Wrap-Up Post from the DR Mission Team

‘I would like to see Senor Hidalgo.’ This is how my morning begins on Saturday: with an inquiry to see the customs official at the Santiago airport. I’m shown into a small office with dingy lights, one high-heeled shoe lying ominously next to the metal-framed desk. A previous misadventure with customs? I briefly contemplate what my Brooks sneaker would look like next to it, before snapping out of it. I’m never very rational or clear-headed at 3:30am.

Hidalgo appears, in his official uniform, with a ring of keys. ‘You’re here too early.’ He says, looking only briefly at the carbon form in my hands, while unlocking a door to a larger room where I glimpse the two bags that are my reason for being here. With the dim lights and the carbon paper and the suspense, I really feel like I’m in a film noir set in 1940. ‘Too early?’ I reply back, really not liking where this seems to be leading. I want the two bags of our 640 pairs of glasses to take back to America, and I want them now, not later. Who knows what the line is like at immigration? ‘You must wait,’ he says. That’s when I wish it were a movie, because then I’d be some super cool CIA person with karate skills and the ability to teach Hidalgo a real lesson. Instead, I’m a puny priest with no real arm muscles and only a passing knowledge of Spanish.

‘No. No. I’m not waiting. We are not too early; your airport website says arrive 3 hours early. I am taking the glasses. I am going to Delta. You can come with me, but I am going. Now. Right now.’ At least that is what I think I said- this is all happening in Spanish- in my most defiant tone with blazing eyes. A long pause, hands on my hips; heart beats shallow, anger pulsing behind my eyes as I try to think of my next move, but I can’t because it is 3:30am, and I’ve not had any coffee.

Then he looks at the man with him, in a regular button-down shirt, round faced and younger. A decision is made as they point me to the door and grab the cart with the glasses. I become the ringleader of a parade through the outdoor airport, complete with a giant cart holding the big black bags and two customs officials. They escort me to the Delta check-in and wait with me until I check the glasses, procuring copies of my tickets and baggage tags before giving me a stack of stapled papers they assure me I’ll need in the US, which I put away because no one in the US cares about 640 pairs of glasses, all looking like they came from 1982. Only Hidalgo cared.

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And that is probably the only ‘rational’ explanation for why our vision clinic never happened this past week. Let me be clear: no one we worked with anticipated any trouble. The company from whom we rented the equipment and bought the glasses sends teams all over the world- often to the DR- with little trouble; the American missionary in the DR, who plans our trip, works with teams that do vision clinics and has never encountered an issue. The priest at Christo Salvador also did not anticipate this problem. Over the course of the week, Father Hipolito made repeated phone calls and visits to the airport; the diocese involved their government liaison. Despite having the paperwork all finished on Wednesday, customs refused to give the glasses back. I feel quite relieved even to have received them back to take home.

The losers in this are the people of the barrio where we work. They were signed up for appointments. The last day, a little girl asked Tina about glasses; it was the worst feeling in the world to say ‘no, no glasses.’ I have sent scans of the paperwork I received back to the missionary in the DR to try and get an answer, but I remain unsure whether we will have an answer. By no means was the week a waste of time, but this was undeniably disappointing. We will do our best to figure out what went wrong and make an informed decision about next year.

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In wrapping up this blog, I would like to extend an enormous ‘thank you’ to those who kept us in your prayers and to the churches and individuals who supported us financially. Without the assistance and commitment of our sponsors, we could not have gone. The team is grateful for their support of this ‘one church’ endeavor that grows the kingdom and changes lives.

– Melinda Hall

Post from Friday of DR Mission Trip

The dreaded time has come to say our goodbyes. We were only here for a short period of time,  and made such a huge impact on the kids’ lives. Just by being here for a little while the kids even made an impact on me. Despite what happens in the children’s lives, they came to Vacation Bible School and forgot whatever was the matter at home, and had a huge smile on their face. They also loved playing with my hair every day! I cannot wait to come next year and see the kids again. I am going to miss them so much. They were so cheerful to see us come and happy we were having fun too. By the end of the week we had 73 kids. This is a lot for the community the church is located in. The first day we had about 45 children show up.  They loved the games and crafts we had for them. For this being my first time being out of the country and first mission trip, I was scared of the different culture and food.  Once we got here Friday, I noticed a lot of things were the same and not a lot different from home. The food was different but I tried a lot of news things, including rice, fried eggplant, and papaya.

-Abby Wheeler

Post from Thursday of DR Mission Trip

Seeing the children waiting each morning, makes us smile. We are greeted with hugs and smiles. They are excited to learn new games and teach us their games. They are so happy to see ping pong balls and balloons and game time goes so quickly.

During craft time today, the teachers read ‘The Giving Tree’. The children then traced their hand to create a tree that they decorated with stickers to make ‘leaves’ of thanks. As we helped them trace their hands we noticed how they were sharing crayons and helping each other draw leaves.

This week is going very quick. Even though it’s not going the exact way we planned, each day we are reminded of how this partnership in the DR is truly as blessing for all of our church family.

– Julie Westman – Church of Our Savior, DuBois

Post from Wednesday of DR Mission Trip

It’s after lunch, post worship on Sunday, and we’re all sitting around Fr. Hippolito’s table, having just eaten a load of flan to prove how grateful we are for the invitation.  The afternoon seems long and stretches out into a haze of humidity and heat, making me feel lazy and languid.  For a few minutes I have been following the conversation between Fr. Hippolito and our translator, Ernesto, listening particularly for how it is we’re getting back to the hotel, but the conversation is mostly about church.  I’ve been learning Spanish fairly diligently, so I am following along ok, but I find myself stuck on one word.  Finally I just ask what it is.

‘Oh,’ says Ernesto, ‘the word is templo.’  I am slightly confused because this sounds a lot IMG_9607like the word I just learned meaning earthquake.  Surely this is not the word.   ‘Um, what does it mean?’ I ask, Ernesto looking at me like I am really slow today.  ‘Templo, you know, the church building?’  No wonder he’s raised his eyebrows at me like I’ve lost it; that
should have been easy.  ‘Riiiiight!’ I chuckle with him.  ‘But wait, Ernesto, I learned iglesia means church.’  ‘Yeah,’ explains Ernesto, ‘Templo is the building but iglesia is the people.  You know?’

The laziness flees from my body as I sit bolt upright.  ‘For real?’ I say, totally captivated by this superb theology expressed linguistically.  ‘Yes.’ Ernesto says in a voice that is meant to convey his authority but also that he thinks I am slightly silly for the question.  ‘That is the best ever!’  Because it is.  Because think of all the time in English spent trying to parse the difference between the church where I attend and the place it physically occupies and
the church as the body of Christ, the gathered disciples.  The iglesia is what matters; templos are completely secondary.

IMG_9625This week in Santo Domingo is an iglesia experience, the one church gathered for kingdom work.  We talk a lot about being one church in our diocese, partnering together to do more and to support one another, and this relationship with the iglesia of Christo Salvador in the DR is an extension of that.  There is only one iglesia of Jesus Christ, and we’re all part of it- Americans, Dominicans- any Christ follower.  Being one church is what this is about.  It is not about running the perfect VBS or experiencing a new culture; it is not about ‘going on a mission trip’ or even holding a vision clinic.  It is
about partnering to bring the kingdom, to be Christ in the world.

For one week, we get to witness how the kingdom is unfolding in a different place and be part of it, to see what Jesus is up to in an entirely different barrio than our own.  We have the joy of supporting our brothers and sisters who work diligently and faithfully despite issues of poverty and development.  We have the privilege of developing relationships with people who seem so different and yet are so similar, people who like us pray for the kingdom to come and God’s will to be done.

Why partner and visit the DR?  Because we’re all one church, that’s why.  Because we are all in this together.   But we easily forget that, we even forget to be one church in the IMG_9622
diocese, as each templo gets consumed by parochial affairs.  This week reminds me that the Jesus movement is a global movement.  That the Spirit is loose, not only in my backyard, but all over the world, stirring up new things and overturning systems and inviting us to be part of her dance.  Being here opens my eyes, extends my vision, and sends me back differently.  We are one in Christ, we are the iglesia.

– Melinda Hall

Post from Tuesday of DR Mission Trip

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

The second day of vbs went well!! I was so excited to see many more children attend bible school this morning. The craft was amazing, and the children really enjoyed painting their corazon (heart).  Today, two amazing girls caught my eye we when singing during lunchtime. Everyone here is so compassionate and despite the rain that fell today, it didn’t stop us from having a good time. I’m excited for what the rest of the week brings us. Prayers for our eye clinic! 

-Stephanie Onyeiwu, Christ Church Meadville 

Post from Monday of DR Mission Trip

image3We started the day at 9 am with VBS. Crafts, lessons, and games. The craft was pasting tissue paper to a cross; they turned out beautifully. Thank you to the new Hermitage church plant for donating the supplies.

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After VBS the church ladies prepared lunch. Beef with peppers and onions, rice, beans, veggies, and pineapple. And of course sweet plantains. Everything was very delicious.

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We were suppose to start the eye clinic today, but we weren’t able to get the glasses from immigration. Father Hippolito went to pick them up but had no luck. He said he was praying that this will work out. This is a huge opportunity for this community, so we ask that you pray with us that we get these glasses back. image1 2
Mucho Gracias,

Amy Greene

Post from Sunday of DR Mission Trip

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Greetings from the Dominican Republic! Our group arrived in Santiago safe and sound after a long day of travel. We are adjusting to the heat and the language barrier, while enjoying many Dominican treats like fresh avocados and mangoes (and Presidente beer- for those of us who are over 21). 

image2This morning, the 7 of us (Julie, Tina, Stephanie, Abby, Pam and Melinda), attended the church service at Christo Salvador, led by Father Hipolito, the congregation’s 87-year old priest. We received a very friendly welcome from the other parishioners, particularly the children, many of whom recognized returning group members. Father Hipolito asked Melinda to deliver a sermon, which was translated by his nephew Ernesto, our translator for the week. Melinda did a great job, and got a good response from the crowd. The service was fairly easy to follow, despite my lack of Spanish skills.

 After church, we organized and set up our vacation bible school supplies and games. We’ll start school tomorrow, and are expecting 75-80 students to attend. Most of the kids come from the neighborhood surrounding the church. I’m sure they’ll be very excited to get started tomorrow.
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Following the service, we were invited to lunch at Father Hipalito’s house. We enjoyed hearing him talk about the DR under the Trajilo regime, and his journey with the church. The food was wonderful- chicken, rice, vegetables, fresh mangoes from the Hipalito garden and flan. We were all extremely grateful to his family for welcoming us into their home. After lunch, we also had the pleasure of meeting another team working at an Episcopal church here in Santiago. The group was being led by Karen, a missionary from the Dominican Development Group. Melinda served with Karen a few years ago, hence the origin of this trip. They traveled from Florida, and will also be teaching VBS and perhaps helping us with our afternoon work. image1

This year, in addition to our VBS activities, we will be administering a vision clinic to community members. Melinda originally had this idea after observing the need for vision improvement last year amongst the children who attended VBS. She found a non-profit organization in Louisville, KY that provides training and equipment to measure eyes and distribute glasses to those in need. I attended the training session in June of this year, and in July, 650 pairs of glasses were delivered to my house in Brookville. With help from others at Holy Trinity, we bar-coded and assigned a number to each pair in order to create a full inventory. While the organization provided thorough instructions for the entire process, this did take quite a bit of preparation. It also required us to carry two very large duffle bags full of glasses, along with three smaller suitcases of equipment all the way to the DR. Luckily, that operation was very well coordinated by Melinda and the rest of our team.

One small glitch in an otherwise smooth (so far) trip. All was going according to plan until we were stopped at customs at the airport in Santiago. The airport officials were initially suspicious that we were carrying medicine, and even after that was cleared up, we found out that we are lacking the correct paperwork or documentation to take the glasses with us. They were therefore confiscated by customs, and are being held for a few days until…we don’t know. But Father Hipolito will return to the airport tomorrow and we should be in the clear at that point. Admittedly we are all fairly nervous and frustrated about this. 

Assuming we are able to have our vision clinic (fingers crossed!), we hope to measure about 15 people per day, so 90-100 in total. (There is a reason we brought so many pairs– the machine will match the best possible fits for each patient, based on age, gender and vision. Therefore, we need a large inventory to pull from). If we are not able to hold the vision clinic this week, we will of course be very disappointed (and frustrated, considering the hours of prep that went into labeling and sorting the glasses!) But I’m sure we’ll find something else to occupy the time, and learn a valuable lesson for next year.

We are all being cautiously optimistic, and are excited to get started with VBS tomorrow. I am personally very excited to meet and spend time with the students. We’ll send another update tomorrow, and will hopefully have some good stories to share. Buenos noches!

– Pam Frontino