It is hard to believe that it has been 15 years of working in Cuesta Arena and 10 years of the school. It was such a blessing this week to be apart of the 10th anniversary celebration of the school. However, there was a big hole in our team this week as Sairy’s husband, Fransciso lost his brother on Wednesday night and the family traveled to Mello, close to Duverge to be with family. Though her presence was dearly missed, her leadership was ever highlighted as members of the church were present and everything ran smoothly until her return on Saturday.
One very evident fact on this trip is that Cuesta Arena is different. My mom was able to travel for the celebration and noticed the difference as well. She has not been here since 2016 and noted the drastic difference in the community since that time. She was also in Cuesta Arena in October 2008 (my first trip was in January 2008) and we reminisced on the lack of joy and hope that was present at the beginning (of my work). On this trip, most of the children we encountered don’t remember a time when there was not a school and most adults don’t remember a time without missionaries. My hunch is that between a combination of the school, which provides the community with a safe place and the paving of the road by the government, which provided the economic means, the community of Cuesta Arena has made remarkable changes. The majority of the homes not only have concrete floors (which many in 2008 did not) but the homes along the main road have running water and electricity. Fortunately (yet sadly for missionaries) the focus and push on education has created a community that is “empty” as members of the community are at work or school. Where we once experienced hundreds of kids on the property any time missionaries drove through the community, this trip we only had a handful.
Though we have no plans to “abandon” the project in Cuesta Arena, the “need” is not as great there as it once was. Through conversations with Sairy, we discussed a “shift” in where we “request” the assistance of future missionaries. The first project, which Sairy has talked about for years, is to build a kitchen at the church with a reception area. Food is a huge part of their culture. It brings families together and allows the church to provide for the hungry. If you have ever met Sairy, you know that her home has always been a place to go to find food. In my last trip, as I sat on the patio, the doorbell rang and it was a poor Haitian boy, that looked like he had not eaten in days. Mami opened the door joyfully and went to the kitchen to prepare a plate. The boy walked to the patio and took his seat, appearing as if he had done so many times before. Mami brought him a plate and water and he devoured the meal. When he left, Mami explained that Sairy had found him somewhere and told him if he was ever hungry to come by the house and they would feed him. This story is not the first in the 15 years I have known Sairy. Sairy knows the importance of a full stomach and wanted the church to be a place where the members of the church can commune together.
The second project we are hoping to focus on is to replicate the concept of a safe space from Cuesta Arena in Los Cocos. Los Cocos is a different community than Cuesta Arena. It is more urban than Cuesta Arena and they have access to public schools, electricity, and water pretty readily in Los Cocos. Being mindful to not create a new project dependent on missionaries, Sairy would like to purchase property for the church in Los Cocos and create opportunities for the leadership of the church to love on the children of Los Cocos. Seeing how much of a difference feeling safe can do to a community, the church desires to have a space in Los Cocos where children and adults can go to connect, feel safe, and learn about God’s insurmountable love for them.
As team begin to explore international missions again, these are the two areas we will focus on. One hidden blessing of more than 20 years of missionaries traveling to Santiago is that Felix, Sairy’s youngest son, grew up working along side mission teams building and constructing the school in Cuesta Arena and the church building in Santiago. Due to these experiences, Felix decided to study engineering at the university. In addition, Juan, also experiencing the construction of the school, building alongside missionaries, and receiving the blessing of those that poured into him from the states over the years, is now a licensed electrician. These will be great assets to future projects as they now give back to the mission of the church by assisting in their areas of expertise. We are excited for what is ahead and hope you will reach out to explore how you and your church can get connected with one or both of these projects in the years to come.