Viaje Dominicano 2013 #1: When is your team coming back here?

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Maureen Glaser and I have come down ahead of our Dominican Republic missions team to visit a couple of places we’ve worked in the past. We are staying with Carolina Marinez, the pastor of two congregations in San Rafael and Samangola, which are two colonias of the larger town San Cristobal where Carolina lives in a house with about a dozen extended family members and works as a full-time pharmacist to pay the bills on top of being a pastor which is either volunteer or very low paying.

San Rafael is an older, more established parish than Samangola. They have a weekly health clinic where Carolina’s sister who’s a doctor offers free health services. San Rafael has some kind of worship service or Bible study every day of the week. We got to go to their youth-led worship service last night which was really impressive. I would love it if our Lifesign service could become like what I saw (more on that in a future post).

Samangola is the church that our Burke UMC team broke ground for three years ago. The building was completed about a year and a half ago (it’s the church in the picture). Because of Carolina’s schedule, she is only able to be there twice a week, on Mondays for Bible study and Thursdays for their weekly worship service. When Carolina was talking about what she would like to see happen in that community, she said she was really hoping that they could add a second story on top of the sanctuary as a parsonage for a pastor who could actually live in the community and really build relationships with the people there.

As she does every time I come down, she once again renewed her invitation for me to come with my family and be the pastor of Samangola. I said what’s an Americano got to offer the people here. She said that having a white man at the church would be sort of a strange “espectáculo” that would make the people curious about checking it out. I’m not sure whether she’s basing this on actual history, but it’s an interesting argument.

In any case, she also asked when we were sending another missions team down to Samangola. It’s a very straightforward issue to Carolina. There’s an obstacle in the way of having a fully thriving ministry in Samangola. Because people in the Dominican Republic mostly lack cars and, for those that have them, gas is twice what it costs in the US, they only go to a church they can walk to and this is the only church of any denomination in Samangola. Construction is prohibitively expensive so the church down here is dependent on mission teams for any expansions they do to their buildings. So you pray for God to give you the resources you need for ministry and when people come to you who seem to have access to these resources, you ask direct questions.

This summer our team is working in Santiago, which is a much larger city on the northern side of the island whereas previously we had worked only in the south. The main reason we moved to Santiago is because the missionaries we had made arrangements through for the past four years have moved back to the States to start a family. So they connected us with a new missionary who’s stationed in Santiago. In any case, I felt good about changing to Santiago because that church is growing by leaps and bounds, planting new congregations in the colonias all the time, so we’ll never run out of things to do there (where we’ll presumably continue to return for the near future).

But we wanted to maintain the relationships we built before, so Maureen and I came to the south to do that. We got to go to Cambita, where our church built a school, yesterday for a game day that their jovenes (teens and young adults mixed together) were having. The pastor of Cambita was talking about the way they want to expand their school, and Carolina said, “Oh, you should talk to Morgan.”
It’s not rude for her to do that. It’s just a cultural difference, like the way that she and several of her extended family members are sleeping on couches this weekend so that Maureen and I can each have a room to ourselves as her guests. So I smile politely and say, “A ver” (We’ll see).

In any case, it’s not easy to maintain relationships with people who continue to have very legitimate ministry needs that it’s hard to explain why you cannot fulfill. Most of the time we are just laughing and having a good time together. But the direct questions do come up. So I’ve had to learn to say, “A ver,” a lot.

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