"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'"
July 12, 2017
This week I will continue sharing about my recent trip to Santiago, Dominican Republic.
On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday we worked with a church doing community outreach, with an emphasis on the kids. We would meet Pastor Lesbia and the youth group at the church first thing in the morning to pray and find out which communities we would be going to that day.
We went to go to six different communities within Santiago; a different one each morning and afternoon for those three days.
Here is what those days looked like:
We would get up and dress, slather bug repellant on all over and then put on a layer of sunscreen, eat breakfast and have a devotional and prayer with our group, and then leave to meet the group at the church. We would have a short meeting about what to expect in the two communities that we would be visiting that day, pray, then head out. The kids from the church rode on their old church bus, with our van and pickup truck following behind. The church bus had no air conditioning (apparently), so the kids would have all the windows open with some of them having their arms and heads hanging out. We would be in a community for a couple hours, go back to where we were staying and eat lunch, then meet up with the other group at the church and head out for the afternoon.
This was what our initial experience on Monday morning was like: The first community that we went to was down a washed-out dirt road that had so many ruts in it that the drivers had a hard time getting to our destination. It was a bumpy ride! We stopped on a dirt street in front of a home, where a group from church meets weekly. It was very poor, as were most communities that we went to.
They told us that we were to divide up into groups of 3-4 people and some would be cleaning the streets, some walking the streets to pray and pass out literature, and the missionary and a couple of people were to stay there and set up for the kids service. That is what we did in each of the six locations.
Honestly, Janie and I have never liked handing out tracts -- it's just not our thing and never has been -- so we were like, "We know how to clean!" We had NO idea what we were getting into! Pastor Lesbia was in charge of who went with whom and did what. She put me in a group with the lady whose home we were setting up in front of for the kids ministry and two young girls from her church. The lady didn't speak English at all and the two girls spoke very little English. We put on gloves, grabbed some trash bags, I was handed a broom and away we went. I was thinking, "What am I supposed to do with this broom?! The streets are all dirt!"
So we started walking down the dirt street, that had sewer running down each side, with trash piles along the sides and much of the trash in the sewer ditches. It was stinky, dirty, and the sun was beating down upon us. That's when you have to lay aside pride, humble yourself, and work alongside the people who live there every single day and do what needs to be done. I never wanted any of the people who lived in any of the communities to feel as if I thought I was better than them. Janie, our two nieces, our brother-in-law, and I would discuss our experiences later, just between us privately, but never did any of our group from the US wrinkle our noses in disgust or refuse to do the work while we were out ministering. Everyone got involved and helped one another and did whatever was asked of us. Perhaps that's what having a servant's heart really means: being willing to serve others and work alongside them, even when it's hard, dirty, stinky, and not to our liking. We serve because we love! We learn that it's not about us, but about others.
Not knowing exactly what to do with the broom, I laid it down and started working with my group picking up all the trash that was in and beside the street. The lady eventually picked up the broom and went to work sweeping up the dirt sidewalk between the sewer ditch and a house. She knew how to do it! Honestly, there was poop in some of the piles where I was cleaning; which we all left those areas alone and didn't touch. My shoes got muddy and damp and my gloves were filthy and it was hard, hot work. Don't think I'm complaining, because I'm not. I'm writing this to let you know what the circumstances were like and that it wasn't a pleasurable, feel good about ourselves because we roughed it for a week, type of mission trip where we mostly played and had fun the entire time. Other than Thursday, when we did get a day off, it was exhausting and a lot of work; but it was spiritually rewarding.
Why did Pastor Lesbia ask us to clean in the communities? To let the people know that we were there and that we cared and were willing to lend a hand. She didn't ask us to do anything that she and her team of youth weren't willing to help with and do.
A couple of mornings, the lead pastor of the church went with us to the community outreaches. Women there like to wear high heels! Pastor Lesbia and the youth wore flats or tennis shoes, but both days that the lead pastor went with us, she had on high heel wedge sandals. On Monday, she picked up a broom and was sweeping, too. I'm sure she is a busy woman with the responsibilities she has with the church, but she took the time to join us when she could and spend a little time with us and witness the outreach efforts in the communities within her city.
Janie had a man who lived in that community come out and help her group clean the area of street that they had been assigned to. He told them that he had been a janitor for many years, so knew how to pick up trash. Another time, a lady in one of the communities told a woman from our team that she had always cleaned for others, but had never had anyone clean for her. So I believe that we did make an impact.
On Monday afternoon, the group picked up trash in a community close to the church. I wasn't on trash duty, since I had already done so that morning, so I was passing out tracts throughout the neighborhood. The group that picked up trash, said that it was horrible. They started at the church and walked to the location where we were doing the kids service. They said that there were huge trash piles that had to be shoveled into trash bags because of their size. They filled up numerous huge trash bags and were exhausted by the time they finally reached the end of their route. Instead of the thirty of so minutes that most groups took to pick up trash, it took them over an hour to make it from the church to where we were set up for the kids. As in most communities, they also had the sewer running along the ditches on both sides of the street. The only area we went to that had the dirt roads was the first community on Monday morning. Everywhere else had paved streets; sometimes very rough, uneven streets, but they were paved.
On Monday morning, my group was one of the first that returned. There were some boys hanging around, probably between the ages of seven and ten, who were playing with small wooden tops. They would wrap string around the top, throw the top so that it would spin, catch it in their hand, and then would try to transfer it to our hands without dropping it. My niece, Tonya, and I played with them while we were waiting for the other groups to return so that the kids service could begin. An older gentleman was standing there watching us, grinning from ear to ear, enjoying watching us play with the boys. At least I think that was what he was smiling about! It may have been him thinking we gringos had no idea what we were doing!!
In all six locations, once the group had gathered, there would be several children of all ages, as well as parents and grandparents, and often some youth. The missionary would set up a portable PA system that he could play the music through. The local youth group that we were working with would do a couple of songs with the kids, dancing and doing actions. They also would do a skit. In the mornings, our group from Arkansas/Oklahoma would sing a song with the kids, play a Bible verse game, and tell the story of the prodigal son. A hispanic woman and her two daughters, who attend my brother-in-law's church, went on the trip with us and all know how to speak Spanish, so the mother would tell the story to the kids. The group from Missouri would then do a song, Bible verse game, and prodigal son story in the afternoons.
Just for fun, to show the kids how to play the memory verse games the first time we would race between the Gringos and Dominicanos. The kids had fun cheering and watching we gringos trying to win a contest where the words were in Spanish! Then the next time we would play boys against girls and let the kids play.
After the story, Pastor Lesbia would talk to the kids about Jesus and pray with them, having them repeat a prayer after her. She would then ask our entire team, as well as her youth, to surround the group of kids and pray over them. We believe that God can give them a future and a hope and change each of those areas! We prayed over them, and also prayed as we picked up trash and handed out literature. Our real purpose was to cover each community with prayer. We rebuked the powers of darkness. We prayed that the stronghold of drugs and prostitution would be broken. We prayed for a spiritual awakening and revival to shake each of those areas. We prayed for protection over each child.
What absolutely amazed me was how open the people were to the gospel! I went with groups several times to hand out literature. As I mentioned earlier, that is something that I have always, always hated doing. Perhaps it's because in the US handing out literature is often associated with the Jehovah Witness, which gives us a bad taste in our mouth and doesn't seem to be a particularly effective tool for evangelical churches.
The first time, I was really dreading it, but after picking up trash, knew that it had to be better than that! And that's not even an exaggeration! It was a completely different experience from anything I could have ever imagined. What we gave the people was a tract that introduced the church and told the plan of salvation, as well as information about the school that the church has. Every single person (with the exception of one police officer on Friday evening) that we offered the handouts to graciously accepted it. People would be walking down the street and see us handing out papers and come up to us with their hand held out to get a copy. People of all ages: teenage boys and girls, young mothers, middle-aged and young men, grandparents.... would take the papers and then tell us thank you. It was amazing! Then if we turned around and looked back down the street, no one had thrown the papers down into the street, but you would see people sitting or standing there reading what we had given to them. That really made a strong impression on me!
There were stories from team members about various people who would invite them into their home, as well as people who would ask for prayer. They seem to be very open and receptive to hearing about Jesus. The missionary told us that the Dominican government is very open to allowing mission groups into their country. The harvest field seems to be very ripe. There is so much poverty and spiritual darkness, problems with sex trafficking and drugs and prostitution, but also a spiritual hunger.
What was surprising was that in one of the locations, they blocked off a section of the street on both ends with our van and Chad's truck and we set up the PA system in the street and the kids sat on a large piece of canvas right in the middle of the street. In another location, the church bus blocked off one entrance of the street. No permits; we just did it, and if police drove by they never questioned us or said anything.
One of the communities that we went to was located right on the edge of a huge trash dump. The community sat on top of one of the hills, with a valley and hillsides to one side, and the entire area was piled full of trash as far as the eye could see. That's what the families and kids who live there see every day of their life!
I believe it was on Wednesday that my niece, Tonya, and I went with a 16 year old girl from the church to pass out tracts. That particular community was where she had grown up and still lived. She took us through a little narrow alley between buildings to get from one street to the next. People there knew her and would wave to her, hug her, and greet her. She pointed her mom out to us. She told us that drugs was a really bad problem there. This wasn't just a random area that was unknown to her, but she was personally invested in the welfare of that community. Seeing God bring about change in that place would have a huge impact on her.
On Monday evening, we went to the home of a couple who have a church cell group that meets at their house every Monday night. Their home was one of the nicest ones that we saw and was in a cleaner neighborhood. As Chad and the men were setting up a projector screen and getting his laptop hooked up to show a movie, the rest of us divided up into two teams and walked down the street passing out literature and inviting people to come see the movie.
The projector was set up inside the gated garage/patio on front of the house by the street (which was opened up), then they set up hard plastic chairs out in the street for us to all sit. We watched the movie 'God's Not Dead' in Spanish. A police truck drove around behind us and said nothing about us blocking over half of the street.
The woman of the house was so hospitable! She made up little bags of popcorn for everyone there to eat while watching the movie. Before our group left, she had the interpreter to tell us if any of us ever visited Santiago again, we would always be welcome to stay in their home.
As our time with Pastor Lesbia and her youth group came to an end on Wednesday afternoon, we all met back at the church for one last time together. The church served us ice cream that is unique to the Dominican. It was good, but was a little different texture than what we have here in the US. The pastor of the church presented the leaders of both the Missouri and Arkansas groups with a Dominican flag for them to take back to their churches and hang up; not only as a memento of our trip, but also as a reminder to pray for them. They thanked us for coming, thanked us for the school supplies, and thanked us for all the work that we had done. They prayed for us. Then we prayed for both pastors, as well as for their youth that we had worked with for three days.
Our hearts were full as we pulled away from the church one last time. I, personally, felt very emotional and my heart was overflowing. I will never forget my experience with that church, those two pastors, and those young teenagers that we worked and ministered together, side by side.
Even though the work was exhausting and we got dirty, sweaty, and stinky; it was some of the most rewarding work I have ever done. A piece of my heart will always be there in the Dominican with those different communities and that church. Even if I someday go back, it likely wouldn't be to that same area and working with those exact same people. But I can continue to invest in their future by praying for them.
So often we feel as if we have nothing to offer, nothing to give, nothing of value to be of any help; whether it be mission related or in our own church and community. I've often heard the comment, "Well, I guess all I can do is pray," as if that is insignificant and of little value. First and foremost, praying is always the very best thing that we can do for someone or for a church or community. Through prayer, we can ask God to intervene and do something that we ourselves are unable to do.
James 5:6(b) tells us, "The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results." (NLT)
Prayer shouldn't be an afterthought or a last result, but our first instinct. Prayer isn't insignificant or unimportant, but has great power and produces wonderful results. That's pretty awesome, that God really listens and hears each of our prayers, whether it be on behalf of someone else or for ourself; and He responds.
It may seem odd for people from such an affluent country as the USA to go to serve others by cleaning up for them. I'm sure many people scoff, or say, "Why not hire someone local to do the cleaning?"
Then again, Peter scoffed when Jesus washed his feet. The whole story is in John 13:4-17. In short, Jesus began washing His disciples' feet. But when He tried to wash Peter's feet, Peter complained that it wasn't right. But Jesus insisted.
A simple act of service can do far more to demonstrate Jesus's sacrifice for us than anything else could.
2 (28 ounce) cans of whole peeled tomatoes
4 cans original Rotel
3 cloves of garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sugar
1 jalapeno (seeded and diced)
1/2 cup cilantro
There are a lot of ingredients that won't all fit into the blender at one time, so this can be made in two batches, then added together.
First, add 1 can of whole peeled tomatoes, 2 cans of Rotel, onion, garlic, and salt in the blender and mix well. Pour into a large container.
Next, add 1 can of whole peeled tomatoes, 2 cans of Rotel, ground cumin, sugar, jalapeno, and cilantro into the blender and mix well.
Pour into the container and use a spoon to mix both batches of salsa mixtures together. Cover and refrigerate.
A few days ago my 8 year old great-nephew, Jax, told his mom, "Mama, I love you so, so, so, so, so, so much!" Not to be outdone, his 3-1/2 year old sister, Jovie, piped up, "Mama, I love you mucher, mucher, mucher, mucher, mucher more than Jax!"
Dare to give God full access to our life! - Christine Caine
We love you!
Loretta & Jon