Wednesday Scott and I got back from our “Quick Trip” for graduation. Thought Scott and I both had moments we did not feel good, it was overall an amazing trip. I thought I would take a few moments to share with you about our trip.
Friday night we arrived at the house and were warmly greeted by Sairy, Luis, Frank, Felix, Mommy, Lourdes (Dona), and as always in Sairy’s house, many others just hanging out! I was greeted with Habechuelas con Dulce (one of my favorite Dominican dishes) and an amazing feast of food! We settled in and caught up before heading to La Islita to spend the night. I was reunited with my little “viejito” (old man) Rav 4 that has been so faithful to the mission over the past year and re-acustomed myself to driving “Dominicana.”
Saturday we got up, enjoyed breakfast then headed out to Cuesta Arena for graduation! As we drove up to the property I was overwhelmed with its beauty. The community had scheduled a work day the Tuesday before to finish painting the building inside and out. With the second floor completed, it looked like something only I had seen in my dreams. We were greeted by the children and families with the long lost “Sara!!” “Sara!!” chants. Some of the “new” kids in the program, I’m sure did not remember me but joined in with the others. The kids were all dressed in their caps and gowns. Somewhere in the mix I lost Scott (he had stopped to dry his eyes) and I headed up the completed green stairs decorated with plants and up to the second floor. The area was decorated with style for the graduation and looked amazing.
The graduation started and the kids from the tutoring program and the preschool program sang songs of God’s love and spoke about their joy for the school. Throughout the entire ceremony Scott and I kept looking at each other when we heard a rooster that appeared to be coming from the bathroom upstairs and would laugh that it would only sound like that in Cuesta Arena. Sairy spoke with firmness about the change the school has had on the future generations of the community and that it is only through the dedication of the parents that the school would continue. They asked me to speak. As many of you remember from last year, the thing that amazed me the most about the graduation ceremony was that I did nothing. The parents had taken full control. This year, I felt not only had the parents taken ownership of the school but the entire community. I reminded the community of my words at the first parent’s meeting “We built you a school, now it is yours to do with what you desire: care for it, ignore it, or make something out it.” It was evident over the past year that not just the parents but the entire community have seen the value in the school and made it what it is today. I was proud of the community and encouraged them to keep dreaming. There was a since of hope for the first time in something more than just survival. Members of the community then did a drama that talked about the value of the parents in the lives of the children. It talked about parents spending their time playing dominos, getting drunk, and cock fighting (enter the roosters from the bathroom!!) and ignoring their children. It talked about the value of education and the children. It was very powerful! During the ceremony, the teacher intentionally highlighted the children with the best attendance and conduct as well as the mothers who participated in all parts of the agreement (mothers are required to attend church in the city once a month, attend monthly parent meetings, clean the school, and pay a minimal fee). I think the mothers were more honored than the graduates themselves!! As with the year before, the mothers had prepared a feast downstairs for the community to enjoy and the photographer to take pictures.
Cuesta Arena used to be a place that the kids never smiled and little hope was found in the homes of the people. Little to no contact was had with the adults and the kids came mostly to see what free stuff was going to be handed out. The community is now a place of Renewed Hope, not just hope to survive but hope to dream, learn, and change. They value themselves and are proud of what they have. Through the school we have earned the trust of the families and begun changing little things like washing hands after going to the bathroom, praying before meals, work for what you want, and treating others with respect.
Sunday we got up for worship. Both Scott and I were beginning to feel bad and were down on energy but God had big plans. When we walked in I was greeted by Juan Pablo (one of our choffers for the summer) and spent some time catching up with him and planning for the summer. I then headed upstairs to visit with the children. Before worship started, Luis’ mother (he has been estranged from her for more than 15 years) showed up with his younger brother. It was a huge surprise and the church welcomed her with open arms. Worship started and we were overwhelmed by the new worship director and praise team that is all under 35 years old in age. Scott shared the message with Socrates translating and encouraged the church not to stay inside but to go outside the walls and share the message. He then called people by name: Juan Manual, Daisy (of Cuesta Arena), Luis, Sairy and shared with them that God is calling them and ways that he sees God using them. Most of the church was in tears as they received the message. Sairy then invited those who wanted to give their life to Christ to come forward. Two of the mothers from Cuesta Area (mother of Gilbert and Yordanis, and mother of Luz Mery and Alex- who was in the accident earlier this year) both came forward, along with Luis’ mother and many other people from Los Cocos and the church. Needless to say it was a very emotional service and incredibly powerful even when Scott and I were weak and had nothing to give.
After church we headed to Tamboril to visit with Francisco (Sairy’s husband) and have lunch with mothers from all over the country that he had brought together. I was an amazing time spent with Francisco and talking about the changes in the country. This upcoming year many of the schools will be extending from 8-12 or 1-4 to 8-3 and serve lunch to all of the children. It is a huge change in their education system. Francisco also talked with me about changes he is making in involving the church in programs to help better the education of the people. Sunday afternoon, I met with the teachers for this summer for VBS. Our theme this summer is El Rey Que Viene (The Kings that is Coming). They were all excited to see curriculum and begin planning. It is the first year in many that they will be completely in charge of VBS with missionaries there only to help. Over the past 5 years we have taken the time to educate and slow pass off ownership of VBS. The teachers are excited!!
Monday, Scott and I both hit bottom and took the day to stay in town and rest. We did purchase 54 mosquito nets to pass out in a program in Cuesta Arena. Mosquitos are the same as here in the US however Dengue and chikungunya
are becoming a problem in the village. This summer Kendys will be educating the community on the dangers of mosquitos and identification of these virus so the community can seek medical help before dehydration becomes life threatening.
Tuesday, Scott and I both felt worlds better and drove out to Los Cocos to visit with the church members. The church has worked hard to get the rest of the property purchased and have dreams of building a two story building to house a preschool and tutoring program similar to Cuesta Arena. As soon as construction plans are in from Charlie I will send out more information on how churches can help join this project. As many of you know, Los Cocos currently has amazing leadership in the community and draws around 100 for children’s bible study every Saturday morning and will draw around 300 for VBS this summer. They are in desperate need of a building!!!
For lunch, Kendys came over and sat down with Sairy and I to discuss the next school year. We are constantly faced with the problem of too many kids and not enough leadership. We unfortunately have to make the difficult decision of not including children in the program because the parent’s refuse to do anything to show ownership. It is the hard part of ministry but we can not allow even those children who desperately need it to not be held to the same standards. With the new school plan in the country we are not sure what our tutoring program will look like as most children will go to school until 3pm. Though we originally had planned to double the preschool and tutoring program, we are in great need of adult leadership. We will use the second floor this year to pour into the adults and develop Christian leadership. Now with three mothers in the community that have given their lives to Christ, we have lots of work to be done. Sairy even dreams of holding a worship services on a regular basis in the building!! We headed to Cuesta Arena in the afternoon and enjoyed loving on the children and doing a census of the community. It was adapted from Compassion and will give us an idea of exact needs in the community such as future projects for beds, roofing help, bathroom construction, etc.
For those of you who kept Alex in your prayers after his was hit by a van, you will be happy to know he is doing well. He has one of the most beautiful laughs of any of the children. He has a head full of hair that covers his scars. His right arm has movement in hishand but little muscular use. We are asking a doctor to take a look at it to see if it is neurological or muscular. He runs and plays with the other kids and is simply full of life!!!
This summer we are blessed to have City Beautiful from Orlando (for two weeks), Round Hill UMC from Virginia (10 days), First UMC from Lakeland (for 1 week), and Raleigh Court UMC from Virginia (1 week) working in Cuesta Arena building a wall around the property and doing VBS in Cuesta Arena, Los Cocos, the city (new area), and Los Salados as well as a friend of mine that will be joining First UMC Lakeland and bringing Yoga to work with the women in Cuesta Arena on self esteem. It will be a hard summer for me as I will only be there with First UMC but am grateful for Jordan Markwood, David Westberry, and Mollie Donihe who have spent the past 3 summers working with me that will be there to lead the teams. Please pray for these teams this summer as God continues to use them to bring light to these communities.
Things I talked with Sairy about:
$4000 needed to pay the teachers through June of next year (DR laws have changed and we now are required to pay them 13 months a year). The rest of the money was raised on Giving Tuesday!!!
$10,000 needed to purchase a 15 passenger van. Jamie has done the research and has $10,000 waiting in the account from Giving Tuesday.