The DR video...

Reunion is a very artsy fartsy church. So much so that sometimes I wonder if Emily and I should feel a little more out of place there. This one time we were setting up the welcome area before church, which includes an art gallery. As I was hanging most of the pictures I had to ask someone else which way was right-side-up. To those of you that painted those works of art - I'm sorry.

AAAAANYWAY, there are definitely some pluses to the artsy culture at Reunion. GREAT worship music, nice artwork hung [not so] professionally, and videos like this. Our former pastor for community at Reunion made this lovely video of our trip to the DR this year. Enjoy!

Dominican Republic 2011 Highlights from Phillip McArdle on Vimeo.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Dearest Family and Friends –

Emily and I would like to thank you all so much for your generous participation in our ongoing service in the Dominican Republic. Now that we’ve gotten somewhat settled back into our American lives, we wanted to share with you about our trip, and all that you’ve helped make possible!

Returning to the DR for the second year felt a lot like coming home to old friends and family. Everyone that returned this year seemed to jump right back into the relationships that they had with members of the community, whether they were 7 or 70. Thanks to our group’s consistent presence in both Hato del Yaque (the town where we “live” in the DR) and La Mosca (the town where Pastor Luis that we support works) over the past several years, conversations with our friends in the area now extend far beyond “Como te llamas?” (“What’s your name?”)  So instead of giving you all the detail on the time that Brett spent building walls, or the time that Emily spent translating for the medical clinic (which served over 800 people!), we thought this letter would be best used to tell you about some of the dear friends that we already miss since returning to the US.

Meet Ramona: Last year Ramona was Emily’s hairdresser – always braiding her hair and playing with her. This year, we weren’t in Hato del Yaque more than 15 minutes before Ramona found Emily, grabbed her hand, and didn’t let go for the rest of the night. Jen, the missionary in Hato del Yaque, told us she recently made collages with a bunch of the local girls to talk about what they wanted to be when they grew up. One girl made a collage about being a lawyer, another about being a seamstress, but Ramona’s collage had pictures of models and hairstyles. Assuming Ramona wanted to be a hairdresser, fashion designer or something of the sort, Jen asked her to explain. Ramona said, “When I grow up, I want to be sexy!” Like Jen, we couldn’t help laughing, but the sad part is that this is a perfect example of why there are girls in their teens and early twenties in the community with as many as seven children! This year Jen and a few of the women from our medical team actually put together a very educational “birds and bees” discussion for these same girls. Hopefully over time, the presence of the church, Jen, and the new pastor Èlido will help change this aspect of the culture that has left many single teenage moms to care for children all by themselves.

Montán and his son Heissey: Eleven years ago, Montán and his family started the church in the community of Hato del Yaque. Montán and his wife have eleven children. ELEVEN. Brett had the pleasure of working with one of his sons, Heissey, on the construction site all week. Heissey works at a bakery in Santiago with a few of his siblings, and it seems that almost all of them play some sort of significant role at the church. Whether it’s graveyard-shift guard duty for the church grounds, cook, server for the feeding center, worship leader, etc., you name it, their family is into it. La familia Montán is a wonderful family that serves as a great example of what family should look like in a community that is plagued by broken ones..

Juan and Jose: Last year in La Mosca, Brett spent a lot of my time hanging out with Jose. At 16 years old, he was the oldest male involved in the church in La Mosca. Without a translator, the conversation was very slow, and Brett was only able to take away the fact that most of his family “works” by scavenging in the trash dump adjacent to La Mosca. This year, with Emily’s Spanish skills we were able to learn that Jose’s family of 10 lives in a home of two rooms each about 10’x10’. They all sleep together on two mattresses on the floor. Not everyone fits on the mattresses, so Jose and his twin brother Juan usually sleep on the floor, which is just dirt. A damp floor made of the dirt that soaks up the sludge that runs off of the dump. This year we both spent a lot of time with the two brothers, and we learned more about Juan’s story as well. He told us that while he was scavenging in the dump a few years ago, he was hit in the head by a passing dump truck or bulldozer, and knocked out. When he came to, he stumbled his way back into town to the church. He knew the local pastor (the pastor prior to our friend Luis) through his brother Jose, and knew that the church takes care of people in the community. The pastor drove him to the hospital, got him fixed up, paid for his prescription and helped him recover from the incident. Ever since then Juan has been drawn to the love that the church showed him, and as he learned more about their motives for helping people, he decided to follow Christ as well! Now Juan and Jose are the TWO oldest males that serve the church in La Mosca. They help Luis with the work on the building, they serve children at the feeding center, and they take part in leading worship during the church services. Both of them are continuing their education well beyond the norm for men in their community. Jose is studying to become a child psychologist/therapist, to help the children that he serves at the church/community center with the emotional challenges that they regularly face, and Juan is studying to become a police officer – he hopes to fight the violence that has been escalating in La Mosca over the past few years. They both have interest in traveling to the US or Canada someday

The Vargas Family: …as if we didn’t talk about Luis and Rena enough. We got to spend a lot more time with their boys Jason and Dilson this year, and learn about them. Dilson still loves the water, but is very scared of swimming – so Brett’s skills in the water came in handy during our fun beach day together! Here, we’d say he’s a momma’s boy, but really he just loves to follow around either of his parents - a rare and valuable trait for a boy his age. At 11 years old, most of the kids his age are running wild in the streets with no sign of parental supervision, emulating far less healthy male influences in their community. Dilson stands happily by his parents’ side, and not just because he’s shy (he’s NOT), but because he knows that his parents are good people that he admires and respects. Consequently, Dilson is a good boy. His brother Jason is also a very good boy. Right in the middle of those teenage rebel years, Jason has the best relationship with his parents of any 14 year old I’ve ever met. He helps his parents, he does what they tell him, he’s a good big brother to Dilson, and all by his own choice. Like Dilson, he genuinely admires his parents for who they are and what they do. Jason just started attending a polytechnic high school to become an engineer/mechanic. He also wants to focus his studies on English, because he’s determined to be able to communicate with us better in the coming years.

It’s not the construction, medical clinics, and feeding centers that defined our trip. Those were great, and we were humbled by and grateful for the opportunity to help the people in Hato del Yaque and La Mosca in such tangible ways. It was the relationships that we‘ve been privileged to develop with such beautiful and courageous people that we have come to cherish. These little stories certainly don’t do full justice to the love we feel for these people, but we hope they help paint that picture even a little bit. Please ask us more about them and about our trip when you get a chance – we’d love to share! All your support is what made these relationships possible, and you all deserve the blessing of knowing the people we’ve met as well as we do. We can’t thank you all enough for providing this opportunity for us, and for the people in the DR.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!


Brett and Emily

A Call for Support...

In case you didn't get this letter via email directly, sorry! Please read the story of our relationship with our friends in the DR below, and consider supporting our trip down there to continue to serve in the area!

Dearest Family and Friends –
As many of you know, last summer we took a trip to the Dominican Republic with a group from our church, Reunion Christian Church. We got to know two communities and one extraordinary family on this trip. In only a week’s time, we fell in love with all three.

During the first half of the trip, we worked on a construction site in Hato del Yaque, building a residence and dormitories for the local pastor and missionaries that manage the church and feeding center for the community. (More information on Hato del Yaque, and a brief video tour can be found here.) As we worked, swarms of kids from the community surrounded us insisting on “helping” by pushing wheelbarrows and shoveling dirt. When the work day was done, they stayed - to kick a soccer ball around, hop on our shoulders, or play with our hair (Emily’s not Brett’s :-)).

For the medically-inclined portion of our team, the first half of the trip was spent in an area known as “La Mosca.” La Mosca means “the fly” in English, and it is no exaggeration of what you experience there. Adjacent to an enormous trash dump, this community has grown by scavenging from the dump that sits across creek full of sewage/garbage run-off that flows behind the community. The medical team, composed of doctors and nurses from our church, held a free two-day clinic to address the many issues facing a community with such unsanitary surroundings and virtually no other access to medical care. The line at the clinic went all the way down the street, and in two days they were able to care for around 800 patients.

For the second half of the trip, our entire team spent a few days working in La Mosca. Members of the local church gave us a tour of the village, and introduced us to many of their family and friends. We also got to host the feeding center for the children of the community, and spend time playing with the kids, acting out a story and working with them to make a craft to take home. All that we were able to do with the people of La Mosca was made possible by one extraordinary family – the Vargas family. Our church started supporting Luis Vargas and his family a few years ago, and has maintained a very close relationship with him since. Luis, Reina, Yeison (Jason), and Dilson work tirelessly in La Mosca to provide the community with love, support, and whatever resources they can offer. Having seen them in action, we can tell you that love and support are provided in abundance, while the material resources they can offer are seriously limited. Because of Emily’s Spanish skills, we got to know them fairly well over the week we spent down there, and are committed to connecting with them via Skype on a borrowed computer on a regular basis. If you’d like to get to know the Vargas Family a little better, you can see some of these conversations on our blog as well.  Through this time together, we’ve been able to share updates and prayer requests with one another, and we’ve been able to hear regularly about specific needs we can help provide for (like a more stable source of electricity). While our actual time in the Dominican Republic is minimal, we love knowing that the support and encouragement we provide to Luis and his family goes a long way all year round.

We’re going back to the DR this summer, to continue our support both in Hato del Yaque and La Mosca, and to see the Vargas family again! Supporting these communities has been a joy and a blessing to both of us this past year and one of the most meaningful things we’ve ever been part of. We wanted to give you the opportunity to share in our joy and take an interest in something we’re both very passionate about by supporting our trip, and bringing as many resources to these communities and to the Vargas’ as possible. Our trip will cost $1700 each. Yikes! We know that sounds like a lot for one week, but includes more than just our travel, room and board, we’ve listed what’s included on our support page. We’ve outlined some of the ways you can support us and/or the people in the communities we’re going to serve. We also encourage you to take a look around our website to get more background on the areas and on our reasons for going, and of course, if you have any questions, or would just like to hear more about the trip, please don’t hesitate to call or email!

Thank you for your support of all kinds!

Brett and Emily
Contact info:

Dates for this years trip:

Hi all! First, thanks for visiting our blog/webpage for this trip. This year we will be going to the Dominican Republic on August 2nd and returning on August 9th. These dates are not nearly as convenient for us as they were for us last year. This will leave Brett short a week of training only 10 days prior to the USA Triathlon National Championship. We are still going because we believe this trip, and this relationship we've built with our friends in the Dominican Republic is far to important to us. If race day suffers, so be it!

Thank you for the bibles...

Can you imagine a church with no Bibles? Crazy, right? Luis has been operating that way for over a year now. But God is providing... it was only $50 to provide the church in La Mosca with 20 new bibles. Can you believe that? A church went over a year without bibles because of the small matter of $50!

Skype - maintaining our connection with the Vargas Family

There's of course lot's more to tell about our experience in the DR, but I'm going to take a quick shift here, from the people and place at large, to our new friends, Luis, Reina, Jason, and Dilson. Meet the Vargas'.

Emily and I were a little skeptical when we first went on the trip as to why we were only spending three of the seven days we were in the DR doing the construction related work. We quickly discovered that it was because more than anything, this trip was about the opportunity for our church community to visit with a family that we support down there. The Vargas family. Luis is pastor to the church in La Mosca, which I believe we've mentioned, and will provide more detail on in future posts. In any case, Emily and I quickly fell in love with the Vargas family. It's pretty hard not to, honestly. Anyway, over the course of the trip, it became clear to us how important it is to Luis and his family to stay in frequent contact with our church. We wanted to make sure we encourage and support Luis as much as possible, ESPECIALLY in the looooong 12 month period between our visits! Enter skype. This is our second monthly skype sessions with Luis and (hopefully, some of...) his family. I can't tell you how excited I am. If you live in the Boston area, and you're free tonight, I'm telling you this is probably one of the best ways you could spend your evening - getting to know one of the best men I know.

If you're interested in coming, we're meeting at 6:15, and it'll probably go to 7:15 or 7:30. We're meeting at the Reunion Christian Church (our church) offices @ 30 Fenway, Unit 1, Boston 02215. Hope to see you there!

We're back!

First a great big thank you to all of you that supported our trip! We're back and have lots to share! (If your interested...) There's a lot to share, so Emily and I thought we would start by giving a run through of what we did, and a tour of where we were. Then as time goes on and we continue to process the trip, we'll share some stories - some fun ones, and some that may either warm or break your heart.

So, from the beginning... our time in the Dominican started in an area called Hato del Yaque. Jen (the long term missionary in charge of our visiting team) gave us a brief history of the area. In 1979 the city of Santiago was flooded in Hurricane David from the swelling of the Yaque river. Our bus driver told us that as recently as last year, there was flooding along the river from another storm that brought the water levels up 10 feet above the level of the main artery in Santiago that we were driving on (flooding the first floor of all the residential buildings along that road). Anyway, the 1979 flood destroyed tons of homes and businesses in Santiago - Hato del Yaque is a town across the river, and slightly more elevated, that was formed by a collection of refugees from Hurricane David. As you can imagine not the best circumstances for forming a town.

In the video below, notice the lack of infrastructure provided to the community. You might be able to see on the drive in that the roads are... well they aren't what we might call roads. There is a curb in some areas intended to serve as a gutter, but rain water usually runs down tire impressions making very deep swells in some cases leaving the road nearly un-drivable for lower profile cars, like sedans. The other thing that might be more difficult to see is power lines are fashioned locally. The point at which the pavement ends is all the point at which the power lines officially stop. Locals have propped up all sorts of doo-dads to run power lines to their own homes. EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. Jen told us that one of the leading causes of death in the DR has been electrocution or related burns from people that get up on their roofs and try to connect their own wires to the makeshift power lines that run through this and many other similar communities. Anyway, here's some footage of our drive in, and a tour of where we stayed and worked for the first half of the trip...