Hands of Grace
Emily, Lily, and I want to thank all of those who supported us financially or trough prayer to get to the Dominican Republic. We left January 17th and returned really early on January 22nd. The photographs that are displayed in the video above are small glimpse at why we were in the Dominican Republic. The story is long so I will share the short version.
DeAnn Eddy a personal friend of mine had the vision to start an organization to help children in impoverished communities. Through prayer she brought together a team of 9 to go to the Dominican to get the organization started. We had no idea how much God was working before we ever arrived. The school in Jacagua had received notice that Compassion International was dropping the project to focus on other projects that were more compatible to its mission. This meant that months ago when the school year started 28 kids came to school on a hope and a prayer that by the end of the year they would be sponsored. Along with the 28, a total of 300 would need sponsorship before the fall school year started. The director Gumercindo had faith that God would send help, not only to sponsor the few, but also the many. Gumer is a visionary, a true man of faith. The testimony he shared with us demonstrated that in almost every aspect of his life. The challenge to live by “big” faith was easily identifiable in his words.
We arrived in the D.R. late Saturday night after a long day of travel with many hurdles or broken wheel bearings along the way. God proved faithful and allowed everyone to make the original flight. At the airport in Satiego we were met by our hosts for the week Gumer and Tammy (Tommy as she is referred by the Dominicans). The 20-25 minutes to our church floor residence was a great opportunity to take in the cultural differences that we had never experienced. Dodging in and out of traffic with one or two honks gave us all amusement. The first night ended without further events and sleeping on the mattresses on the floor wasn’t so bad.
We all woke early and had to store our belonging to make way for Sunday school. Lily (our 5.75 year old) was able to experience first hand Sunday school. She did very well, but probably didn’t get much out of it. Following Sunday school was the church service. Fortunatly for Emily and I we had a missionary who translated the key points from III John. It was overwhelming and a blessing to not understand a word they were saying. After a tradional Dominican lunch we rested for a few minutes before traveling to the village of Jacagua to enjoy a baseball game. We found out quickly that baseball is very important to the people of the Dominican. It really demonstrated community to us. A community that is missing accross America. Lily was shy at first, but once we got the ball rolling she was quick to make many friends. It was so fun to watch her throw the ball back and forth without ever saying a word. I was able to capture the Dominican’s at play which was very important in displaying the life of the people. I had a hard time standing by and watching them play so after they were done, a youth and his coach were throwing the ball around and it was fun to jump in and play catch. After only a few minutes hand signals was all it took to communicate where they wanted me to throw the ball. The night ended with a slideshow of images from the first day, and a wonderful time of worship amungst our team. A time to gather and sing praises!
Day 3 arrived earlier than any of us wanted. After a quick breakfast and cold showers we were off to the school in Jacagua. The teenagers were our first subjects and it was funny to not be cool enough for them to talk with. It was like highschool all over again. It was still interesting to see how similar Dominican and American teens are. You could tell there were boy crazy girls and girl crazy boys. Pimples and fashion accessories. Anyway they could stand out without getting in trouble they would. Lunch was awesome because Anthony turned 18 and our hosts ordered him a cake from the city. It was one of the best cakes I ever have tasted. After the Birthday party we were able to use the Balloons to build relationships with the curious children. We were cool enough for them. Lily had made about 8 new friends and running around hitting balloons was a game we all could enjoy.
On day 3 we were also able to visit the church in the village and take a tour of the school and identify all the building needs that need to be completed in order for the school to continue to grow. While DeAnn, Reid, Deb, and Tammy were in meetings, Emily, Lily, Josh, Leslie, Anthony and I were able to explore and play with the children. Lily was even able to sit in a First grade class and was overwhelmed when the teacher gave her a book to use. It confused her because it was all in Spanish and it wasn’t “her” book. The sticker on the fore-head made up for everything! Before school would end for the day we were whisked away by out gracious transportation back to the church where we were greeted with no power again! Straws were drawn and it was decided that Deb, Anthony, Tammy and I would join Gumer for home visits of some of our sponsored children. What a humbling experience. The first visit was to a church member who just had her second husband walk out on her and her kids. The second was the most humbling. We walked down an ally between two decent houses to find a set of unfinished cement stairs leading to the roof of one of the houses. I initially walked past an opening in an unfinished area only to learn later that I had passed the doorway to their 10×10 house. The tin roof, barely heald out the rain when weather struck. The hospitality was overwhelming and appreciated by us. The third visit was to a women and her daughter who lived with their parents because her husband had been executed by local police during a misunderstanding. This home was nice, but still not even close to what I would consider nice in America. It made me appreciate our 800 square foot home even more.
Day 4 again started even earlier than we liked. We had to get to the school so Josh could give the message at chapel and Anthony could share his testimony. Both were well translated to the students of the school, and Anthony hit a home run with his closing words. After chapel we were able to relax at the school until lunch. After another authentic Dominican feast we were able to take a hike that ended up being much longer than expected. We came to a road that we knew had to lead back to the road leading to the school. Unfortunately the Dominicans don’t design their roads in 1 miles blocks. We ended up walking almost 2 miles in 90 degree heat (it was -18 when we left Michigan). Josh was a great support and carried Lily most of the way. Feeling a little light headed upon our return I was able to rest in the shade for a few minutes before we were rushed to finish all the photos that needed to be taken during the trip. We learned a lot about the Dominican way while finalizing the images, and getting transported back to church. Emily, Josh, Leslie, and Reid were able to make the home visits on our last day in the Dominican. I hope they learned as much as I did. While they were gone I was able to catch a much needed nap while DeAnn and Deb taught Lily how to play cards. Pizza, Gumer’s Testimony, and a team meeting brought our last night in the Dominican to a glorifying conclusion.
On the way down to the Dominican I never had to be inspected at security. On the way back I was stopped at every point. The idea that I was carrying duck tape, batteries, cables, and other electronic devices must have set me apart from the rest. I have to admit that compared to other times I have searched by American security agents, the Dominican’s were respectful and polite. The flight home included a stop in Puerto Rico. There I was able to catch up with reality and check my almost 280 email messages. Our flight from Puerto Rico to Chicago was uneventful and relaxing. Upon our arrival we were surprised to see Steve Grody. He had driven all the way to Chicago to make sure we had a ride home since we originally had to leave his van in Holland after a wheel bearing left us stranded. It was great, because he was able to run into a band member from Styks and also drop half the team off at their houses that were closer to him.
Overall my family had an incredible experience serving God in an impoverished community. I feel blessed by the things I have and am proud of my daughter for never having a much deserved melt down on the trip. I am thankful for all those who supported the group, and look forward to serving God as a member of the Hands of Grace team.
To learn more about Hands of Grace check out their facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Hands-of-Grace/