“You have got to be kidding me!” I sputtered at Karen, the American missionary to the Diocese of the Dominican Republic. “How does he even know? Oh wait, don’t tell me- you told him. Thanks, Karen. Thanks a lot.”
And Karen just smiled as I began to sweat even more in the Sunday morning swelter. In front of me stood a man barely taller than me, clad in a linen shirt and looking a bit surprised, but very happy. That was the general reaction from folks when Karen dropped the news that I, the very youthful member of the entourage, was a priest. It had become her new favorite activity, much to my chagrin. Fr. Polito reacted no differently, but it was Sunday and now I was supposed to lead part of the service.
I followed the short and energetic eighty-year old priest to the vesting room, donned a stole, and palmed a Spanish prayer book. Nervously, I followed him to the front of the church and sat down behind the altar, using it for cover as I surreptitiously opened the Spanish prayer book. I quickly discovered that despite my lack of Spanish, I could follow along perfectly: the book is paginated exactly like the English BCP. Breathing a sigh of relief and sweating a little less, I settled into the service. When it was time to celebrate the Eucharist, Fr. Polito invited me to assist and bear the chalice. By the end, my reluctance to serve had turned to extreme gratitude, feeling honored to have been part of something so wonderful.
‘Being part of something so wonderful’ perfectly describes how our diocesan partnership with Christo Salvador Episcopal Church in Santiago feels to me. Fr. Polito and the congregation offer hope amidst the drug use and poverty of their neighborhood, ever trying to reach out to those around them. Part of the reaching out involves running a pre-school for the neighborhood. Education in the Dominican Republic is underfunded, with over-crowded classrooms, under-prepared teachers, and high drop-out rates. For over a hundred years, the Diocese of the Dominican Republic has been involved in education, with congregations opening and running schools. But with the cost of paying teachers’ and assistants’ wages and managing a building, the churches often have difficulty funding the school; Christo Salvador is no different. Additionally, families often struggle to afford the cost of attending the school, even if attendance offers their child the chance for better education and thus a better job.
Enter the Diocese of Northwestern PA. We have the opportunity to partner with the congregation of Christo Salvador in funding their preschool. As an American partner, we assist in funding the school by supporting the congregation and sponsoring children to attend the school. As partners, we allow the congregation and school administrators to determine how best the funds should be utilized. In addition to funding the school, we engage in student sponsorship. Individuals and congregations can sponsor students and are encouraged to make a commitment to sponsor that child until he/she completes preschool.
One of the best ways to celebrate the beginning of a partnership is to hold a Vacation Bible School in the community. The last week of July 2015, a team from our diocese will support a VBS at Christo Salvador, bringing craft items and providing snacks. Under the direction of Dominican teachers and using the Dominican curriculum, we will assist in any way they need. Doing a VBS lets the community know a new thing is happening at the congregation, while also introducing the new relationship within the context of church. In addition to the VBS, the team will most likely engage in construction projects, led and chosen by the congregation of Christo Salvador.
There are a variety of ways for you and your congregation to get involved in this diocesan project with Christo Salvador. Perhaps God is calling you to be part of the team going down in July or to sponsor a child; additional information and applications are available on the diocesan website. Perhaps God is calling you and your congregation to sponsor a day of the VBS, choosing a craft and providing all the necessary materials. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to flesh out the details. Perhaps you are not able to go on the team, but you are able to financially contribute to the trip cost; donations can be made to the diocese with the memo ‘Dominican Republic.’
I don’t know what your “you have got to be kidding moment” will be, but I can guarantee that however you choose to get involved, you will find yourself filled with gratitude that you have been drawn into this relationships and honored to be part of something wonderful for the kingdom.
I look forward to hearing how you will be part of this project!