Today was a beautiful celebration of the 10th anniversary of the school. It was 11 years ago we received the money from missionaries across the United States to complete the construction of what was supposed to be a mission house. That was until Sairy and I that summer looked around and thought, a mission house would be great. But we would only use it 10 weeks a year, at best. BUT if we turned the building into a school, we could use it 52 weeks a year. It was less than 3 months later we opened the school for the very first time. I remember that day well. We were full of excitement. We started the day with a prayer, sung the national anthem, and then escorted 20 children away from their parents for the first time in their life….into a solid concrete building. Kendys, Daisy and I somehow had enough patience and love to get through 3 hours of redirecting, loving, consoling, and entertaining our 20 little angels. At the end of the day, the parents came to pick up the children and we had our first moment of silence.
As we cleaned up the school and got it ready for the next day, we walked out toward the car to be greeted by German, the gentleman who lived across the street, and one of the reasons Cuesta Arena is so special. German didn’t have much to his name, but he had prepared sancocho, a Dominican soup, with rice and avocado and set a white table cloth meal for Kendys and I as a thank you for the school. It was the sweetest moment as Kendys and I sat in his yard, while he served us.
There are so many beautiful memories after that day and those first 20 kids will forever hold a special place in my heart as I was here the entire year they were in the school. We learned so much that year about the community, their needs, their homes, and their own unique culture. But the story of the school doesn’t start there. Today I reminisced with and learned from Estella just how far back the story goes.
Before Sairy was appointed to the church in Santiago (in 2000), Estella and German were two of the four members of the church. There was a missionary, Benjamin and his wife that were living and working at the camp in Bani. They felt called to come to Santiago to help them build a church. I wish I knew Benjamin’s name or a way to contact him but I have never seen a picture or known anything but his name was Benjamin. They worked with various groups to begin the construction of the church in Santiago. During that time, German left his family in Cuesta Arena and lived at the church property to help care for the church during construction. Estella would travel with German to Cuesta Arena and became particularly close to one of his daughters, Maria, who was mute. Estella and her husband, “sponsored” Maria and brought her to the city to live with them some so that she could get an education and more assistance. Sometime around this timeframe, Estella and her husband felt called to purchase property, with the dream to someday have some sort of school. We estimated today that this was sometime between 1990 and 1999.
Around 2000, Sairy was appointed to the church and at some point in 2000 Maria became pregnant with Juan(cito) and returned to Cuesta Arena for her family to assist. It was also around this time that Al and Nancy Rattray from Ohio began to bring groups to Santiago every February to help with construction of the church. Estella donated a portion of her land to the church and Al and Nancy and their teams assisted with the construction of the pavillion. In 2008, I was introduced to Sairy and visited Cuesta Arena, falling in love and forever changed. However, it wasn’t until my second trip in May 2008, where we walked the community and talked with the people. It was the community that stated they wanted a school.
Fast forward back to the first week of the school opening, it was then that I met with the parents of the school and gave them the keys to the school. I told them it was never my dream to have a school in Cuesta Arena, it was theirs. So I gave them the keys back and left the upkeep and maintenance of the school in their hands. For me, that is what made today so special. After 10 years, they continue to clean the school daily. The mothers formed committees to decorate and people from the community donated snacks and drinks for the reception afterward. Graduation was not just a celebration of our 5 graduates this year but of the community, its accomplishments, and all that they have become.
Cuesta Arena is different today than it was 10 years ago. It is truly a community whose hope has been renewed. They are full of so much joy and and hope for the future. They have grown so much and there are so many leaders to lead them into new possibilities.
Thank you to every missionary over the past 25 or more years that have been down and served. You have truly made a difference in the lives of the people. Your love and dedication to them has shown them that they are worthy of God’s love. They are truly grateful for the gifts you have given to them and your presence here in their lives. And if anyone has any information on Benjamin and his wife…..maybe one day our paths will cross and I can learn more about his story and how he encountered Cuesta Arena during his time.