Friday, May 16, 2008

Snow Scoop – May 2008

Dear Friends:

May God bless you as He blessed us during Lent, Easter and now Pentcost. When the cold blows into the United States, it also blows teams south into the Caribbean.

Ellen and I (Ellen more than I) spend a lot of time in the Santo Domingo airport. We are continually amazed at the number of teams that stream out of the customs doors and into the land of Meringue. How do we know these are teams? Here some giveaways. You know they are a mission team when:
  • A long-line of people exit wearing the same bright-colored shirts.
  • When an apparent leader yells “Don’t let anyone touch your luggage”.
  • This same person is frantically looking for a familiar face or welcome sign.
  • At least two people have a guitar case over their shoulder.
  • Luggage falls off an overloaded baggage cart pushed by 5 foot 5 teenager.
  • A Dominican host tries to hug a visitor, and the person moves back trying to protect their individual space. (This mannerism will change before the day is out. Dominicans hug and don’t aren’t rebuffed easily.)

Teams are essential to the growth of this diocese. We are grateful for their willingness to be a part of Christ’s work in the DR. This year the diocese will host about 55 groups and over 700 people. This total includes 10 medical teams, 30 work teams, 10 summer bible school teams, 5 mission discovery trips or other groups. Indeed He has blessed this diocese. Here is what we have been doing, since last we wrote:

STREET LIFE - He lay down on the sidewalk less than a block from Epiphany Church and died. He died without hope and he died without his family knowing where he was. He had TB and the public hospital less than half-mile away would not accept him, because they had no way to isolate him from others.

Unlike some who live on the streets, he was quiet and polite. He asked for help in buying food and medicine, but did so in a non-aggressive manner; gratefully accepting whatever you could give him. He did have some friends who cared. The Rev. Michael Floyd and April helped him. They bought him medicine, took him to the hospital, and preserved his dignity by paying him to sweep the sidewalk in front of the church. He did so thankfully. Yet, He lay down on the sidewalk to sleep and never woke up

From our fourth-floor bedroom, I saw her sitting on a cement block in the large parking lot behind our apartment building. Her head was bowed and in her hands. Two children – four and two years old – were playing nearby. At first, I thought the family was probably waiting to see a doctor at the public clinic next door. Ten minutes later, I looked out the window again and she was still there – her head still bowed and in her hands. I put on my jeans and went downstairs.

As I approached her, the children came running up to me, their big, brown eyes and wide smiles showing happiness. A depressed mother with tears in her eyes told me that the owner of her small apartment had evicted her for non-payment. She didn’t have money to buy food for her children. She had no means of support, and she wasn’t sure if her other family members would be able to help her. From discretionary funds that come from our supports, I gave her some pesos. Ellen was watching from the window. Ellen said that when I turned to leave, she showed the children the money and they began jumping up and down.

Five minutes before the 10:30 service, he sat down on the steps of the sacristy. Although age is hard to determine in those people who are suffering from health and hunger problems, I would guess that he was no more than 16 years old. His request was a simple one – help me buy my medicines and food. He told me he had sickle cell anima and there empty and crumpled medicine packets in his hand. There was no hope in eyes. He looked down at the sidewalk as he talked.

The verse “When did I see you hungry, when did I see sick” came to mind. Christ in the form of a hopeless boy was sitting on the steps of the church just five minutes before the service was to begin. I gave him some money, but money wasn’t what this boy needed. He needed someone to love and care for him. As I walked toward the front of the church, the boy remained on the steps. I had seen Jesus once again, and once again I had failed to give Him what he really needed.

A recent report indicated that 20 percent of the people living in the Dominican Republic live on one dollar a day or less. The experiences I have described all took place within a month and in one small corner of Santo Domingo, a city of three million people.

For over a year, Ellen and I have been praying about a street ministry in this area. Our work within the diocesan office has been very satisfying and most certainly we have had the opportunity work with the poor. But we feel we can no longer ignore the call to serve those who are forced to earn their living in the streets – prostitutes, shoe-shine boys, street vendors, etc. We can no longer look the other way as the mentally ill, AIDS victims, and others with serious health problems struggle to maintain their existence. We can longer shut our eyes to women and children who wonder if tomorrow they will have enough to eat.

Please pray that the Lord will guide us as explore the possibilities of establishing a street ministry. Ellen and I believe we are being called to found a drop-in center for those looking for hope or better yet love. The drop-in center would not be an over-night facility – at least immediately. “Your Friends House” or “Su Amigos Casa” would provide showers, clean bathrooms, a laundry, a cloths exchange, coffee, healthy snacks, and hopefully a pharmacy with the basic medicines. We would also hope to have funds to buy other medicines, and take care of special needs.

We want to locate “Su Amigos Casa” in the area where we live. We have no funds to start this program, but we didn’t have the resources we needed to enter the mission field 12 years ago. If “Su Amigos Casa” is Gods will, the funds will be provided.

We want to locate the house in the tourist area near where we live. Where there are tourists, there are street people. A large public hospital is also in the area. Property to rent or buy is expensive and so some have suggested we start the ministry across the river where property is less expensive. But we believe the Lord is calling us to start the ministry here.

God has blessed us. Now, now we are being called to bless those in need before they die on the sidewalk, one block away from Epiphany Church. We would appreciate your thoughts, suggestions and prayers. If while you are reading this, you feel a call to join us in this ministry, let us know. Though this project may not be part of our diocesan ministry, Bishop Holguin has given his blessing.

HAITIAN INSPIRACIONS: Ellen and I have lived in the Dominican Republic for 12 years, yet, we have never ventured into Haiti. At the end of March we accepted Fr. Bruno’s invitation to visit his mission project in northern Haiti. Fr. Bruno and I were ministry partners together at Epiphany Church before he retired at the end of February.

As most know, one portion of the island Hispaniola was established by the French, and the other part was settled by the Spanish. Two extremely different cultures developed with two distinct languages on an island that would easily fit into a third of Nebraska.

To be successful in ministry, you need to understand the culture where God has sent you to serve. We thought we had a fairly good understanding of the Haitian culture. Our four days in Haiti told us we had a lot to learn.

Our experience was limited, but it appears to me Northern Haiti moves by foot, horseback, and bicycles. Roads are dirt, gravel, or a mixture of both. There are many fewer cars than I imagined.
The poverty is intense, but the smiles are bright and the laughter is contagious. There isn’t electricity in towns in rural areas, so Haiti is an outdoor society. The favorite gathering place seems to be close to community water wells.

Fr. Bruno and his family have an incredible ministry of education. The school he started has 450 children. The school days starts with a gathering time where students read a bible lesson, lead a prayer, a Christian hymn and sing the national anthem of Haiti. The school is supported by scholarship sponsors in the USA.

I had the opportunity to observe classroom activities. The classrooms are well organized and the teachers appear to be well-trained. Even though classrooms are crowded, the children are well-disciplined and anxious to learn. There is an adult education program in the afternoon and I was surprised to see that even the adults wore uniforms.

Two of Father Bruno daughters manage the program on a full-time basis, but the entire family is involved. A clinic is under construction. What Ellen and I noticed most was that this was more than a school. It was a ministry of love. It seemed like everyone in Northern Haiti knew the Bruno family.
We will go back to Haiti in the near future.

A SPECIAL PENTECOST – The relationship we have developed in the Dominican Republic are very special. Our lives have been enriched by people who have taught us the joys and tragedies of living in a third-world country.

Tatica is one of the very special people who entered into our lives when we came to the Dominican Republic. For 12 years she has washed and ironed our cloths, scrubbed our floors and toilets, and on most Tuesday’s cooks an indescribably delicious Dominican meal. There isn’t a restaurant in Santo Domingo that can equal her Dominican cooking.

Tatica has 6 children and lives in one of the poorest barrios in Santo Domingo. Using public transportation, it takes her an hour to reach our apartment. On Saturday’s she brings her youngest daughter Emily. Emily is seven-years old and has become our Dominican granddaughter. She helps her mother clean and one of her greatest joys, and Ellen’s, is to go grocery shopping with Ellen.

Tatica has been extremely loyal. Her husband does not work, so her family lives off of what she earns. Because she needs the income she works 6 or 7 days a week and for other families. Through our church connections, we recommended her to some US embassy families. Her work ethic is above reproach, so three years ago she was offered a full-time job with one of the families. She turned them down, even though we encouraged her to accept the position. She said her first obligation was to us, but the family accepted her offer of working four days for them. She has turned down positions with other families for the same reason.

When her oldest daughter turned 15, we bought the cake for her “quince anos” birthday party. The 15th birthday is a special one and Dominicans, even the poorest of the poor, celebrate this birthday in a grand fashion. When we arrived at party which was held at the park, we were embarrassed by the extraordinary attention that was paid to us. We were given special seating for the program and food and drinks were brought to us. We had an absolutely interesting and enjoyable time.

We have a 13-year-old granddaughter named Emily. We are almost sure that our Dominican Emily was named after our Emily. When we began calling our Dominican granddaughter “Emilia” we were quickly corrected and told her name was English form of Emily.

Our relationship moved into closer when on Pentecost Sunday 2008, four of her six children were baptized at Epiphany Church. Three of her children are teenagers, and then there was Emily dressed all in white. One of the family’s cousins joined them. There are moments in ministry that are full of the Holy Spirit and are unforgettable. This was one of them. We have been blessed.

NOTE: The photograph of the man sleeping on the side walk was taken on Palm Sunday by Ellen as we paraded through the streets. There is a message here also, but was not the man who died on the sidewalk near Epiphany.