"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!'"
June 28, 2017
Last week I was gone to Santiago in the Dominican Republic with a missions team. There are so many stories to share, so many memories that were made, and so much to process. This week I'm going to lay the groundwork about the country and the living conditions, then next week will begin sharing what we did and stories of various things that happened.
Someone asked if we had fun, and the answer is no; that is definitely not the right word to describe our time there. The trip was amazing and awesome, but can't particularly be categorized as being fun. We worked and were exhausted both physically and emotionally; it was very hot and we got dirty and sweaty and stinky; during the day our skin was covered with bug repellant, sunscreen, sweat, and dirt; there were times when we felt as if we were too tired to go another step; but it was one of the most rewarding weeks I've ever spent. There was never any hot water, so we always took cold showers; and we never knew if we would have decent water pressure or just a small trickle. The water there is undrinkable and contaminated, so when we did shower we tried to not get water in our mouth or eyes or ears as we washed our hair. We could only drink bottled water that was provided for us and only eat the food that they prepared for us at the facility where we stayed. I'm definitely not writing that to complain or for pity, but to give a clearer picture to show that this was not a pleasure trip and what the conditions were like.
The Dominican Republic is a very poor country and where we stayed was very nice and plush compared to the living conditions of the majority of the people who reside there. Many live in either some type of small shack, or in small spaces that have concrete floors and walls. The entire house of a lot of the people is approximately about the size of most of our living rooms. We saw many sitting on hard plastic chairs. Most of their homes have a barred patio area on front of the house where they sat during the day; and it may be where a lot of them sleep at night.
My sister walked by a small concrete home and a grandmother was watching 3-4 of her small grandchildren, who were napping. The baby was lying on the concrete floor with a pillow under part of its body, but the other kids were laying on the concrete floor using their arms as pillows.
In all the areas that we were in, only one TV was seen in a home and it was so blurry you could barely see what was on the screen. Electricity is expensive, and can go off from time to time. When you are living in poverty, your money goes for providing food for your family and the bare necessities. There is no money for any type of luxuries.
We were blessed to have air conditioning where we stayed, with each room having their own small wall unit. But we were told to be sure and turn them off each time we left the room, because of the price of electricity. I'm not sure that all the homes we saw even had electricity.
A lot of rice is eaten there, because it can be bought cheaply and can go further to feed a family. Bananas, plantains and mangos can be picked off the trees and eaten. The missionary told us that they have ways of eating bananas and plantains from the time they are green to when they ripen all the way. When the bananas are green, they boil them. They have not yet sweetened and kind of taste like a potato (I didn't try it, but that was what I was told). They mash plantains and cook them with thinly sliced onion over the top. Nothing is wasted.
The majority of homes don't have refrigerators or ovens. They cook in large pots over an open fire or over some type of flame. They don't eat desserts. They don't have the money to buy ingredients for such things. The week that we were in the D.R., we ate our meals at the grounds where we were staying. Overall, the food was really pretty good, but we never had any desserts all week. Our food was cooked in huge pots over some type of flame in the kitchen area. We did get fresh bananas picked right off the tree and fresh pineapple straight from the plant. They were delicious!
In the communities that we went to, the grocery stores were not much bigger than most of our bathrooms. If you go into the shopping areas of the city, you can find bigger stores. But within the city were what they called communities, and within those there was very little shopping and the grocery stores were so tiny.
There is a rule in the Dominican: you never throw toilet paper into the toilet and flush it. Their sewer system can't handle it. That first day that we were there, it was difficult for us to remember not to throw our used toilet paper into the stool. You are to always throw it into the trash can. Their water is contaminated, so we all used a great deal of hand sanitizer and carried it with us wherever we went.
Sources of income for the country are sugar, coffee, tobacco, and tourism; but their biggest source of income comes from sex trafficking (you won't find that info published). Bribes are given to the authorities to allow this to happen freely and heads to be turned. Drugs are a problem, as well as prostitution - with girls as young as thirteen becoming prostitutes. Many young children are left unattended during the day while their mothers work, because there is no one to care for them.
Every place that we went there was raw sewage running down both sides of the streets in the ditches. Many areas have a lot of trash littering the streets; with some streets having piles every few yards where people dump their trash -- and they don't use trash bags.
And the traffic there is chaotic and scary! We were chauffeured around wherever we went in a van driven by a gentleman who has worked for Child Hope for 27 years; which is the ministry that the missionary that we were working with oversees. Daniel was raised in the D.R. so was a great driver, but it was somewhat scary for the rest of us. The lines in the streets mean absolutely nothing, because vehicles drive wherever they want and don't stay in their lanes; cars will cut in front of one another with only a couple inches to spare; when you want to pull out onto a street you just pull out and go, as long as no one is directly in front of you; vehicles will stop out in the street to let people get in and out; motorcycles weave in and out of the cars, especially at traffic lights; vehicles will park with their tires up on the sidewalk; at every single intersection there are people who will walk in between the cars begging for money or trying to sell something or trying to wash you windshield..... You have to be a very aggressive driver or you'll get ran over!
One of the first days, there was a car that cut over right in front of us and it looked like they were going to hit us (which happened numerous times!). I kind of sucked in my breath, and Daniel heard me. I was sitting on the bench seat directly behind the driver. He laughed and said, "Trust me!" Counting the driver and our interpreter, there were 13 of us piled into that van everywhere we went! The missionary and the three men who were traveling with us rode in his truck.
This gives you an idea of what Santiago is like and what the living conditions are there. From what I understand, that is pretty much how it is all over the country; with some places being even more poverty stricken.
When I got home and walked into my nice big house with a nice big yard with all the modern conveniences and appliances, a closet full of clothes and shoes, two nice vehicles to drive, carpet on the floors and soft beds to sleep in, A/C that I can set the thermostat and leave running 24 hours a day, showers with working hot and cold water (that is clean) and good water pressure, a nice washer and dryer (we were told that some still wash by hand and I'm sure almost everyone uses clothes lines to dry their clothes), our laptops and iPads and big TV, and all the "stuff" that I have that isn't really needed but just pretty.... it made me realize how truly blessed and rich I am. Maybe not rich by American standards, but rich compared to how many in the world live and how little they have. If any of the Dominican people that I met last week were to come to my house, they would be overwhelmed and think that Jon and I must be extremely wealthy; and by their standards, we are.
That doesn't mean that I'm going to start living like the Dominican people or feel guilty for what I do have, but hopefully, it has given me a new perspective so that I will have a more thankful heart and not be complaining when I can't have something that I want. I pray that I never forget this experience!! I can often have a spoiled mentality of wanting what I want when I want it, and being able to go out and buy pretty much anything I need. Sometimes I don't think that I'm as grateful for what I have as I should be. I often take things for granted.
There have been several times in my life when I've not had a lot and have had to pinch pennies. I've been able to adapt to not having as much and being on a tight budget when needed, but sure enjoy it much better when I can go grocery shopping without worrying about going over a certain dollar amount and overspending.
Honestly, I can't compare my life and situation to those living in the Dominican Republic, because our countries and our lives and how we live are so very, very different. I don't want to live in poverty just because that is how they live. But neither do I want to forget their plight or what I was witness to during this missions trip.
The Apostle Paul had an understanding of how it was to live in each situation. He had experienced having wealth, but also living in poverty. He could peacefully adapt to either situation, because he found the key to doing so.
In Philippians 4:10-13 Paul is writing a letter to the christians in Philippi and says: "How I praise the Lord that you were concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn't have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength."
I live with everything that I need, plus some. I have a full stomach and have plenty. The majority in the D.R. have almost nothing. They have empty stomachs and very little. But there is something that we can have in common: we can learn the secret of living in every situation. We can look to Christ, who gives us strength.
Not everyone who lives with excess and plenty are content and happy. In fact, if you look at our society you will see many who are never satisfied, never truly happy, never really content. They have everything that they need, but want more. They not only want their needs met, but also, their wants. They feel as if they should have whatever their heart desires. People spend excessively, but are always wanting more. Perhaps not all are extravagant in their spending, but I daresay that the majority will find a way to buy whatever it is that they really want; me included.
I would guess that there are those in the D.R. who have very little who are content with what they have, because that's all they know. Some are likely never happy or content, because like people all around the world, they have a void within that only Jesus can fill.
It all comes down to a matter of the heart. It's not necessarily what we do or don't have that makes us happy or content. It's godliness that makes us wealthy. Having wealth of the spirit is so much more important than having a big bank account and all the material possessions that we want.
You can be financially comfortable or extremely wealthy, but still not be happy or satisfied; always wanting what you can't have or wanting more. You can also be poverty stricken and be miserable and unhappy. On the other hand, people in both situations can find peace in joy in whatever state that they find themselves in, because their focus is on Jesus and not what they have or lack.
1 Timothy 6:6-8 says, "Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can't take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content."
Hebrews 13:5-6 says, "Don't love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, 'I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.' So we can say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?'"
How wealthy is your soul and spirit? Are you satisfied with what you have? Are you content? If you had more possessions, more money, would that bring you inner peace and a greater sense of contentment; or would there be something more that you would still want? I'm asking myself these same questions.
I recently heard someone share that they had either read an article or talked to a missionary from a country (perhaps China, but I'm not sure) that used to be communist, but now has religious freedom. The missionary said that many christians there say that they were stronger in their faith when they suffered persecution then when they had more freedom. Why? Because when they suffered persecution, they HAD to rely on God and trust Him in all things. When they had more freedom, they became more lax and found it easier to trust in themselves or what they have, than in God. Their lives weren't completely dependent upon God and His protection when the persecution lifted. They said that they would rather suffer persecution and have the strong, close relationship with God and have that dependency upon Him, than to have the freedom that they now have.
Wow! Perhaps we have been so blessed and have suffered so little that we take God for granted and whine when we don't get our way or feel as if He isn't answering our prayers or giving us what we want. What if our very existence and daily needs were totally dependent upon Him? Would that change us and strengthen our relationship with God? The above verses tell us to be satisfied with what we have.... if we have enough food and clothing to be content... true godliness with contentment is great wealth. I need to work on those things, because often I'm not satisfied with what I have, but want more. I don't see godliness as being great wealth, but see finances and possessions as wealth. I need to change my perspective.
Last week was an eye opener and a life changer. For years I've heard stories from missionaries, looked at their slides and pictures, listened to stories from family members who have gone on mission trips, and it's been interesting -- but that's all. Going and witnessing it first hand is a completely different experience! It's no longer just a story or a picture, but getting involved personally has made me invested in the lives of these kids and families. When I got on a plane and left Santiago, I left a big piece of my heart there. I want to someday go back to the D.R. to serve, give of myself, love, and be the hands and feet of Jesus!
Over the next few weeks I will be sharing more about my experiences on the mission trip to Santiago, but this week wanted to lay the groundwork to give a clearer understanding of what the country and living situation is like.
Brazil has a lot of similarity to Dominican Republic. Even in what they think of as middle-class, the houses usually look like they were never quite finished. But in the poor side of town, most of the houses look like they were built with dry-stacked cinder blocks, and scrap tin sheets.
We think of 7% unemployment as terrible, and 10% as the end of the world. But Brazil had over 13% unemployment (and does again). The locals said it was really much higher, but wasn't reported accurately because the way they collected the data wasn't reliable.
The government in Brazil had a brilliant idea, though. They hired as many able-bodied homeless people as they could, to sweep streets and to plant nut and fruit trees, and berry bushes along highways and major roads. Not only did they provide a (very small) income to some people, but the food was free to anyone who could walk down the street, picking it.
We stopped by Rio for a couple days. The difference was astounding. For about 1/10th mile, the beach looks like a rich, luxury city. But if you get past the second street from the shore, it changes. The homes are high-rise apartments with broken balcony rails, leaky bathrooms with little or no hot water, and screaming neighbors.
It's amazing how much of a facade that little strip makes. From the shore, it looks great. You might think they whole country is rich. But you only have to look a little deeper to see it isn't.
4 large potatoes
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
1/2 stick butter
Peel and wash 4 potatoes. Cut each potato in half and then cut each half into three wedges. Melt butter in baking pan. Roll wedges in butter and sprinkle with salt, garlic powder, and parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until tender.
The July 4th holiday is coming up in a few days!! Enjoy the holiday with your family, as you celebrate the independence of our country.
It is not how gifted we are but about how willing we are
because it's His spirit within us that will change the world! - Christine Caine
We love you!
Loretta & Jon