Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What the Mission Field Has Taught Us

As Ellen and I look back over the last 16 years, we have gained a special appreciation for life.  Neither one of us ever expected to live in a culture different from our own, much less a foreign country.  We are not the same people who arrived in the Dominican Republic on December 7, 1995.  This country and our Dominican and Haitian friends have taught us many lessons – some good and some bad.  But it has been a learning-experience from the first day until now.

Bob – Like most missionaries we arrived in this country with some crazy ideas on what we wanted to do.  The first lesson we learned was that mission isn´t about what you would like to do.  Mission is about what those you came to serve would want you to do.  This is by far the most important of all our lessons, but here are some others –
  • LISTEN TO Dominicans – They know their country, they know their culture, they know signs of danger.  If they say don´t do xxxx, don´t do it. Too many visitors coming here, think they know more than their Dominican hosts.
  • My good friend and diocesan van driver observed that the poorer the barrio, the richer the spirituality of the people who attend our barrio church.  He´s right.  You want to see the richness of Christ´s love, visit a church in an area of poverty.
  • The Spanish word for STOP in Spanish is PARE.  A friend from Nebraska said this actually meant Proceed Aggressively Risking Everything.  I remember this every time I come to an intersection and I am convinced I have had fewer accidents, as a result.
  • The meeting will start at 9 a.m. really means it will start at about 10 a.m. (Dominican Time).  When Dominicans want to start a meeting on time, they will say 10 a.m. American Time. 
  • While we are on the subject – Dominicans place more emphasis on personal relationships than on time.  Even if a Dominican has an appointment, he or she will not look at their watch.  They will give you the courtesy of listening to what you want to say.  At first, we were frustrated by late starting or late arriving visitors.  But we soon learned that to live comfortably here, you must learn to be patient. 
  • This is a go with the flow culture.  Stay calm and patient even in difficult situations where you have no control.  I have served in two weddings where the bride was over an hour late.  I helped plan a funeral service that was moved to another city, even though it was advertised in a daily newspaper for Epiphany Church.  The immediate family didn´t inform us or many of their own family members of the change.  When the body and the family didn´t arrive at the church, we called our contact number only to learn the funeral was in progress in a nearby town.  What do you tell family and friends who have been waiting for over an hour. 
  • Dominicans place great value on personal relationships.  When they enter a room they will in most cases greet each person individually.  We quickly learned we need to do likewise.
  • This carries over to passing the peace on Sundays.  It is important to greet as many people as you can.  This great event of Christian-caring can last 10 minutes, and on rare occasions even more.
  • Prayer heals people, solves problems, and brings peace to a troubled soul.  I knew this in the head.  My mission experiences transferred it to my heart.
  • Street people know how to survive.  Most will ask you for money, because their needs are great.  However, what they often need most is someone who cares about them and will listen to what they have to say.
  • If you have trouble trusting people, you will have trouble helping the poor.  You need to trust people, even if they steal your watch.  A fact – In 16 years, 8 car batteries, five side-mirrors, and one tire off the back of my jeep have been stolen.  Our apartment has been broken into.  Ellen was assaulted on the way to church.   Even so, we trust Dominicans but are as wise as a serpent in doing so, around people we do not know.  If we didn´t trust them, we might as well leave the country, because we could not be effective ministers of the gospel.
  • If you are afraid to hug a men and women who are not related to you, do not come to the Dominican Republic.
  • We will never be able to totally understand the poor, because we have never lived in poverty.  But by being ourselves, those in poverty will accept us as one of their own.
  • Build it and they will come concept really works.  If the diocese wants to build a new church or school, the Bishop will with faith and prayer commit diocesan funds to put in a foundation.  Three or four years later, the diocese will dedicate the completion of a school or church.
  • I have prayed many times that I never, ever get use to seeing poverty.  It is so easy to get a hardened heart when everyday you are surrounded by families living on the edge. When you don´t get emotional in seeing the many signs of poverty, it is time to leave the mission field.
Ellen – I realize that my thoughts will be slanted because most of my experiences have been with the church and church people.  As I reflect about this, I realize that most people that I have had contact with have been very warm and friendly.  The scripture readings lately have been about love and the love of God.  I wonder if a person that loves God so much reflects that love back to others that they meet.

It is hard for me to pick one thing I have learned because they are all inter-related.

I think I have learned to always turn to God the Father when something goes wrong or when I have a problem.  If a I turn to Him and ask Him for help, He never fails to help me out.  I remember once when we were getting low on funds and our mission agency was ready to pull us out of the field.  Bob and I prayed about this.  In a couple of days, we received a check large enough to keep us in the field for at least three additional months.  We were so relieved. 

I also remember another time when a difficulty came up and I prayed about it.  The next day the problem had been resolved.  Sometimes the problems were resolved in a way I didn't expect.  This in turn taught me to trust in the Lord.  He is always faithful if we turn things over to Him. 
Another very precious thing I have learned was how to share in a very different way.   Somewhere I learned to share with an open heart, not worrying about what I might need, but to consider what another person needs were at that moment.  I am more concerned about the needs of other, especially those that have a lot less.

My perspective of skin color awareness has definitely changed.  After living in a country where I am in the minority, I am much more aware of how this feels.  I stick out like a sore thumb with my lighter skin and blonde hair and blue eyes.  One time when we were visiting a sugar cane village, a three-year-old ran to her father when she saw me coming, and was definitely afraid.  

At first I felt that I would never fit in.  I am now more be empathetic to those who are of different color or who speak a different language.  My experience with the Dominican people is that they are very kind to a person who is struggling to speak Spanish.  They are very tolerant of errors.  However, they do think all North Americans are rich.  They will try to charge you higher prices for things.  But I have learned to use humor to change that around.  I say,"  That is the North American price, now, what is the Dominican price."  Then I laugh.  Then everyone knows I am wise to their game.
I have also learned to relate to the poor and the street people.  I used to be fearful of street people, but because we have so many come to the church where we are assigned, I have come to look at them in a different light.  I believe God showed me that they are His children also.  I have learned that a hug or a touch can mean so much to them.  No longer am I fearful of them.  In fact, I want to look into their eyes and understand them.  I have a true love for them that only God can give.  

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

People who Influenced Our Ministry

Fr. Bruno and Family

ELLEN - Somehow I can't think of just Fr. Bruno.  I think of them as a family.  They are so special to Bob and I that it is hard to describe them to you.

We met Fr. Bruno when we returned from a furlough in 2000.  At the start of his ministry at Epiphany, he had moved into the rectory without his family.  A month or so later his whole family came from Haiti.  His wife, Maryse, his daughters, Dominique, Ann, Sarah and the youngest Cristal, came together.  Another daughter, Rachel, was finishing up her degree to become a doctor in Haiti. 

As our friendship grew, we got to know each one of them individually.  Since they had all daughters, and we had all daughters, I had a special bond with Maryse and the girls.  Each member of the family had unique personalities and special gifts.

We got to know Fr. Bruno first, because he was without his family.  Bob was his deacon for nine years.  Fr. Bruno is tall and thin and has grey hair and a grey beard.  He looked like a tall thin Santa Claus.  He had a wonderful laugh and I still love to hear him laugh.  He is a man of great faith.  I learned that I could talk to him about anything.  Since he spoke good English, it was easier to share with him.  We immediately bonded.

We grew to trust each other.  We started bible studies and prayers groups almost immediately after he arrived.  We had dinners and lunches together.  We found out he was a man after Bob's own heart.  He likes Taco Bell.  

We girls started praying for each other.  I especially had a strong bond with the youngest daughter, Cristal.  She became like a daughter to me.  To this day, she still comes to me for advice and prayers.  

Although, the Bruno family is often at their ministry in Haiti and the girls have a life of their own, we still keep in touch and when we are together, it is like we have never been apart.  Our affection for Father Bruno and his family is so special and precious.  I feel very blessed to have had them in our lives.  We thank God for this family. 

BOB  – Fr. Jean Monique Bruno came into my life as we began our fifth year of ministry in the Dominican Republic.  We would serve as pastors at Epiphany Church for nine wonderful, but sometimes difficult years.  Father Bruno was more than my friend and companion in ministry. We developed a deep and truly loving family relationship.

Fr. Bruno and I grew up in two very different cultures.  He grew up in a family where each day was a challenge.  For this reason, he understands poverty and the struggles it brings.  I grew up in a lower middle class American family.  I had food on the table each day and school was just something I had to do.

Fr. Bruno spoke four languages nearly perfectly, and I was struggling to learn Spanish, my second language.  He understood prejudice as both a Haitian and a black man.  I lived in Nebraska where there was a very small minority population.  I did not become friends with an African American until I was at the University of Nebraska.  Even in the DR where I am definitely a part of the minority population, I did not feel prejudice.  Well there is one exception.  The prices of nearly everything increased when vendors saw me coming.  Even with these significant cultural differences, we connected on the spiritual level.

Father Bruno and his family are perhaps among the most committed Christians I have ever met.  His five daughters are committed to especially helping their Haitian brothers and sisters, and this was intensified after the earthquake.  Through a foundation they formed, they have a school of over 700 children.  They feed these students every day.  The ministry also includes a clinic and community out reach projects.

In our mission life, we have been blessed with many loving friends.   Yet, the Bruno´s are more than loving friends.  Our DNA comes from two very different culture backgrounds.  But the true blood of life comes from the Holy Spirit.  Here we are the same, and we have a very special bond that can never be broken.
Episcopal Church Women and Cursillo

Ellen - In addition to Vivencia and Hijas Del Rey. the groups  that have been an inspiration to me are the Episcopal Church Women and Cursillo.  The Episcopal Church Women have been the spine of church activity.  It is like it used to be in the States.  When Episcopal Church women have conventions in the DR, over 200 women from all over the diocese attend.  Because many members are poor, this is a financial sacrifice for many.  These women continually have projects to help the needy and the church.  The force that moves these women is the love of God and it shows.  Cursillo, is alive and well here.  The leaders of Cursillo are the leaders in the churches across the diocese.  They give of themselves unselfishly all the time.  They are an inspiration.  When we first arrived, the first group to reach out to us was Cursillo.  They enveloped me in their activities.  As I became more active with my own ministry, I had to pull away from them.  They made me strong enough to go out and do things that I didn’t feel I could do.  They helped when they could to establish my ministry.  I will always be grateful for loving support.  

Esthervina Gonzalez

Estervina is in the pink
ELLEN  – When I speak of Cursillo, there is one person who pops into my mind immediately.  It is Esthervina.  When we first arrived here, she was the first person to grab my arm and lead me into a Cursillo meeting.  My Spanish was terrible.  She had enough gumption for two of us.  She pushed when I felt inadequate and she encouraged and pushed some more.  She is always ready to help when the need arises.  She is always willing to serve.  She never runs out of steam.  She has some health problems, but that never stops her from helping.  She always says I love you and never stops.  What a woman and an inspiration to me. 

BOB -  Louis, her husband, and Esthervina are members of Epiphany Church.  Louis is laid back and easy going.  Esthervina is a driver.  You want something done, go to Esthervina.  Want an honest and forceful opinion, go to Esthervina.  Want someone who will help you on just about any matter, go to Esthervina.  Want someone to care, go to Esthervina.

    Every church needs to have someone like Esthervina.  I was sitting with her at our diocesan convention when the Bishop named Epiphany as the diocesan Cathedral.  I am so glad I was because this is something we both desired.  Her enthusiasm is contagious and we found ourselves hooting, hollering, and jumping for joy.   Estervina is a doer and a shaker, and I am so blessed to have her at Epiphany Cathedral.


Bob – ¨Did anyone ever care about him, or love him.¨ This was the first thought I had when I first met Manuelito.   There are many people in Santo Domingo who call the streets near Epiphany, their home.  However, Manuelito is unique among all the street people, I have met.
Gasque, where Epiphany and our apartment are located, is an old middle class area.  This part of Santo Domingo combines some of the better tourist hotels with tall apartment buildings, several hospitals, and clinics, discos, and the street businesses that the tourist trade often attracts.  Manuelito strolls through Gasque, as if he were truly the owner of everything he surveys.  Most people live on the street out of necessity, but Manuelito acts as if this is the life he prefers.

Manuel is normally barefoot, has no front teeth, and those teeth he does have are decaying.  His cloths in most instances are dirty, his beard is scraggly and his hair even scragglier.  In a word he is scary.  In my opinion he probably suffers from a mental disorder.
When he first came to Epiphany, he was disruptive during our coffee time.  Some church members were so concerned that they wanted to bar him from entering our church garden.  For a time period, we actually did have two policemen monitoring the situation.

As deacon I saw it as my responsibility to work with street people coming to the church.  In the beginning his responses to me were angry.  But over time, Manuel mellowed.  Honestly, at times I was fearful myself, because I could not predict his reactions.  When he periodically had violent outbursts I learned how to calm him down.  Over time, these outbursts became fewer.
Everyone knows Manuel, especially other street people and the police.  I have seen him dig food out of the garbage, and I have also seen him share food and clothing with other street people who he judges are needier.  There are times when he will disappear from the area for a long period.  He always honestly tells me where he has been.  Sometimes he has been in jail and other times he has been ¨traveling¨.

For me, Manuel is a good friend, even though I know his attitude can change very quickly.  He has a street wisdom that is absolutely remarkable.  He expresses himself openly and on occasion in a way that embarrasses me and other people.  I am sure Manuel did not experience positive love when he was growing up in San Pedro, and I judge he has been living on the streets since his teens.  You and I could probably not survive in the conditions in which he lives.  But for Manuel all of Gasque and beyond is his house and home.  I make it a point to always touch Manuel in some way when we meet.  I imagine few people do likewise.  But I believe touch sends a message of care and concern.

Through concern and love, Manuel has come to see Epiphany as a church with people who care.  I often see people sigh deeply when he enters the garden.  Some even move away from him.  But Manuel talks freely about his life on the streets, and I have learned how to reach out to those whose life is difficult to comprehend. Through him I have learned how to touch those who call the street their homes.  I cherish my friendship with Manuel, and I am confident I will never have another friend like him.