May 21, 2023
Greetings from the Dominican Republic!
I am going to send periodic update emails this week to share what God's doing both in and through our group here in the Dominican Republic.
We arrived at the Meeting God in Mission (MGM) facility yesterday evening after a full 15 hours of travel! We met at Cleveland Hopkins Airport at 4:30 AM to fly to JFK, and after our layover in NYC, we boarded a plane to Santa Domingo. The last hour of our trip took us from the airport by way of school bus to our home for the week. After a late dinner and a quick orientation, some conversation and games, everyone got some much needed rest.
Today (Sunday) was our first full day in the DR. After breakfast we boarded a (MGM) vehicle and headed to worship at a local church. The two hour service was impactful in many ways - singing songs of worship, hearing from Scripture, listening to the preaching of the pastor, and praying together. A number of our students gave personal testimonies - during which Hanniyah commented that, "When I got to the DR yesterday I had a culture shock, but being here today in church, makes it feel like home." This idea of one God unites the Church became a theme of the Sunday service as we shared some of our songs of worship, and then learned some from the local congregation. Particularly meaningful was a bond that Rev and the local pastor seemed to form almost immediately - again we saw one God and One Spirit at work.
After church and some lunch back at the MGM facility we headed out to hike up a nearby trail. The views from the top were amazing and made the journey worth the effort to reach the summit - and I think most of us on the trip would agree with that sentiment! Following dinner, we gathered as a group to plan and practice the Vacation Bible School songs and games that we'll use to lead some local kids!
Thank you for your prayers. God is good. Our trip has been safe and impactful in its first 36 hours and I'm excited to see what's next!
In Christian Service,
May 22, 2023
Good evening Lutheran East -
Today was our first day of service helping people in a local sugarcane village. Our group divided into two equal subgroups - each with 7 students and 3 chaperones. One group headed into the village to engage with area children in what can best be described as a type of Vacation Bible School complete with games, memorizing Bible verses, and the fun that comes from playing with kids. The language barrier is a challenge, but our interpreters and the universal language of play made for a fun day! Our other group spent the day at an area health center which was closed for business so we could give it a fresh coat of paint. Several students commented on how meaningful it was to see a near immediate impact from their hard work. Gone was the drab and dirty paint that coated its walls which now feature a bright and cheerful turquoise-like color.
On our way back to the Meeting God in Mission (MGM) facility we stopped to do some shopping at a store that could be described as a type of local Wal-Mart. The students were thankful to see familiar items like Oreos and Lays chips, and many also purchased more adventurous snacks and sodas. After cleaning up we enjoyed a fantastic dinner of mashed potatoes, beef and carrots with gravy, and broccoli provided by the MGM staff. The food has been tremendous! Headed into this trip meal time was a cause for concern for some members of our group who were worried that we'd be eating "cold-cuts" for every meal. In just our first couple of days meal time has changed from a source of worry to excited anticipation as we all look forward to home-cooked Dominican meals.
The group is winding down for the evening following some small group discussion meetings. Tomorrow promises to be another full day! In addition to our work in the sugarcane village, we are planning on visiting a local school for children who are deaf, and then an evening worship service at an area church.
May 23, 2023
Good evening Falcons -
The weather in the Dominican Republic has been tropical, but not as hot as I had expected. It's funny how expectations can shape our responses. The weather is a simple example - I expected it was going to be hot and it is! But because the heat was expected, it's been manageable. There's a lot of truth in that simple example, right? On this trip we all had expectations - some accurate and some not. I shared the false expectation yesterday that the food was going to consist solely of "cold cuts," but instead we've had consistently delicious meals. Today I want to share an example of an accurate expectation - and that is how God was going to show up each day in new ways!
Our subgroups of 7 students and 3 chaperones returned to the same worksites as yesterday so that we could have the continuity that comes with working in the same space with the same people on consecutive days. The heat was a challenge, but we took good care to stay hydrated and returned to the Meeting God in Mission (MGM) facility with more stories of the adventure. Afterwards, we then headed to a school for students who are deaf located just across the road from the MGM facility. We got to hear the story of the school and its positive impact on the deaf community here in the Dominican Republic. Then, after another delicious dinner, we headed to an evening worship service that was conducted mostly in Haitian Creole. At one point during the service, in the middle of a song, the power went out unexpectedly. As the congregation sang louder and louder, a number of people turned on their cell-phone flashlights, and as the song concluded, power was restored and the lights came back on! It was an emotional and powerful moment for our group and for the congregation - Jesus is the light of the world, and in that moment, Jesus' words that "He is the light of the world" took on a new and tangible meaning.
We're now back at the MGM facility preparing for "lights out" at 10 PM, and a new day ahead of tomorrow. Our subgroups will switch projects tomorrow and we'll head back out to serve the community of sugarcane workers. Both subgroups are looking forward to the new experience and serving in a new way as we look forward to seeing how God will show up in the new day.
Blessings in Christ,
May 24, 2023
Good evening Lutheran East -
Things are winding down on our fifth night in the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic is quite a bit further east than Cleveland, so the sun sets sooner than it does back home. That's okay though because our group is pretty tired by the end of the day with the satisfaction that comes from hard work and stretching ourselves to experience a new place and new people. Not to mention that the 10 PM "Lights Out" notice that Meeting God in Mission (MGM) posts on our daily schedule means that someone literally turns the lights off at 10 PM!
As I mentioned in a previous email, today our subgroups switched worksites: the group that had worked with the children took over the painting project, and our painting crew went to work with the children. The painting project and our work with the children are, on the surface, very different from one another, but I think they actually have a lot in common. For example, through both projects we are making a difference that will last beyond our trip. The finished paint job will brighten the clinic for years to come, and although harder to see, I believe that our work with the kids will also have a lasting impact as well. That impact is beyond the food and shoes we're able to provide, it's more than the smiles and laughs that echoed through the village when we jumped rope or played frisbee, baseball, or kickball (sometimes all at the same time). It's an impact in the hearts and minds of the kids as they learn a verse from Scripture and hear words of love from your students and our group. And as so many of our students have commented, "it's like we're learning as much from them, as they are from us." The impact is with the kids of the DR and it's with us.
In addition to our work at our service sites, we were able to tour a local coffee roaster today to learn about that process, and then we had a competitive game of dodgeball to have some fun ourselves! Tomorrow will be a busy day. We'll start with our daily worship service, we'll have breakfast, and then prepare a shoe donation to take to the same sugarcane community where we have been working. After that we'll head to the beach, and then into Hato Mayor in the evening. With just a few days left in this trip, it's amazing to think about all that has happened - and we're all excited to experience what's still to come.
Thank you for your continued prayers!
May 25, 2023
Good evening Lutheran East -
Tomorrow (Friday) is our last full day in the Dominican Republic before we'll make our return flight home on Saturday. Throughout our trip we've been stretching ourselves through service, and today we stretched ourselves through some new experiences as we learned more about the culture of the Dominican Republic and especially Hato Mayor - which is the nearest city to the Meeting God in Mission (MGM) facility.
Our morning started with a group project of sorting hundreds of pairs of shoes that had been donated to MGM to distribute to people in need. We made quick work sorting the shoes into piles, which we then packaged up to make distribution easier. After our morning project we headed off to the beach for some oceanside fun! Seeing the open expanse of ocean water always stirs up feelings of joy, wonder, and awe for me. After our return to the MGM facility and dinner we headed out to the downtown area of Hato Mayor to enjoy some freshly made empanadas and ice cream near the city center. It was a fun and safe excursion for our group to explore and see another facet of the Dominican Republic. We saw families out to dinner, couples getting ice cream, artisans selling their goods around their public square, and kids laughing and playing in the park. It was not unlike what we might see back in Cleveland - an obvious difference though is that the most common mode of transportation here in the DR is the moto - a small motorcycle that zips up and down the streets by the hundreds! Sometimes its an individual rider, sometimes four people will pile on, and at other times they'll be weighted down heavy with cargo. Visiting Hato Mayor was a fun experience for our group that help guide us towards looking at the world with more open, loving, and accepting eyes.
I want to thank all of our chaperones on this trip: Angelica Williams, Mason Bufkin, Rev Childs, and Jason Becker. I want to give a special mention though to Miriam Uffelman who has been our fearless leader throughout this trip - her Spanish language skills and her spirit that have guided the planning and implementation of this trip have been tremendous. I'm also incredibly thankful for our interpreters, drivers, cooks, and hosts here at MGM that have made such a difference for our group.
After returning from our city excursion, some groups sat down to play cards, others engaged in an impromptu worship service, and few others just sat and talked. There's space for all of those activities - there's certainly time for fun, we are blessed by God who is worthy of our praise, and after 6 days in the Dominican Republic there's certainly much to discuss! We're looking forward to filling our last day with more memories and contributing to the communities we've invested in throughout this week.
Blessings in Christ,
May 26, 2023
Good evening Lutheran East!
We are settling in for our last night in the Dominican Republic. We have a full day of traveling in front of us tomorrow (Saturday). We'll leave the Meeting God in Mission (MGM) facility morning at 10 AM, travel by school bus to the airport in Santo Domingo where we'll board a plane to Atlanta, and then another that will bring us home to Cleveland. If all goes according to plan, we'll touchdown at Hopkins just a few minutes shy of midnight. Another full day is just par for the course of this trip, as we've packed so much in that it's hard to believe we arrived just one week ago. I want to share a few experiences from today that will live in the collective memory of our group long after we're back in northeast Ohio.
During our morning worship service today, an MGM worker named Joel led us in singing. The combination of his leadership, voice, setting, and experience left many in our group speechless. It's a hard moment to describe, but I'm okay with that since we often struggle to put adequate words to truly memorable experiences, and this was an incredibly special moment for our group. After worship and breakfast we loaded up the service truck with the rice and oil that we had purchased to give to the families in the sugarcane village. In addition to the food, we also packed up the shoes that we had sorted yesterday morning. From there we headed back out to our worksites. Half of our group finished up the painting project at the health clinic and the other half of our group led Vacation Bible School at the sugarcane village. Our two crews met up in the afternoon for the shoe and food distribution - this was an emotional experience for everyone. The emotions were a beautiful but confusing mixture of joy, sadness, hopefulness, despair, and thankfulness. Who knew that the simple act of providing shoes to those without and food to those who are hungry could cause such a range of feelings? It makes me think and believe that the shoes were more than shoes and the food was more than food. After all, God, throughout Scripture, often uses everyday items for an eternal difference.
"Gloria a Dios" is a phrase that is common here in the Dominican Republic. It means "Glory to God." It's a phrase that is used regularly in conversation, and it will now be common to the members of our group as well. It's a simple phrase of honest gratefulness that we can at all times, in all places, and in all situations give thanks to God, for God is good, and God's mercy extends forever. Gloria Dios!
To close our last evening in the Dominican Republic we had a lot of fun hosting a Lutheran East talent show, and then spent time in our small groups discussing the experiences of our trip, what we've learned, and how we want what we've learned to shape our lives back in Cleveland. We are all thankful for our experiences here in Hato Mayor, and we're looking forward to coming home tomorrow. See you all soon!
Thank you for continuing to lift our group up in prayer - especially for safe and smooth travels home tomorrow.
May 31, 2023
LE Dominican Wrap Up and Recap
Good morning Lutheran East -
Our travels from the Dominican Republic back to Cleveland on Saturday were incredibly smooth - everything from the bus ride, to customs, to the layover in Atlanta, to pickups in Cleveland went even better than I had hoped. Thank you for your prayers and notes throughout the trip. It made a huge difference knowing how much support we had from people back home and that you were lifting us up in prayer. From our arrival at the Meeting God in Mission facility on Saturday, May 20th to our departure 8 days later, we stretched ourselves to serve God as we helped others, to learn and experience a new culture, to grow in faith, and to build up our relationships with one another. Praise God for His faithfulness throughout our trip, for our safe return, and for the people who we were blessed to interact with in the Dominican Republic.
I'm sure that since returning to Ohio your students have shared with you many stories of triumph and struggle, new experiences, and lasting memories. Those stories and conversations are a blessing, and I hope that they continue over the weeks and months to come. Here's one story that is going to stick with me - it's a story about a brief conversation that I overheard between Profa Uffelman and a young man in the sugarcane village. It's a short story, but for me it is packed full of meaning and hope.
As we were leaving the sugarcane village on our last day a young man in the village asked if we'd be back "manana." Profa Uffelman, with compassion and certainty, had to tell the young man that we would not be back tomorrow or the next day because we were headed home. The young man was crestfallen, but Profa encouraged him that we would be back next year, and that it was a wonderful opportunity for him to practice his patience! A smile came to his face, and we all shared a few laughs and snapped a few pictures before boarding the bus to leave the sugarcane village and return to the MGM facility. This interaction between Profa and this young man will be one of my lasting memories from our trip. Captured in that brief conversation was evidence that our work made an impact, and there was a hopefulness that it wasn't the end of the discussion for we are going to return! The small sugarcane village where we worked in 2023 was in fact the same where Lutheran East served in 2018 and 2019 on previous trips, and it's the same village that we are planning to return to in 2024. Short-term missions and service trips like ours don't solve all of the world's problems nor do they break the systems of oppression that have caused the disparities and inequities like we observed in the Dominican Republic. They are, however, packed full of trajectory changing moments for everyone involved, and I can't wait for Lutheran East to return to the Dominican Republic to see and hear about how trajectories were changed as a result of this trip and to see that impact in the lives of our students as well.
Thank you again for your prayers and support. God's blessings as we enter the hot summer months here in Cleveland, and may they be a reminder to us all of our trip to the Dominican Republic, how God is at work around the world, and how God is at work in our hearts and lives.