It is now 8:55 p.m. and after a long and eventful day we have arrived safely in Bonao, Dominican Republic. After months of planning, the mission trips to the Dominican Republic and Jamaica are on the way. The day started at 5:00 a.m., at which time the Dominican Republic (DR) team members began to arrive at the Holy Sacrament Episcopal Church, Pembroke Pines, Florida, to leave, as a team, at 6:00 a.m. to Miami International Airport. Actually, the day began earlier than 5:00 a.m. if we consider the time we awoke from our slumber. Patrick Dunkley, a member of the parish, graciously agreed to drive me to the church in order that my children could enjoy uninterrupted sleep.
With the help of church members, family and friends, our baggage was placed in the coach in a timely manner. Before our departure, at the request of our Team Leader, Karen Eddy, and I, we invited Veronica Francis, President of our Daughters of the King, to lead the team in prayer. As always, Veronica gave a moving and inspiring prayer. Veronica and Sonia Blake were present to wish us well and see us off in spite of the fact that they were leaving later in the day for the Jamaica mission.
We had a smooth ride to the Airport although some of us (like me), missed parts of the journey as we tried to catch up on some much deserved zzzzzzz. At the Airport, checking in baggage for 15 persons and making sure that everyone stays with each other can be an interesting task. But we did it! I wonder what it was like for the Jamaica contingent of 26, of which half are teenagers. In addition, when traveling we always tend to forget something and I was no exception. I forgot one of my prized possessions, COLOGNE. So accompanied by Linda Schlepp Gray, it was off to a cologne store to get a must-have, at least for me. After purchasing a cologne named, “L’eaupark Kenzo Eau Indigo” (do not ask me how to pronounce it – smile – just kidding), Linda remarked that I will be the best smelling team member on the trip. Nevertheless, after we were checked in and had breakfast, it was off to the gate for our departure. During our period of waiting at the gate, I had an enlightening conversation with Audrey Burgher. One significant aspect of this trip, at least for me, is that it gives me an opportunity to meet and to know the members of my parish in a less formal setting as well as those who are friends of our parish.
At 9:35 a.m., AA Flight 1711 lifted off into the skies, ON TIME. I had the wonderful privilege and pleasure of sitting next to Carol Bhim and Bibi Achaibar, two dedicated nurses who have made this mission trip for many years. They were also some of the funniest travel buddies I have ever had on an airplane. I cannot ever remember having so much laughter on an airplane before. You may ask, ‘What was the joke all about?’ Well, the first concerned filling out the customs form for the Dominican Republic. Learning to speak and read more than one language is important when traveling to a country whose first language is not English. I will say no more on that matter. We also engaged in ‘Word Search,’ which also brought about some hilarious segments, and a game named, ‘Sudoku,’ which I have never played before. It’s a game where the same number cannot occur more than once in the same row and column. I had a blast sitting next to them. I probably need to arrange with the ticketing desk to have us sit together again on our way back.
At 11:27 a.m., we arrived safely at the Santo Domingo International Airport in the Dominican Republic. Before reaching immigration, we purchased tourist cards at a cost of $10.00 each to enter the country as tourists. Ellen Snow and Karen Carroll, Diocesan Mission Coordinators, greeted us after we had completed the immigration process and collected our baggage.
During the 2 hour drive from the Airport to Bonao, I had a great conversation with our Team Leader, Karen Eddy, on a number of subjects including the history of the Dominican Republic which included a home, owned by Christopher Columbus. We also spoke about some of the team’s earlier trips and missionary work in the DR. Our journey to Bonao took us through Santo Domingo. I enjoyed the natural beauty of the country side interspersed with the city life. What I found most interesting was wherever we travel the people of the DR are so full of life. Men were chatting outside of shops, some were playing dominoes, women were shopping, children were playing and there was so much Saturday hustle and bustle as people went about their lives. While traveling to Bonao, Dr. Pat King also spoke to us about the do’s and don’ts in terms of our health and remaining healthy during our stay.
We arrived at the Jacaranda Hotel, Bonao, one of the hotels which housed some of our earlier missionaries, where we met Father Vincente Pena and his beautiful wife, Nancy. He is a very gracious, genuine and hardworking priest who has great fervor and love for the Lord. After greeting the missionaries, he invited me to join him and his wife in their car for the trip to the hotel at which we were staying. On the short journey, he spoke about being the pastor of eight churches and having to celebrate five masses (Eucharist) each Sunday. He mentors a seminarian, who conducts services at two of the churches every Sunday. The other church receives a mass on a weekday. Father Vincente mentioned that the churches in Bonao are growing and residents in Bonao are very receptive to the ministry being offered by the Episcopal Church. I enjoyed chatting with him and look forward to sharing in ministry with him over the next week.
Being unable to stay at the hotel we originally had intended to stay, we had to make some adjustments before settling into a new hotel. The new setting, however, allows us to be the only inhabitants of the building. Thank God also for air-conditioned rooms since the Dominican Republic is hot and humid. It is weather for being in a pool or the ocean. Nevertheless, so far we are doing well with the language since Karen knows Spanish, having been born in the Dominican Republic but grew up in the United States.
Tomorrow is the Day of Pentecost (Whitsunday), the day on which the Holy Spirit came to the church. We will embrace ourselves with God’s Spirit as we engage in missionary work over the next week. We will put aside a day like today, light-hearted, yet a day of adjusting, and begin to engage in earnest the work God has called us to do on His behalf in the Dominican Republic.
Stay tuned to tomorrow.
The team wishes all of you a Blessed and spirit-filled Pentecost!