Sunday, October 28, 2012

Under water (Update from team in the DR)

Sent from Jayne today via email:

Gracias a Dios!  Estamos aqui!! We are here. We arrived on Thursday to Atlanta, spent the night and left early Friday morning for a long day's journey to La Victoria!  We flew in over what looked like marshes and wetlands.  The hurricane missed the DR but left a major tropical storm in the process. We had to drive in a circle to get to our destination because the river had risen so high the bridge was impassable.  After a long trip, we arrived!  They had been without water or power for three days but are slowly getting back to "normal". There are places in La Canita where houses are completely under water.  Our sweet friend Franci who is about to have her baby is apparently staying with friends because the house where she normally lives is under water. We hope to see her today.  It is becoming apparent that God has us here for such a time as anyone following the theme???  WATER...again!!  We are praying with them and asking what God would have us do.  Biemba, our friend and cook, prayed the first night, "Thank you God, we needed these"lights" to arrive in this dark time".

  • Pray for us to love well.  We are all "healthy". 
  • Pray for continued healing for Barbara, who is slowly healing from a nasty head cold.  
  • Pray for Susie who came down with a bit of a cold as well. 
  • Pray for continued protection, unity for the women in the campo, direction on details concerning the operation of the well, health for us...and for us to see and be seen!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Live Wires

In La Victoria the electrical wires dangle from above, tangled, like a bird’s nest that got whipped and shredded by years of hurricane force winds.  Everywhere in this town I look, bundles of them are attached to nothing I can decipher but wound so tightly and randomly that to untangle them would be a daunting, if impossible task.  Where are they supposed to go? Where did they begin?   If I touch a low hanging one, will I get shocked?   It seems as if no plan has been made here, but as a whim arises or a need presents itself, another is added.   From my very American sensibilities where order and process reign, I cannot tell, I can only see that somehow these wires have power and supply electricity, be it ever so sporadically to this town.  

Out in the campo, just 10 minutes further, there are not as many wires, maybe one or two running into a tin roof, the occasional light shines out in the dark barrio. Electricity has not made it this far it seems. Here is where the women are, the ones we have come to love as sisters.  So many of them.  A mess actually of personalities and opinions and needs and baggage.  White, toothy smiles in a sea of dark black espresso faces.  Round mounds of mother flesh.  Chairs in tight circles with opinions and voices.  Arguments that go so far back, they have etched grooves and lines into faces.  Alliances and agreements.  Live wires.  Bound tightly.  

Occasionally, we will ask about a woman who lives a little further out, with the brood of children, in the cinder block house without the roof, why doesn’t she come around?  Or the lady without the teeth who walks with the mule out in the back roads on the way into town?  Maybe she could come to one of our meetings with plastic chairs in the circle, dust getting kicked up by a naked baby running around.  A look or a scowl will tell us that she is not welcome, maybe she’s done something unpopular or offensive.  This we understand, it doesn’t need to be explained to us, this crosses our cultural barriers. 

But we come for everyone, the young Haitian refugee, pregnant again, who can’t speak the same language and has been beaten so badly by her old man caretaker that she has lost her hearing.  We come for the proud matriarch who sits and judges the others in the circle and her neighbor who is promiscuous with a bad reputation.  We come for the hardworking mom, babies on each hip, who wants to bring order to this little band of women, knowing they need each other for survival.  We come for the drunken old man who clicks his tongue at us as we walk by and brings us bottles of coca cola while his own children go hungry. We come for his children, to see them and tell them they matter.

We keep coming back, we, this bundle of American women who have fallen in love with the people of the Dominican Republic.  Bound tightly together, needing each other for support.  We bring our own poverty, our messes, even if we have tried to leave them at home.  We, who know what it is like to be the one who is not welcome in the circle and we who have been the women not welcoming others into the circle. We wind around each others hearts and stories and brokenness and beauty.  We bring our extravagance to this impoverished country.  We leave richer than when we came.    We’ve become tangled into the web of the beautiful story that is being written over years with these people.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Fall 2011
Water…Remembering the last trip, planning for the next one.

The night our little group arrived at the house that was to be our home for the next week the electricity was already out.  We had come prepared with flashlights and headlamps, knowing that electricity is inconsistently available in La Victoria.  With the help of a little team of Dominican men who were to be our guides and translators we moved our bags and boxes of supplies into the dark compound.  We began to light candles, blow up our air mattresses and build mosquito net contraptions with duct tape and whatever else we could cobble together.  After a couple of hours of what felt like setting up a campsite inside this home, we were ready for some food and water.  It was clear that the toilets were not flushing and when we went to turn on the faucets, they were dry.  One of the young men helping us brought a five gallon jug of drinking water to disperse among the thirteen of us. 
    This seemed sufficient for the first night and all of us seemed content enough to wash off the day of travel with wet wipes.  However, the next morning , after breakfast,  we were all feeling a bit grimy.  We had fruit and power bars for breakfast and there was a definite stickiness to the whole group.  Not wanting to be prototypical high maintenance Americans, no one was complaining, but the topic arose, “How can we wash our hands?”  Another immediate concern included, “Do you think the toilets might flush today?”  They never did.  We were there for a week and had all of the issues one might presume in a third world country.  And we had no water.  Other than what our little car could carry in trash cans, we had no water.  Enough for a bucket over the head and a wash cloth over the body…I never knew one wash cloth could clean so much!
     No one seemed to complain much, however, after the fifth day, it was clear we were living in a fairly “unsanitary environment”.  We pushed through and decided that it was evident what our next trip would entail:  attention to the water issue.  We lived this way for one week.  Our dear friends have been living with this for a lifetime.  We were all feeling a stirring within us to address this issue of water that affects so many of the people of the Dominican Republic.  This will be our focus.  We will move in this direction.  May God show us what He wants to do through us in the DR. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

More musings from the trip in February.

April 2011,

You spit in people’s eyes???!!
Bonelli. I cannot possibly begin to tell the story of Bonelli, the man whose vision was stolen by diabetes, until I first speak of Biemba, his wife.  She was our “cook” for the week while we were in the Dominican Republic.  By the world’s standards she is unspectacular; one wouldn’t look twice if passing her on the street.  However, to a more spiritually attuned soul, it takes only moments to realize that with Biemba, you are in the presence of greatness.  She has become a dear friend to the women who have lived and traveled down to La Victoria and a spiritual leader to the women out in La Canita who depend on her to lead their Bible study each week.  A no-nonsense woman in her late thirties, if she spoke, I wanted to hear what she had to say, if she corrected, I worked to do it right.  I watched the people as they filled up the bags with rice and garlic follow her meticulous instructions.  As she examined the onion, they waited…they wanted her approval as well.  There is a…regal quality to Biemba. As if royalty has been displaced and was dropped into a dusty Caribbean town to cook in a tiny kitchen in front of a hot stove. 

I had the privilege of accompanying Biemba back to her home one morning.  We had been out purchasing food for the day and she needed help carrying the dripping bags of beans that the toothless man with the overturned milk crate had ladled out for us from his tin pot.  She gently scolded me as I took the flimsy baggie from the bottom and part of the contents spilled out dripping black liquid down my arms.  A woman watched from her doorway and feeling sorry for the very inexperienced American, she rushed out with an extra bag for me to catch the rest of the overflowing contents.  Though I was all thumbs, Biemba acted grateful for the “help”, as uncoordinated as it was.  It struck me as strange that this woman would be cooking and serving us all week. It felt backward, like we should be serving her.  Several times over the course of the week, I had the strange sense that I knew what the disciples must have felt like as Jesus, their King, knelt down to wash their feet.
As I followed her down a little pathway to her home, I noticed a small child bathing in a basin outside the door and a few chickens scattered out of our way.   Her tiny home was dark, with a few motes of dust dancing in the sun beams that shone through the slats in the roof.  Several “rooms” were partitioned off by clean unmatched sheets and I could see that the kitchen was at the back of the room. 

This is when I first met Bonelli.  To say “met” feels like an inaccurate account.  As if you can meet a corpse, or have a conversation with a dead person.  More accurately, I saw a man sitting lifelessly in a chair.  He sits all day long, unmoving.  Sort of staring off into nothing. He doesn’t speak or show emotion.  Yet, as I shook his hand, there was softness to him, vulnerability.  Bonelli had a gentle soul.  Or maybe just a broken spirit.  In sharp contrast to Biemba’s rich commanding demeanor, Bonelli’s is small and poor.   However, his presence is very penetrating…like a vacuum sucking the air out of the room.  Even, during our mealtimes when he was on the other side of the curtain, staying out of our way, his presence was felt. We knew Bonelli was there.  He was always there.  He never left.

Though I never had a conversation with her about this, the women who knew her better had shared that Biemba has grown very weary of Bonelli’s state of being.  I quickly understood how taxing it was to have his lifeless presence around constantly.  But even deeper for Biemba, she knew this man before he had lost his vision.  He used to work and engage in life.  This was the father of her children, her provider, and her companion. I had learned that on a previous trip, the women from our group had prayed over him to have his sight restored and she had asked that we do this again.  Since then, one of those praying women had a dream that we prayed for him again and his vision was restored.  So the intention had been set before the trip that one of our tasks while in the DR was to pray for Bonelli to receive his sight.

So here is the part of the story where I begin to squirm.  I say I serve the Almighty God who is who capable of doing ALL things, yet I am acutely aware that most of the time, I don’t see this kind of healing happening.  My scars have just begun to heal from watching my mom’s life get ripped away by ovarian cancer.  I prayed constantly for God to heal Mom’s cancer and restore her health and I didn’t it see it happen.  This kind of faith, this kind of praying rips the scabs off of my fresh wounds. 
Additionally, I really don’t want to make God look bad.  I mean, if we come in here and start praying for the blind to see, what are we going to look like to the rest of the world?  To Bonelli and Biemba?  Maybe they will see that I really don‘t have great faith. Maybe they will see that I often question if God is really interested in our physical comfort or health.  I see so much suffering around me…everywhere…so much death, so many tragedies, miscarriages, cancer, and unexplained death of children.  I see overwhelming evidence that seems to point out the terrifying proposition that God doesn’t heal the sick. Those are great stories in the Bible.  Good Sunday school lessons.  But to move out in faith and ask for that kind of thing to happen today?  People might find out that He doesn’t answer my prayers.  I might find out again.

 It is much easier for me to go down to the DR to help women start businesses and meet practical life needs.  I imagine myself telling my friends and family, “I am going on a mission trip to help women become more self-sustaining and to be able to buy food to feed their families.” This is all true.  Not a stretch, not misleading…I could stick with that.  It is acceptable even to non-Christians to do that kind of humanitarian work.  But to tell people we are praying for blind people to see?  This is a whole other level.  People aren’t prepared for this.  I am not prepared for this.  
I know how this looks to the world.  For that matter, I know what it looks like to me!  I recently saw a bumper sticker that read, “Don’t pray in my school and I won’t think in your church”.  Crap.  We are those women.  We are the ones who believe in the Bible…that God spoke into existence all of creation in a word.  We are the ones who hold our hands up and dance and sing praises to God.  We bow down to God, not to science.  We have faith.  We look so…foolish.  Exactly. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. The wisdom of God looks absolutely foolish to this world.    

 So it was a risk as we sat down to Bonelli’s table the last morning of our trip and laid our hands on him and began to cry out to God for a miracle.  Our hearts removed from our chests and laid out on the table, bare, vulnerable and open.  And we asked the question.  We made our request known to God.  We didn’t come in the “back door” with a “If it is your will, would you consider healing him, but if not, we totally understand and know you have a better plan” prayer.  We marched in the front door as God’s kids and jumped straight into His lap begging Him for a miracle in that moment.  Complete restoration of sight.  And then one of the ladies did something weird.  Cuz this wasn’t weird enough. She said meekly, “Uh, guys?  I feel like maybe I am supposed to rub spit in his eyes.”
And so she did. And so we waited.  As I grabbed my heart back off the table and shoved it into my chest, I pleaded in the silence to God, “This could be your chance!  You could heal him in this moment and really make a name for yourself here! I mean, wouldn’t everyone then know you care?  You are loving?  You are the one true God?”   Much weeping in the room.  Tears being spilled over.  Something was happening.  We waited.  More waiting.  Silence.  Nothing.  “C’mon God, do a miracle!  We are really putting ourselves out there, ya know?”

 Bonelli didn’t receive his sight that day.  The part of me that wants to defend God here will go to the explanation, “Something shifted in the heavens that day and we will one day see it.”  But I am not sure of that either.  It’s Good Friday and I am reminded that many watching Jesus hanging on a cross that day were probably pleading in their hearts, “C’mon Jesus.  Now is your chance!  Make a name for yourself. Get down off the cross! Kick those Roman soldiers’ asses!”  Much weeping. Waiting.  Tears spilling over.  Silence.  And then what appeared to be defeat. I wish I could tie all of this up with a nice conclusion for those of you reading and waiting.  But I am still waiting.
“Those who wait patiently on the Lord will not be put to shame.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March 2011


One story: Franci was a 14 year old girl I fell in love with in the Dominican Republic.  Something about her caught my eye the very first day we were in La Canita  (that is the little village outside La Victoria, it means "little cane" because Sugar Cane is plentiful there). She wouldn't make eye contact with anyone and she seemed skiddish around everyone who got within close proximity of her, even the other women in her village.  A few days into the trip it occurred to me that she acted much like the homeless dogs that wandered around the streets.  To approach them is not wise as they are only used to being kicked, beaten or mistreated in some way and may lash out in self protection to bite those who come near. They even rejected little scraps of food we tried to hand them because they have been conditioned to receive abuse and do not know that good things could come from the hands of humans. And so it was with Franci that we had many thick walls to break through to let her know we wanted to give something good to her, that we were safe.  Trust wouldn't be handed over easily.  The thickest wall of all seemed to crumble just a little, it was the one that has taken her captive and tells her that she is not worth knowing, is not worthy of love, and was made to be used and discarded.  

Franci has a four month old baby and was kicked out of her home by her father because he refused to pay to take care of them both.  Homeless, she sought refuge in the home of an old man named Emilio, a mentally ill, if not demon possessed alcoholic who appears to be about 70 years old.  He rapes her every night.  If she refuses to sleep with him, she gets beaten.  She was very closed to me most of the week, even after taking her and her son to the hospital to be treated for severe burns.  But day by day she seemed to come out of her shell as we poured out love on her.  By Friday, she had even begun to sparkle a little, like a fourteen year-old girl should.  We washed her feet, massaged oil into her little legs, took her to the beach and held her baby for her while she splashed in the ocean.  We taught her how to give her son antibiotics and wrap his wounded little hand, how to make jewelery to sell and how to save money to buy more supplies.

 It appeared that when we arrived, she was very shunned by the other girls (also teenage moms with no men to support them) and they kept their distance from Franci, kind of like we learned to steer away from the stray dogs.  But something broke loose off of this young mother this week that opened up a possibility for connection with others. We have no illusion that Franci is out of harm's way.  And to leave this young mother, this child, in the home of this disturbed man, Emilio, broke our hearts in places we didn't know we had.  Only one week.  Only several voices speaking of her dignity that competed with the many others that have always told her that she is worthless. Are we crazy?  To think we could come for a week and make a difference?  But something tells us we did.  A Voice beckons us forward, to lean into the places of pain where it would be easier to shut ourselves off, easier to not enter into this grand story of epic pain and loss.  But we showed up, and in faith believe we made a small difference. Believe we are supposed to be part of this larger story.  A seed planted.  Hope spoken. The second all women's trip completed.  And we promised we will be back.  And we will.  The women of La Canita now forever hold a place in our hearts, that is reserved just for them.  And I dare to hope that we have earned a place in theirs as well. We will be back.  

There is a small story...more to come. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

March 2011

 I Don’t Have a Category For This

There are not words to describe the last eight days.  Places in my heart were opened up that I didn’t know existed.  Love grew in places where I have never had feelings.  Like a tree that springs forth out of the crags and rocks on a mountainside, hope has exploded in a desolate and barren place.  I will write a little each day to try and give you a picture, but no picture will be sufficient to explain the work that God is doing through the lives of the people in the Dominican Republic. 
We prayed for the blind to see, we literally spit in people’s eyes and smeared mud on their faces and called down miracles.   We treated a four month old baby’s hand for severe burns, got antibiotics to a little girl who had gotten knocked over by a motor cycle, we held hands with children who followed us through the streets, wanting a taste of the Hope that we brought.  We danced and laughed and washed women’s feet.  We touched the “untouchables” with growths and tumors.  We held babies who don’t have diapers because they cost too much. 
We taught women to use sewing machines.  We gave them lessons on how to make projects, beaded necklaces, headbands, things to sell…and gave them envelopes to save their money to buy more. We washed their feet, massaged lotion into their weary muscles.  We danced and laughed and praised God together.  They will forever be in our hearts.  I sobbed as I got on the plane yesterday and took my last glance back at the people we were leaving behind.  I didn’t want to leave them.  I have to back to see them.  I will go back.  They are forever a part of my heart.
God is REAL….and He is big.  And he speaks and he moves and he cares deeply about the details of our lives.  Thank you for checking in.  Back in a country with consistent electricity, I will share stories.  Be in touch.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Very First Journal Entry for My experience in the DR

  February 2011

A couple of weeks ago, I sat in a cozy home nestled in the foothills of Genesee Colorado with a group of women from Denver and the surrounding areas. Curled up on couches and chairs, we shared a delicious meal and sipped on bottled water while dreaming about February 4th -11th.  This was to be one of the final planning meetings with the 12 women and 2 preteen girls that are traveling to the Dominican Republic under the umbrella of Lookout Mountain Community Church.   (Since that night, one more woman has come forward to join us…15 of us in all) Because of busy schedules, many of the women in attendance were just meeting one another for the first time that evening, yet there was an undeniable instant connection within this group that, for me, can only be described as “soulish”.  My spell check said that isn’t a word but it should be because it is a rare but amazing phenomenon that tends to happen when one encounters other people who are moving to a larger story than the one this world is telling.  Eugene Petersen refers to something like this when he speaks of the “unforced rhythms of grace”.  These women are flowing in with something much larger than themselves.  They are operating outside the boundaries and “rules” of this world and when I sit among them it’s as if God “pierces  the veneer of reality” and shows me the larger something,  much more grand, something so “other” than this normal I am accustomed to.   As a result, my heart has been quickly woven together with theirs.

I feel it would be safe to say that many in this group believe we have been summoned, beckoned rather, to join together for this trip.  At many levels we are all unsure of why we are leaving our comforts, abandoning our schedules and responsibilities here, and traveling hundreds of miles away from our children, families, and careers for a week.  Yet something pulls us.  Maybe we just want to be part of this grand story in some small way. But we are being asked, “what is the purpose of the trip?”  Simply put: We are going to go to the campo (country) in the Dominican Republic and wash women’s feet, laugh together, hold each others hands, and pray together. We also are going to take a busload of women to the beach one day.  It is only 20 miles away and most of them have never been.  We want these women to know they are seen, by us, by God. 

 We also have more tangible goals of bringing them a business curriculum and helping them build sustainable incomes. We are planning on building a tighter relationship with an orphanage there to further the partnership between the DR and the US for international adoption. However, as we load up our suitcases and bags with gifts and toys to bring with us we are aware our plans are little compared to the big Plan that God is orchestrating. 

 The bigger picture is that over a decade ago, a group of people associated with Lookout Mountain Community Church traveled from Colorado to the Dominican Republic.  They laid the foundation of a relationship with a group of people in a little town outside Santo Domingo called La Victoria.  It means “The Victory”. Since that original trip, dozens of others have traveled down and fallen in love with the people.  Some have moved their families down to live and raise children, others have married one another, some have even adopted kids and brought them back to the United States to live.   I am sure the original connection is a story unto itself and I could go on and on about the amazing tales people have returned from La Victoria to tell.  But that is not the piece about which I am writing.  I am writing about this chapter, the one that I am watching unfold in front of my eyes.  It is clear the story is still being written, and this little chapter is called Project: I See You.

Stayed tuned:  We leave Denver International Airport in the morning.  We will write more when we can.

Jayne Spear