mission trip and blessing that it was. We also presented Father Vicente with a gift for the church and another gift for him and his family.
Please let me to make two observations relating to road and traffic in the Dominican Republic and particularly in the town of Bonao. The first is that I did not realize until today that in the heart of Bonao there are very few stop (“Pare”) signs and stop lights. The way in which the streets are built there is a dip or gutter where the north-south and the east-west streets meet. The dip or gutter causes the driver to have to slow down considerably or to stop, if not one’s car can be damaged severely. Another observation relating to traffic is that although Dominicans drive on the right side of the street, drivers would turn left or go straight through red stop lights. It’s amazing! It’s the norm although I was told that they are not to do so. Just shows how different all countries are. In addition, in spite of the way most people ride or drive in Bonao, I did not see an accident during our visit. I found that pretty incredible based on how the people drive.
Well, tomorrow will be a sad day for many persons, but as the saying goes “all good things must come to an end.” It will be back to the real world and our daily lifestyle when we reach the United States.
Saturday, June 18, 2011
It’s Saturday morning, June 18, and the hotel is a hive of activity as we prepare to leave the town of Bonao for Santo Domingo. Our Team Leader, Karen Eddy woke us up at 6:30 a.m., an hour later than usual…wow…one whole hour. Sounds like a lot but that depends on what time we went to bed.
Our transportation arrived at 7:15 a.m. Father Vicente, his wife, Nancy, their family, and other members of the church were at the hotel to wish us “Goodbye for now.” When Father Vicente arrived, we conversed with me in my room and I gave him some personal items. He gave me two sets of vestments in green and white and a cross. He wants me to always remember him when I wear them. He and I have bonded very well and we share a lot in common. We have the makings of becoming true and lasting friends.
I did not have the opportunity to have breakfast this morning although it was available. We were not expected to gather together as a team and so persons had breakfast at their own convenience.
After loading our baggage on the coach, Father Vicente prayed for us and gave us God’s blessing. We said our “goodbyes,” hugged and kissed each other and away we went.
On our way to the airport, we stopped at “Barra Payan,” a place that sells sandwiches for breakfast. Then we stopped at the home of the aunt of our Team Leader, Karen, who is a Dominican Republic native. Karen is spending an extra week with her aunt. We met her aunt, a lovely lady of 89 years of age. On meeting me, she asked for a blessing, which I did. She was very interested and delighted to see Beverly Monteith, who she knew from past mission trips.
Then, it was off to the airport, traveling along the south coast and seeing the ocean – beautiful indeed. Our check-in went well and we are all traveling on the plane as I write – AA Flight 778. I am sitting next to my friend and parishioner Brian McClain, and he is on his best behavior – sleeping - quite different from when I was traveling to the Dominican Republic. I guess God did not want me to behave badly and having as much fun as I did with Bibi and Carol on our way to the DR, so he gave me Brian, who incidentally is very talkative. I guess he was too exhausted from the mission trip. Originally, he was to be my roommate but, since there was a change in hotel accommodations, he ended up bunking with two other roommates in an extremely large room, and I ended up in a room alone. Brian translated for me on several occasions during this mission. I am grateful to him, Karen, Jordan, Matthew, members of our mission team, and Yamilex, a young person in the Dominican Republic, for their assistance in translating.
We are expected to arrive in Miami at 6:00 p.m., in half of an hour from now and my day will be a long one with two parties tonight – one of which is a 75th Birthday Bash, and the other is a “Bajan” (Barbadian) party – my first since coming to South Florida. And I still have to write a sermon for tomorrow, Sunday, June 19, being Trinity Sunday and Father’s Day. I guess there won’t be much sleep for me tonight. Oh, well!
I hope you have enjoyed following my blog of the Mission trip. I enjoyed sharing our time with you. Do check my blog from time to time to see what exciting things I have to say on it. Our Jamaican team should be back by now.
To all fathers, father-figures, Godfathers, and mothers who have been both mothers and fathers to their children, do have a Happy and Blessed Father’s Day tomorrow.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad!
Our plane touched down at Miami Airport at 6:05 p.m. We went through immigration, baggage and customs and everything went fine. After collecting our baggage, before going through customs, we prayed together as a team thanking God for all His wonderful mercies. The Jamaican Team arrived safely earlier in the day at 12:30 p.m.