The morning began as usual with breakfast. It is noteworthy to mention that each day the Ambulance Service in Bonao has been delivering our duffel bags with medical and VBS supplies to the church and the medical clinic venues. Father Vicente had arranged with the service to assist us in the collection and delivery of our supplies.
On arrival at the church, we celebrated the Holy Eucharist. The readings were from 1 Kings 17:7-16, Psalm 4, and Matthew 5:13-16. Carol Bhim and Linda Schlepp Gray read the first lesson and the psalm respectively while Dr. Pat Rowe King led the Prayers of the People.
One of the great things at the beginning of the day was to hear and see that Malcolm was feeling better and ready to work. He had been under the weather the day before and could not be in the mission field. He was assigned to the medical team for the day where he, along with Karen Eddy, took notes about the children’s illnesses before they could see the nurses and ultimately Dr. Pat. One of the funny parts of the day involved Malcolm. He kept going too close into the face of people to hear what they were saying, and they kept backing off. This continued for several times until one child to whom Malcolm came too close decided to pull his “turkey” neck. As you would expect there was uncontrollable laughing.
The medical team went to another area of Bonao where they set up the health clinic in a pavilion. They examined 86 children on that day. Although there was the periodic blowing of the wind, the pavilion was very hot because of the galvanized roof. There is no central air or air conditioning in the buildings or homes in which the medical team are working. It is the same situation for the VBS team although during the morning session in the church building there are electric fans which make it a bit more comfortable. So off I went to the store with Father Vicente to buy two fans so that the medical team could work more comfortably. We also bought a generator which was a gift from members and friends of Holy Sacrament to the Church of St. John the Baptist, Bonao. Nevertheless, when we returned, you can imagine my dismay and disappointment when I found out that there is no electricity in the area from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every day. The amusing aspect of the scenario was that the electricity returned just minutes before the team left the pavilion. Linda Schlepp Gray took a photo as evidence. During our time at the clinic, Father Vicente Pena introduced me to Meredith Tittler, a Peace Corps worker, from Boston, Massachusetts. She has served in the Dominican Republic for the past three years and will be working here for one more year. I introduced Meredith to the medical team and she is now assisting them in translation. Dr. Pat was very happy to have her. Before I left the pavilion, I blessed the sick children who were at the clinic seeking medical attention, and their parents.
The children who attended the VBS were even more energetic than the day before. I guess that familiarity with each other and more fun activities promote such an environment. Nevertheless, 50 children attended the morning session of VBS at Iglesia de San Juan Bautista and a similar number attended the evening session in the barrio. The theme for the week is based on Acts 1:8 – “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” However, each day the children are taught a different scriptural lesson. On the first day (Monday) the lesson was “The Friends – David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:1-4, 20); and on Tuesday, the lesson was “The Four Friends of the Paraplegic of Capernaum” (Mark 2:1-12). The children engage in exercises, crafts, and activities that are related to the scriptures. Each VBS session, the children are given gifts, as incentives, for accomplishing various tasks.
The Construction team continued working on the internet café – they built a bookcase, a prep counter for the food service, and the frame for the sanctuary platform. Charlie Nakash, the missionary from New Jersey, who was assisting us with construction, returned to Santo Domingo in the evening. However, we acquired the services of a member of the church, Jose Miguel, and Father Vicente’s son, Abel, to help Ron.
The day was an interesting one for me as I traveled with Father Vicente on many errands. It is very important for two fellow clerics and colleagues to spend time together and to engage in conversation. We began the morning by returning to the home of Frank Jr., the boy who was struck in an accident, to take his family some items. Father Vicente prayed with him and his mother. Then we visited the home of the Senior Warden of the church who lives next door to where the evening VBS is held. The purpose of the visit was for me to see the lay-out of the home which will be used for the health clinic on Thursday.
Among the many places we visited included the grocery store to buy items for the mission team, the Rectory where we collected things for the mission, a hardware store, a furniture store, the bank, a café, the public market with Father Vicente, his wife, Nancy, and mother-in-law, Delores Cabrera, and the Bonao Fire Station where I met the Fire Chief. Father Vicente is a very interesting man in that he has a number of influential contacts in very high places, some of which I have met on this trip and last year’s. We also made visits and spent time with the VBS, medical, and construction teams at different locations. It was a long, very hot day with very little air conditioning in many of the buildings to which we went. Sometimes, if a store has air conditioning, it is very low to conserve electricity. Yes, I know I am a spoilt American. But for me, the best time I spent was talking with Father Vicente on a range of topics including church, ordained ministry, politics, family, our vision for ministry in our parishes, and the Dominican Republic and South Florida areas.
The day was also interesting from the point of view that I was able to see first-hand the culture of Bonao and the way people go about their daily lives. Bonao is a bustling city and it has experienced some positive progress since my last visit a year ago. Construction has boomed a bit; new buildings like a public library have been erected and cleaner streets are materializing. Nevertheless, there appears to be a great level of unemployment in Bonao and in the Dominican Republic in general. In the poorer or slum areas, called the barrio, many young men and retired men can be seen sitting by the streets, outside their homes or under trees, either playing dominoes or simply liming. They are very laid-back and this is their daily routine and pastime. Women, both young and old, can be seen sitting outside of their houses or that of their friend’s chatting away. Children can also be seen playing in the nude in the streets. Parents simply do not have the money to buy under clothes for their children. In a number of these circumstances, the toddlers we saw are the children of teenagers who are unable to care for themselves, let alone their own children. So the responsibility becomes that of the grandparents. Furthermore, some of these kids, probably about three or four years old, are in the streets unsupervised, and motorists are always in a hurry. This is one thing this relaxed community is not relaxed about. I can assure you, the people of the Republica Dominicana are not the best respecters of the road safety laws. They drive and ride dangerously, bordering on crazy, in my humble opinion. Traffic lights are there for style because people generally do not adhere to them; people drive straight through red stop lights whether or not another vehicle has the right-away, that is, the green light. Motor cyclists ride all over the streets and take all kinds of chances with their lives and the lives of others. I am surprised that I have not seen more accidents.
Another interesting aspect I noticed was that in some buildings, presentation and beauty is not of primary importance, functionality is. For example, the staircase in the hotel in which we are staying has uneven steps and if you are not careful you can trip and fall. But what is important is that you can get from your room, down the stairs, and out of the hotel. These are some of the situations I observed and spoke about to Father Vicente while we were traveling together.
In our evening meeting, after recapping the day and what needed to be improved, Hashan Bhim, one of the two youngest members of our Mission Team, asked a stimulating question that would promote much discussion. Hashan’s question was, “What do people in the barrio think of us?” His question arose out of feeling of being uncomfortable when he was there. He felt that their eyes were continuously focused on his every move and that was a bit unnerving for him. A healthy discussion ensued although we all agreed that we do not definitively have an answer to his question. We could have assumptions but not absolutes. However, Hashan was encouraged to consider seeing the people in the barrio as being thankful for our ministry and missionary work in their community. This question would make the team members think beyond the time we discussed this question and more importantly the advice given to Hashan would bring about a change in him the very next day he was ministering in the barrio.
After a long but successful day in the mission field, we had dinner with wine, and subsequently Sheila DePass led us in Compline. Then it was off to our rooms for the night where I watched the first game of the NBA Finals where the Miami Heat lost miserably to the Oklahoma City Thunders. Not the way I wanted to go to bed, but oh well. There is always a brighter tomorrow.
With God’s love!