The Dominican Republic, part 1

Hey, girl, hey! 

I haven’t blogged in nearly a year, but here I am! 

Well, I can’t ever tell for how long I’ll be back because blogging is hard. Blogging the way I do – where I feel my heart and soul travel through my fingertips to the screen, is exhausting. And I’ve been in a place for awhile where that was simply not possible. It wasn’t possible because of normal busy life stuff, because of the same doubt stuff, and because of some mental health stuff that had been lying below the surface and decided to pop through.

A few months ago, I remembered that I always wanted to do foreign missions, and never have. I did go to Mexico with Grace once, but we also brought our kids, and it’s really hard to actually be involved in the missions work stuff and also parent. I had 1 and 3 yr olds with me, and I was exhausted – come to find out, I was pregnant with #3. Scott was there too, and we traded off a bit, but #pastorswifeproblems, he was much more essential than I was. It’s really ok, but I didn’t get the full experience. I wondered if maybe doing the thing I had felt so called to at 13 would help me find what I’m missing. Lucky for me, I have a friend who is a Missions Pastor, Benji, and he was able to fill me in on all their trips while we were all out on a double date. He recommended the first-timer’s trip – a trip to Hope House International, run by missionaries Michael and Amanda Braisted, to do a variety of things: manual labor, VBS, hospital visit, etc – to help figure out what sort of missions draws you in and suits your skills. It fit perfectly into my schedule and finances, so I signed up.

I am so grateful, that through donations and our church, I didn’t have to pay any of the fees, including my passport. The people of Grace are generous, and listened to God speaking to them, and I got to go on this trip with very little financial impact on my family.

I wish I would have blogged every day, but I was exhausted, and at the end of those kinds of days, words are hard. Words are less hard, now, though, so it's a little long to do them all at once. I'll break it into two parts. 

Please know that my general first response, probably from growing up in the church that I did, is to see myself as the problem, that my natural inclinations and feelings are wrong, sinful, in fact. I have no doubt that this clouded my experience, and that other people’s experiences varied greatly. When I felt guilty about something, I do not believe that everyone should have felt guilty, or even that it was wrong. I'm simply sharing my experience.

A cutie from the orphanage. More on them later. 

Day 1 was all travel, and we arrived at the Braisteds' home open to 23 people, warm and welcoming. And humid. Very humid. This desert rat didn’t even realize that 95% humidity was a thing that didn’t involve actual drops of water in the air. 

In the airport, I was immediately struck by how difficult life must be for immigrants who do not know the language, or know a few words (like I do of Spanish), but not nearly enough. I was overwhelmed by the not-knowing. I can’t imagine if I didn’t have a bunch of people with me, or translators, or if I was going to be living there. I just kept thinking of how I would feel if I was already overwhelmed and frustrated and someone said rudely, ‘Why don’t you just learn Spanish?!” People stared at me (#ginger), but no one acted frustrated or short with me, much less downright attacked me. 

Day 2 was Sunday, so, duh, we went to church at Iglesia Cristiana Oasis, which is where the Braisteds attend. They have their own Christian school that the church helps to fund, so that children from all socioeconomic groups can attend. We were kissed by all the women, and so welcomed by everyone. We sang in Spanish, sometimes vaguely remembering the English words and sometimes not. It’s amazing to me how a mess of Spanish and English all being sung together will be one of the most beautiful memories of my life. I was moved, truly moved, in that service. It was as if the Spirit of God was as heavy as the humidity that surrounded us, thick in the blessed breeze that blew through the building. Easily one of my top ten life experiences. We sang the same song a week later, at home, and I wept for the emotion I had felt the week before. However, this was probably the only time I "felt God" during the week. Now, I'm realizing that the antidepressants that I had weaned off in the beginning of August (under a doctor's care, because of unwanted side effects) may have been doing more than I thought, and this was probably my least exhausted time (depression and exhaustion definitely amplify my cynicism). 

We saw "The Monument," which was originally a home for the vicious dictator Trujillo, but became a monument to the revolutionaries that worked to overthrow him. At roughly the same time America was involved in The Civil Rights Movement, the Dominican Republic was being ruled by a murderous dictator. Think of how far we've come, and more importantly, NOT come, since the Civil Rights Movement. 

We also visited the Hope House Int'l land that day. We saw both the land and the Braisteds' vision for an orphanage system that reminds you of a family system. There will be 4 houses, with "parents" living in each. They have visions to be self-sustaining, through crops like plantains, bananas, and limes. They hope to have a soccer field and a play area, and to keep some of the natural forest for natural exploration. Let me just stop and say these two people are amazing. They've been in the Dominican for 10 years, and saw a need for true orphan care. There are estimated over 200,000 orphans living there, and the process of adopting is incredibly difficult and time-consuming. For Americans, both members of a heterosexual couple would have to live there for 3-6 months! And that's if everything else works out. They've been working tirelessly to create a place where kids could live and grow and thrive. There is extreme poverty on this island, and an extreme need to care for the fatherless. Mike and Amanda are lovely people, pouring their hearts, bodies, souls, and minds into caring for the least of these. Learn more about Hope House, and follow them on Facebook
Hope House Land
The tilled earth to the right is for crops. The casitas for housing children will be in the back. 

That night, Amanda spoke of how hard it is sometimes to go to church, that we know we need to look forward to it, but we sometimes get hung up, and just don’t want to. Then Benji spoke of being burnt out, and I was immediately moved to tears, like I was punched in the nose, and didn't understand the water leaking from my eyes! I didn’t think that could be me. I’m just the pastor’s wife. The pastor isn’t even burned out, how could I be? After I thought about it though, I realized, I’ve been active in ministry since I was 13 years old. I started teaching preschool in VBS the first year I was allowed to work, and never looked back. I fully believed (and was reminded often) that service was my duty and obligation to the church. I’ve not volunteered for very much at church in a long time. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. And while my many doubts certainly played a part (I just can’t teach kids that Jesus will always protect them), I think burn out did too. I haven’t had anything that I could pour out into others in a long time. Occasionally, something will pull at my heart, generally something involving the oppressed in some way, and meeting a physical need rather than a spiritual one, but I have not been routinely involved in serving in 2 years now. Scott immediately asked what my next step was, and I have no clue. If you've got suggestions, I'm open. 

The first night (after travel) of a mission trip is arguably the single worst time to realize that you're burnt out on ministry. I mean, nothing but ministry going on for the next 4 days. That's the predicament I was in after the first night. To be continued.