Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

June 23

The weather hasn't been the greatest here in Santo Domingo, since it has been pouring rain the past couple mornings. This has seriously impeded my ability to work with the baseball players, since the field has been a mud bowl for the past few days. However, we did get a chance to hand out the equipment that the group from Winston-Salem brought with them.

On Monday, I made my way to the baseball field with four bags of equipment to hand out to the players in the local baseball academy. One of the leaders of the Winston-Salem group who I had been in contact with, Scott Haynie, came with me to help distribute the equipment to the players. It was amazing what he had been able to gather in such a short amount of time. The bags were full of baseballs, pants, gloves, cleats, helmets, and other things that the players desperately needed. It was an awesome opportunity that showed so much evidence of God's provision. Scott and I had gotten in contact just about a week before his group came down, and in that short time, there were so many donations and the players were able to get so much that they desperately needed. To show their appreciation for the donations, the younger kids put on a scrimmage using the new equipment. I'm so thankful that we were able to get everything in and disperse it to the players who needed it. It was truly a blessing to see them receive what may be the first new glove or pair of cleats they have ever had.

Hopefully the rain will hold off the rest of the week and I'll be able to have a few more English lessons with the players and maybe get another game in too. It's hard to believe that my time here is coming to an end, but I'm looking forward to seeing how God works over these last few days.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Saturday, June 19, 2010

June 19

It's been a long week of work at Mission Emanuel, and we had another great group, this time from Orlando, come in to serve. They continued work on two of the houses that groups have been working on this year, one of which was for a woman named Dominga.

Back in March, on my spring break trip, we began work on Dominga's house. Back then, it was a clear plot of land with trenches dug for the footers. We filled the trenches with cement to start the foundation of the house. We also were able to pray over the house and for Dominga's influence in the community. She is truly a remarkable woman. I have heard so many stories about how she has been a shining light for Christ in the Bayona community. It was amazing to be able to dedicate and see her home finished and furnished, as well as hear the testimonies of so many as we prayed over her home. God has truly used her and blessed her for her faithfulness.

Aside from the dedication of Dominga's house this past week, most of my time has been spent working with the baseball players. I can definitely see a lot of progress being made with their English, and I have had extra opportunities outside of our normal time to teach. I met up with a few of them after practice at one of their houses and worked on what a conversation would look like in English. It has been a very rewarding experience to see things click as they continue to understand more and more of the lessons we have had. It's hard to believe that I only have a week left working with them.

I'm truly looking forward to this last week. The group that is coming in, from Winston-Salem, has brought loads of baseball equipment that we are presenting to the players on Monday. It is truly amazing to see how God has provided and brought all of donations together in such a short amount of time. I sent an email out a little over a week ago, and that day, bags of baseball equipment had already been dropped off, ready to be flown down. I can't wait to see the excitement from the kids. I already know how thankful they will be and how much of an impact and blessing it is to the baseball academy that I am working with.

Friday, June 11, 2010

June 12

After visiting Haiti and having a day to recover from the long bus ride, Mission Emanuel staff got back to working in the Bayona area. This meant that I was back playing baseball and working with the players on their English.

One huge blessing that I had this week was that Dan, an English as a Second Language teacher from the Chicago area, came down to work with some of the schools in the area. After hearing that he was an ESL teacher, I had the opportunity to talk with him about what I was doing and how I the methods that I was using with the players. He had a lot of information and teaching tools to offer me that I have been able to utilize since talking to him. Most of my work has been focused on exercises with a small group of players. We've been going over some basic verbs and conjugation, as well as building up their baseball vocabulary. I've seen a lot of progress already, and hopefully it will continue to be the case.

Today, Dan and I had the opportunity to play in a scrimmage with the players from the academy that we've been working with. While neither of us have played in game situations in a while, we held our own and each got a hit. It was amazing to share in the camaraderie of the game and get a glimpse into what growing up was like for some of the Dominican players in the Majors. The bases were a large foam square and two sacks filled with sand. Every foul ball was chased through the streets. Locals gathered along the foul lines to watch. I couldn't help but stop and soak it all in; this is Dominican baseball.

I really enjoy spending my time with the kids, as they've truly embraced me and made me feel as though I'm a part of their team. A part of why I am in the Dominican Republic doing what I am is to show them that despite their age, they are still cared about and are important to the area that they live in, as well as to the people of Mission Emanuel. Even though they have grown up and may not draw in the Americanos like they did when they were younger, they are still important to the people who come and work with Mission Emanuel. I've had the opportunity to see them as more than just teenagers, as they work on their baseball skills not to become famous and go to the United States, but to provide for their family, to give them the assurance of a meal or clean water. Baseball is clearly more than just a game to them. It gives them and their families hope. My hope for them is that they will see that their identity is more than just being baseball players, but can be found in Christ, and that they can rest in the promises that he has for them.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

June 8

It's been a wild couple days for all of the staff at Mission Emanuel. Yesterday morning, we loaded into the staff bus and headed to Port-au-Prince, Haiti to help an organization called Mision Rescate with earthquake relief. I didn't really know what to expect going in. I thought that what I would be would be similar to my experiences in the Dominican Republic and Bayona. I knew there would be poverty, homelessness, and hunger, but what I saw was far worse than I could've ever expected.

We left Santo Domingo around 4:00 AM and made our way to the Dominican-Haitian border. The border opens everyday at 8:00 AM and closes at 7:00 PM, so our time in Port-au-Prince was guaranteed to be limited. We made it to the border between 8:00 and 9:00. The border between the countries was madness, rows of cars were lined up to get through a gate that was a little bigger than the width of our bus. There were people all over, crossing on foot and selling goods at the market day. Thousands of Dominicans and Haitians carried what they bought on their heads as they headed back home.

Once we passed through the Dominican border, we truly saw God at work, giving us favor to cross into Haiti and deliver the goods that the people so desperately need. Normally, when relief groups go through, they need to have a written letter from the mission that they are going to and a list of all the goods that they are transporting in. Since our trip was so last minute, we were unable to receive these papers, but had a leader of Mision Rescate with us, who helped with the border crossing. The woman, named Omi, has built up an amazing relationship with the country, which can be seen in them letting us pass through without all the papers we needed. They also only charged us $1 per person to pass through instead of the normal $10. Just passing through the border, we could already tell that God's hand was on our trip.

We made our way along the coast of a Fond Parisien towards Port-au-Prince, with a police escort to ensure that we were safe on the roads and to lead us to Mision Rescate. The ride into Port-au-Prince was really amazing. I've never seen anything like what I saw in Haiti. We drove through overcrowded streets, where people spend most of their days because they don't want to spend their time in their houses. This causes the traffic to be horrendous, causing us to drive through the streets of Port-au-Prince for hours. The entire city smells like waste, and we saw people digging through trash and attempting to unclog sewers so that the city streets will be able to drain. Since so many people had their houses destroyed in the earthquake, large open areas have been made into tent cities. They have no water, no sanitation, and the tents bake in the sun. It was so hard to see the people living the way that they are.

Once we got through the traffic of the city, we reached the Royal Palace area, where Mision Rescate is located. The Royal Palace area has a large park in the middle of it, which has been converted into a tent city. The organization has partnered with CIMO, a branch of the Haitian Military, and is run out of their headquarters across the street from the Royal Palace. Once we got inside the Mision Rescate base, we went to work unloading the water that we had brought for them. We were immediately greeted and helped by a few young boys, most of whom are now orphans after most of their immediate family died in the earthquake. One of the leaders on the trip told us that one of the boys had said that Mision Rescate was the one place where he can be happy, where he can forget about the earthquake, and he can feel loved.

We did a little more work and then had to head out. While I'm still processing what I saw, I can honestly say that my time in Haiti, no matter how short, broke my heart in the best possible way. God opened my eyes to a people who still need help. Just because the headlines are not all over the place and six months have passed does not mean there is any less need. Their water is still undrinkable, they still lack proper nutrition, and people are still homeless. I don't think my words can do what I saw justice, so I'm going to finish with a verse from Isaiah.

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter - when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say; Here am I. - Isaiah 58:6-9

The Haitians need people to do exactly what these verses call us to. Hope is there, and God is there, but they still need help.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

June 5

My first week in the Dominican has flown by, but it's been an amazing week. The group that was here from Alabama was great, and really made the start of my summer that much more enjoyable.

I've really found that God has made himself very evident over the past week, especially while we were at the leper colony. While we were there, I felt as though I had an amazing glimpse into the grace of God that is available to each and every one of us.

Recently I have been reading a book by Brennen Manning entitled "The Ragamuffin Gospel." It strives to explain to the reader what God's grace means to us and how he accepts us as the ragamuffins that we are. While I'm only half way through the book, it has already made a huge impact on my life, especially my time at the leper colony, and I would highly suggest reading it.

The first time I went to the leper colony over spring break, one of the things that hit me was that these were the people that Christ spent his time with. He spent time with them, showed them they weren't outcasts, and that they were loved and accepted and healed. When we went this Thursday, I remembered what I learned over spring break and was able to connect it to what I've been reading in "The Ragamuffin Gospel." I saw that these people who had leprosy understood what it was to fully rely on God and to fully accept his grace. Their lives were shining examples of the joy that this brings. Despite the physical sickness that they have, they greeted us with smiles and shared in a time of praise and worship. The joy that they were sharing with the entire group that was visiting made me question if they were truly sick at all.

In Mark 2:17 Jesus say "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." This verse really opened my eyes to what was happening around me. It made me realize that despite my physical health, I am still sick, and I still need healing, and the only one able to give me that healing is Christ.

One of the hardest things for me in my life has been feeling as though I need to prove to God that I am worthy of his grace and worthy of being his follower. This defeats the purpose of cross, because in acting that way, I'm saying that Christ's death was not enough. That, somehow, I can do that extra something so that I will finally be worthy of what I've been offered all along. Brennen Manning uses a phrase throughout "The Ragamuffin Gospel" that says we need to "accept that we're accepted." It's one of the hardest things to do, because in our world, justice is carried out. We get what we deserve. When we screw up, there's a consequence. When we do good, there's a reward. However, that is not how grace works. In accepting that we are accept, we realize that in our broken state, in our sickness, we are loved, and there is nothing we have to do to earn that. We don't have to tools to heal our wounds. A band-aid doesn't suffice when stitches are needed, so why try? God's grace is there for all of us, all we have to do is accept it.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

June 3

Quite a bit has happened since I last updated my blog. The biggest event is that I have now officially begun working with the baseball players in Bayona. On Tuesday, I met with the coach, Chulo, a 23 year old Dominicano, who invited me to come to the practice the next day. I spent Wednesday morning practicing with the team and getting to know the players. We ran, warmed up, played soft toss, and did some infield and outfield drills. After we practiced, I sat down with them and did a quick and very impromptu English lesson over some basic words that are useful for baseball players. Their interest is there, but it's a little difficult to get all of them to pay attention at times. I'm sure that it is part of the teaching experience and will improve as lesson plans are set and communication improves, but prayers for patience with that would be great. Tomorrow, I'll continue to work with them in the mornings and hopefully have programming in place soon. In the meantime, they'll continue to whip me into shape on the field!

The rest of the work that the group has been doing has been focused on two houses. One house, for a woman named Corina, has had a lot of progress done of the past few days. All day yesterday, the group from Alabama worked to get cement mixed, so that the family living in the house would have a paved floor. Today, they primed the walls of the house for painting tomorrow, and everything should be done by the time they leave! The other house being worked on is for a husband and wife named Vijo and Glendi. They work with Mission Emanuel, along with their son Javier. It is a blessing to be able to work on a house for them, as they have put some much time and effort into the God's work in Cielo. It is truly a blessing to see them being blessed. The work that has been done at that house has mainly consisted of tying and placing rebar throughout trenches that had been previously dug. We were going to do some work on it today, but there was a heavy rain this morning, and it was too muddy to be able to lay the cinder blocks that were planned to be set in place.

This morning, as is the case with most Thursdays at Mission Emanuel, the group made its way to a Leprosorium where Dominicans with leprosy are treated and live in community. While we were there, we had the opportunity to sit and talk with some of the people living there, as well as have a time of worship with them. One woman from the group from Alabama was able to share with all of us what going there means to her. She has been there 3 or 4 times and every time, she is blown away but what God shows her. The people there are so joyful and praise Christ for the life that he has blessed them with. They constantly tell the visitors how happy they are to see them and that they hope God blesses those who visit. I am overwhelmed by the opportunities that I have here, as I get a greater glimpse into the life of Christ through those I encounter everyday.

Tomorrow is our last day serving with the Alabamians, so please keep all of us in your prayers as we work throughout Bayona and as they travel home. Thank you all so much for your support!