Dominican Republic Mission Team Video 2011

This is not a real blog entry. I just wanted to post a link to our Dominican Republic mission team video for archival purposes. It’s an awesome video. You should watch it! It was put together by Kim and Damon Bland, the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission coordinators in the Dominican Republic. If you’re related to a church that’s looking to start an overseas mission relationship, you should consider the Dominican Republic.

Day 7: The Walls are Gone

Well this will end up being a 10 day trip but it looks like I’m only going to have 7 days worth of blogs. Yesterday as we spent our last day at the work-site in Samangola, I was contemplating what scripture to use in my sermon for Saturday’s LifeSign service since I will have very little prep time after I get home about 3 am Friday. I figured I would preach on the trip. And it hit me that the most fitting scripture is the one that we adopted at LifeSign as our vision statement “to tear down the walls that keep us from loving God and each other completely” (Ephesians 2:14-15). I’m going to preach on the whole surrounding passage for context: Ephesians 2:11-24. Continue reading

Day 6: Dominican Mother’s Day

Well I didn´t get access to the magic missionary laptop with satellite Internet the past few days so I´m playing catchup. This past Sunday was the Dominican Mother´s Day so I preached a sermon at the Iglesia Evangelica Dominicana in San Rafael about how motherhood is ultimately a call to be the “pastora” of the family. Admittedly it was pretty mischievous to preach this in a patriarchal cultural setting but I was also preaching in a church with a woman pastor so it felt like an appropriate affirmation of her calling and a way to celebrate and challenge the women of the congregation at the same time on their important holiday. Continue reading

Day 5: Un Bautismo Binacional

This morning I had the very unique privilege of participating in an ecumenical baptism for one member of our team Mariah Hall and a woman from the Iglesia Evangelica Dominicana in San Rafael named Gleny Arias. We went to a natural spring called La Toma that’s just outside of the city of San Cristobal. It’s normally a tourist attraction with an admission fee but Pastor Carolina was able to sweet-talk the guys at the gate into letting us in for free. Continue reading

Day 4: Relationships are Complicated

Complicated is such a loaded word when talking about relationships. It’s kind of like the word interesting in its fake neutrality. In any case, I wanted to write today about how mission relationships are inherently complicated. Communication gaps occur that aren’t anybody’s fault especially when different languages are involved. As some of you from Burke UMC know, we have had a relationship with a school in Cambita for about 13 years. For the first 9 or so years of this relationship, we were helping them build their school-building year after year. Then in 2008, we built a basketball court (that I played on today). Since that time, they have not expressed a need for the kinds of physical unskilled construction projects that Volunteers in Mission teams can do most easily in a week and a half of time. So we’ve gone elsewhere and our relationship with the school that we helped to build has gotten complicated. Continue reading

Day 3: Aprendiendo Cantar Mas Bajo

Yesterday I got drawn into a theological conversation with some of our Dominican friends. A man named Samuel was convinced that eating snake meat is sinful (which apparently some Dominicans do) because God cursed the snake in Genesis 3 for leading Eve into sin. Another man Jochi who’s the bishop’s assistant was debating with him since Jesus said that nothing created is unclean for us to eat. They turned to me and said, “Pastor, what do you think?” Because Samuel was so passionate, I decided to answer in a way that didn’t take sides: “Lo que ves como pecado es pecado” (What you see as a sin is a sin), which is what Paul says to the Corinthians about eating the sacrificial meat. Continue reading

El Mundo Concreto — Day 2

Those of you who have been to countries in the Global South might relate to the way that there’s a basic dichotomy between “their” world and “ours.” What makes the Dominican Republic similar to other countries in Latin America where I’ve been — Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Peru — is that life here is lived in what I would call the mundo concreto — the concrete world. I actually mean this quite literally. Concrete is everywhere because it’s cheap and easy to use as a building material. Continue reading

Puppies in the Wild — Day 1

So we arrived in the Dominican Republic yesterday afternoon. We’re staying at the conference center for the Iglesia Evangelica Dominicana, which is the sister congregation for the United Methodist Church in the Dominican Republic. It’s interesting because usually “evangelico” in Latin America implies a patriarchal socially conservative church, but the only two pastors we’ve met so far are both female pastoras with almost the same name — Carilina and Carolina — and very Spirit-filled, powerful personalities. Continue reading

The Apprenticeship Continues: Another Mission Trip

On Tuesday at an ungodly hour in the morning, I will get on a plane to go to the Dominican Republic with 11 other people from Burke United Methodist Church. This is my third mission trip to Latin America though I’ve also traveled there for secular reasons both business and pleasure and I’ve worked with Latinos in this country for most of my adult career as a union organizer, high school teacher and Latino student union adviser, and then as a youth pastor to a youth group of mostly Mexicans with a handful of Hondurans and Salvadorans all of whom I miss terribly.

I don’t know what it is about Latin America that makes me feel more at home there than in the suffocating world of suburban northern Virginia. My youth told me that I was like a reverse Oreo — white on the outside and brown on the inside. I can’t explain why. But it’s actually been culture shock to finally be among “my own kind” in northern Virginia, people who share my socioeconomic background, level of education, race, and anxiety about success. The cynic in my brain suspects me of fetishizing Latino culture as a way of being the cool white guy who speaks another language and can look down on other white people for not being as multicultural. It does feel really cool in an unreal way to be invited into the intimacies of another culture’s family traditions. I’m going to be the padrino for the quinceañera of one of my former youth later this summer.

In any case, I’m going back (home perhaps?) to Latin America. I feel like I’m going to be apprenticed, to learn how to be a Christian from people who exude the heart of Christ unassumingly and matter-of-factly. And when I say that, I realize I haven’t met anybody where I’m going. I’m just superimposing my experiences in the church in Peru and El Salvador and romanticizing real people who aren’t perfect just because they’re poor and whose lives aren’t necessarily “simple” just because they don’t have Internet. But I really do feel like they have a lot more to teach me than I have to teach them. Who am I to tell them anything about putting their trust in Jesus Christ?

There is a palpable hope and trust in the kingdom of God in all the Latin American churches I’ve ever visited. Is there a way for a rich white guy to somehow carry that back with me to my land flowing with anxiety and existential “crises”? Is there inherently an inverse relationship between hope and economic security? Can you have plenty of stuff but not be a basket-case? Certainly there are poor people who are basket-cases too. I’ve met and ministered to some. What I pray and hope is that somehow God will reveal a truth to me in the way that the Dominicans do church and I’ll be able to bring back some new insight that is somehow applicable in our completely different suburban context. God, help me to be a faithful apprentice.