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