It was a shorter flight than I expected from Miami to the Dominican Republic. The plane was big…bigger than any one I had ever been on. It had three rows of seats instead of the usual two that I was used to. I was seated in the middle row, so I didn’t get a window seat where I could get an aerial view of the island as we approached.
We hit the DR at about 4 o’clock on a Tuesday, December 6th. They don’t do the ‘daylight savings’ thing in the DR, so they’re pretty much an hour ahead of us until we ‘spring forward’ the following year. The airport wasn’t too busy so we got our luggage from the bag check without much of a hassle. The passport and customs process, though, was a different story. We had to fill out all of these forms and have them ready to hand to several different people along with our passports. This was new to me since I haven’t been out of the country since before 9/11.
We had arranged for a bus to get us around during our visit in the DR. When we finally saw it, we couldn’t ignore its strong pink accents and matching window curtains. We had a few laughs about this as we piled our luggage into the backseats and took off into the city towards our hotel. We stayed at the Barcelo Capella Beach Resort in Juan Dolio. It was a pretty well-equipped spot set on the Villa del Mar beach. The staff was friendly and the amenities were definitely fit for the above-average vacation. It was nice to see, but we already knew that 90% of our time would be spent elsewhere with those whom we came to serve…not sipping pina coladas and enjoying the ocean view.
We woke up the next morning dark and early for Bible devotions at 6:30am near the beach. This is what we did every morning. We were divided into groups, each being assigned specific days on which we would plan and facilitate a relevant lesson of our choice from the Bible. Every group selected a different passage. Our group chose Matthew 25:31-46, a parable spoken by Christ Himself describing how much He wants us to serve and help those in need.
31 “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’
45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’
46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”
– Matthew 25:31-46
7 o’clock was breakfast time. There was a restaurant on the resort that served much of the typical all-you-can eat fare – omelettes made-to-order, waffles/pancakes, sausages and such – plus a lot of other goodies of the Caribbean culture. I couldn’t get enough of this stuff called Mangu de Platano, which was mashed green plantains with spices and onions. I also found out about chinolas and ‘johnny cakes’, both of which are now new favorites. We usually stuck around for breakfast for about an hour until it was time to meet our bus driver at the entrance.
Our bus driver usually arrived at the resort around 8:15am or so to pick us up and take us where we needed to go. On Wednesday, we visited a small church in the city of San Pedro where we brought in about $7000 worth of food, flip-flops, and toys (all thanks to many donations). We organized them, bagged them, and divided them into several different piles depending on where they were to be delivered. We pretty much spent the rest of the week distributing all of this stuff across different cities and bateyes.
Everyday was a unique experience. On Thursday, we visited four different neighborhoods. In each one, we visited one of their local churches where our leader, who was a reverend, greeted them and told them about Christ. Some people accepted Him as their personal Lord and Savior. Some didn’t. Either way, virtually everyone who came to get a bag of food got what they needed. We also passed out flip-flops to those who didn’t have shoes on their feet. On Friday, we spent the entire day in a rural (very rural) batey in Boca Chica. Our team prepared and served hotdogs and ice cream to the residents for lunch. Many of the young girls in this town hadn’t had their hair washed for several months. So the ladies on our team helped wash their hair while many of the boys got haircuts. There was even some face painting going on, along with other games and activities that kept the children entertained. Over the next two days, we traveled through the cities of Santo Domingo, San Pedro, Boca Chica, and Consuelo with hopes to meet some of the needs of those we met. We even visited little school houses with children neatly dressed in matching uniforms. We fed them, played games with them, gave them toys, and sent them home with bags of food for their families.
There were some places where we had more specific agendas aside from just providing food, shoes and sharing the Gospel. Most of the areas we visited didn’t have running water. Instead, there were tanks on the roofs that collected rainwater. They could use that water, but they couldn’t drink it because the environment was much too polluted. So we introduced them to tools that they could use to start making clean drinking water (www.raincatcher.org) on their own without having to travel out of town to buy it. In some places, we coordinated building projects that would provide necessary amenities like modern bathrooms and septic tanks. We also delivered a wheelchair to a child with several developmental disabilities. In every situation, our team leader always shared the Gospel with them before we began to distribute what we brought. This was how we made sure the people knew that we came in the name of Jesus Christ and that He was ultimately responsible for our being there to help them – not us.
In the midst of it all, we were usually able to take a break and return to the resort for lunch around 1 or 2pm. After about an hour of eating and rest, we boarded the bus to go somewhere else and do it all again. We stayed pretty busy, but it was fun and enlightening. Our days typically ended anywhere between 8pm and 10pm…usually closer to 10pm…which was just in time to catch dinner.
Our appetites were usually full-grown by now so we wasted little time making our way to dining area. This was when we could relax since we didn’t have to leave within the next hour for another round of work. A few of us would sometimes stick around until late, sipping our water and juices while talking with each other and some of the staff. Our conversations with the staff were ‘interesting’ without our translators around; considering that we knew very little ‘conversational’ Spanish…which meant that most of our conversations didn’t go much further than “¿cómo estás?”. Most of us were settled into our rooms by 11:30pm or so, considering that we had to be up early the next morning.
The following Monday was our last night in the DR. Our flight wasn’t until 5pm the next day, but we had to check out by 1pm and get to the airport by 3pm. We managed. We left some of our clothes behind for the housekeeping staff (as planned). I gave a pair of jeans to a young shoe shiner outside of the resort and bought a Spanish Bible for a waitress in the restaurant. It felt good to leave stuff behind for strangers on purpose. I began to miss the country even before we took off towards the U.S., fearing that I might soon sink back into the mundane cycle of self-indulgence and “9 to 5”. It was such a rewarding experience that I wondered whose lives were changed more after this experience… ours or theirs?