Posted tagged ‘Dominican Republic’

Turning Churches Into Cathedrals

June 29, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W                                                                  June 28, 2013

 

     In Santo Domingo today we visited the oldest church in the Americas, the Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor. It was built between 1512 and 1540 under the leadership of Bishop Fray Padilla. Being in a five hundred year old church is quite an experience, especially considering the age of church in our own country.

    But Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor is now more like a museum than a church. Tour groups come in, pay their admission fee, and then receive headphones and a transistor player that guides each of the group members through the church. There are a number of small side chapels, most of which are closed off to keep the tourists at a distance. The church is ornate and massive. Groups are told to be quiet because there may be people there who are trying to pray.

     Bottom line, however, the church is now a tourist destination because it’s old!

     It hit me that centuries ago people wouldn’t have thought about taking a tour of it. They would have gone there to worship, to pray, to be a part of a spiritual community, to receive words of hope and instruction, and partake of the Eucharist.

     My fear is that the church today will be a museum years from now. That we will slowly be transformed into a destination for people who are looking for a aide trip instead of people looking to be close to God.

     It is a turning point time for the church. And what has hit me this week is that people are looking at a church to see which it is and will be. In working with children here in Santo Domingo we know that they are looking to the people of God for a hand up; that is, to help them reach up to a life that doesn’t just talk about hope, but becomes “realized hope.” They are looking to the people of God not just to say the words, but to live the words.

     When words are lived churches continue to be beacons of light and people of mission. Tour groups don’t visit to take pictures of dead saints; people visit to see the living saints.

     This week a few of our mission team became first-time sponsors of some of the children of Herrera. The children will see in the coming year that the church is active and loving. Why else would someone from Colorado want to see a little boy from Santo Domingo live a full, healthy, and purpose-filled life?

Museums don’t care about the visitors; they just take care of the exhibits.

     The people of God care for the visitors and those who even live far-away, as they exhibit the grace of God, and the hope of life lived for the Lord.

Promising Basketballs

June 28, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      June 28, 2013

 

On our first day of basketball camp at Grace School in Herrera (an area in the inner city of Santo Domingo…kind of like saying “The Bronx” as a part of New York City), I made a promise to the kids. At our first session that first day we only had eight children. We had planned on a hundred for each session (although, in hindsight, we are somewhat thankful that didn’t happen).

A couple of our VisionTrust bags on our trip down were filled with deflated basketballs that had been donated. We brought seventy-five balls with us and spent a good deal of time putting air in them after we arrived. So on Monday I opened my mouth and inserted tennis shoe, and said that we would give a basketball to each child on Thursday, our last day of camp.

Many basketball camps in Colorado Springs do that. I had just helped at a camp at the Classical Academy a couple of weeks ago and each of the fifty campers got their own basketball.

So…no big deal, right?

Yesterday…Thursday, after our first session…the one that had eight children the first day…thirty-seven basketballs were handed to kids as they left the 8:30-10:00 session. By the end of the day we had given out all of our basketballs…plus the fifteen that the school had…plus we have the names of the eleven boys who did not receive one yet.

I need to buy the eleven plus replace the fifteen! It is an expensive lesson on making promises to kids…who have cousins…who have cousins!

In essence, about a hundred basketballs, or the promise of a basketball, exited the building yesterday. And I was the one who did the training session for our team about the American tendency to treat the problem of poverty with the solution of “giving people things.” Poverty is really brokenness…brokenness in terms of a person’s relationship with one or more of the four foundational relationships: with God, with myself, with the rest of creation, or with others.

We often treat the symptoms of poverty without acknowledging the core problems.

So today there are many children in Herrera who have a new basketball, but they still returned to the same situations of brokenness in their homes and communities.

I guess my hope is that as they hold their basketballs they will think about the week they had at camp, the hope of Christ that we shared with them. That as they think about some of our daily lessons of jumping, shooting, and shooting an impossible shot, they will think about the lessons we taught concerning grace, forgiveness, and the love of Christ.

Last night we met two exceptional young people who are graduating from high school- Pamela and Delton- who come from very difficult situations. Pamela taught herself English. She spoke to us last night more clearly than many of us talk. She volunteers with VisionTrust two to three days a week, and wants to major in tourism. Delton, who looks like a six-foot Kobe Bryant, and plays like Kobe, grew up in an orphanage, Remar. He is heading to the University next year, but wants to help the children who are still living at Remar. He wants to major in computer engineering.

Both Pamela and Delton were redirected in the course of their lives because, first of all, God loves them, and secondly, because God grabbed hold of the heart of some people and made them realize that he had a purpose for the lives of a little girl and a little boy, but that purpose could not be realized without someone being obedient to God’s beckoning.

It makes me wonder how many children are lost because someone didn’t heed the calling of God to come alongside.

A new basketball will not change any of the lives of those hundred children, but perhaps it will help them to know that there is a way of hope, a place of grace, and a plan for their lives that will lead them to make a difference.

I still have to get twenty-six more basketballs! I’m okay with that!

Meeting The Children

June 28, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                        June 27, 2013

This week, if you have been reading my blog, you know that I’ve been in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic as a part of a sixteen person mission team doing basketball camps and construction projects. The construction crew painted all of the classrooms and the hallways so that when the 400 students come back to school in August they will be greeted with a fresh look, a new beginning.

Today many of us were able to meet the children that we sponsor through VisionTrust. Carol and I have been sponsors for several years, but today was the first time I was able to meet our two Dominican children face-to-face. Alexa will be in sixth grade. I can tell that she loves to laugh and talk. She is cute as a button, and shared that she loves all food…even veggies!

I found myself getting emotional as I met her and talked, through our translator, with her. I’m not sure why my eyes got a little misty, but I think it was probably because today was a connecting point- connecting the sending of our financial sponsorship each month with who it is helping. I have to admit that Carol and I have sponsored children for so long that it has become easy to see it as a monthly bill to be paid instead of a gift to help someone in a different country. Just send the bill in with a check along with the utility bill and car insurance bill.

Today, however, gave me a completely new appreciation.

And then I met Johan, a third grader, who was shy and much as expansive in his answers to my questions as Alexa was. I’m sure it was a little intimidating for him to meet an old guy for the first time who kept asking a lot of questions about him and what he liked and didn’t like, favorite school subject, how many siblings, etc.

Alexa and Johan, two children who I will pray will be held in God’s hands, protected and growing each day.

It was a good day! A day of firsts. Perhaps tomorrow I will write about how I put my foot in my mouth on the first day of basketball camp this week and ended up giving away 91 basketballs.

 

P.S. The Cunfer family is awesome! They met the child they sponsored today also. Like me they connected to points that gave them a new perspective.

A Day of Humidity and Humanity

June 27, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                  June 26, 2013

 

The Dominican Republic is hot and humid. It is so humid that if you looked at yourself in a mirror your reflection would start sweating. Today was the most humid yet since we’ve been here. By the end of the first basketball camp session at 10:00 we were drenched. “Nacho”, one of our translators who also takes care of arrangements at the mission house where we saty, continually reminds us to drink water…to stay hydrated.

The humidity usually means an afternoon shower. If the rain shower happens, or seems like it about to happen, about the time our afternoon session is to begin the kids aren’t there. Today when it was time for our 1:30 session to begin there were no campers present.

1:35 the same thing.

1:40…we had one!

By 2:00, however, we had close to 40 there. It makes schedule-oriented people a little crazy.  Or should I say schedule-dependent Americans crazy? Dominicans might tell many of us Americans to lighten up!

But several things hit me today about humanity as well. The kids who are coming to camp this week love to laugh just like we do. The girls like to cluster together…just like many American pre-teen girls do. And the young boys here also like to wrestle…not pay attention…goof around…but give our coaches high-fives…just like little boys in America do.

There is no difference in behavior tendencies. Young boys here walk around with untied shoelaces and “barn doors wide open” just like American kids do.

There is also no difference between broken hearts of young kids in the DR and young kids in America when they lose one of their parents. Today at the end of our camp day Sydney Cunfer reminded me that we needed to pray with Christopher, a young boy about fourteen, whose father is presently imprisoned. A moment later Christopher was coming up the steps from the gym and we stopped him. Sydney, Emily Lundquist, and I asked him if we could pray for his and his father. I gently said to him that I had heard his father was having some difficult days. His face went quickly to a pained look of sadness. We prayed and hugged on him for a couple of moments.

Losing a parent tears at the emotions of any child. A little later on today before he left, Christopher came up to Sydney and thanked her for praying for him.

A day of humidity that has drenched us. A day of humanity that has gripped our hearts.

Basketball Is Basketball

June 26, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                           June 25, 2013

 

On our second full day in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic one of the things that has become evident is that “basketball” is a universal language. As we teach it and play it with the people of Herrera, and we struggle to know the Spanish language, basketball is understood by all. When I played a game of three-on-three and got teamed up with two Dominicans we all understood “pick and roll” without saying a thing. We understood “give and go” without opening our mouths.

Basketball has therefore become a way of connecting when words fail us. It’s the bridge over the confusion.

The first two days of camp I have used fundamental skills and teachings of the game of basketball to proclaim the truth about God. Yesterday I used the perfect positioning of our hands on the basketball when we shoot it to talk about the perfect positioning that God’s hands have on our lives. Today I used an illustration about an impossible shot made possible to talk about how God can take something that in impossible for us to do and make it possible.

Basketball has become the filter to talk about the relational gospel. Tomorrow I will use another situation from the game of basketball to help me convey the truths of grace and forgiveness.

Herrera can be a depressing place to live in. We’ve seen some things here this week that none of us have ever seen before. The school we’re at, Grace School, is a beacon of hope in an area that many several years ago was rendered hopeless. Now the school is held in high regard by the community because the community has seen so many lives redirected and transformed.

One of the young guys who has been at basketball camp this week is named Christopher. His father is imprisoned right now, charged with a very serious crime. Christopher has been devastated by the loss of his dad in his daily life. His attendance at camp has been a time of happiness for him. Sydney Cunfer, a 15 year old exceptional young lady on our team, said to me last night, “We should pray with Christopher before we leave here.” I told her that we would look for that opportunity to happen.

Basketball has provided that opportunity to care, to connect, and be used by God to come alongside.

I’m learning so many lessons this week about my “middle-classism”, about how privileged, probably over-privileged, I am. That things I have come to expect are not necessities. That what I think is a need is really just a want.

I’m learning how to say certain Spanish words…and struggle in saying other words, but more about that tomorrow.

Praise the Lord for basketball, and the chance to talk in a same language with kids who we have come to love.

Plan and Adjust

June 25, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                             June 24, 2013

 

Plan and Adjust”

 

Today was our first day of basketball camp and construction projects here in the Herrera area of Santo Domingo. It was a day of adjustments. Kevin Hodges, heading up our construction crew ended up using his plumbing skills half the day… changing out a faucet…fixing a toilet…each a necessary thing that needed to be done…each a needed thing for the school we are at that serves 400 children.

The rest of the construction team ended up painting three classrooms in the school that were desperately in need of a new coat.

The basketball camp staff adjusted and adjusted. There, evidently, was some misunderstanding between the school principal and the students. Students were told that they could only come to one session of camp this week. She meant one sessions each day, either 8:30-10:00, 10:30-12:00, or 1:30-3:00. But some of the students misunderstood and thought she meant they could only come once…in other words, one day…the whole week. Our first session only had 9 kids come, but then our second session had about 25, and our third session 30. Evidently, word began to get out. When our afternoon session began, however…time-wise, there was only one boy there. We figured out it’s because it was raining at the time. Campers waited until the rain stopped. No parents were driving up to the school and dropping their kids off. No one drives up to the school except delivery trucks and motorbikes.

But by the end one had grown to thirty.

One of our groups meets in the sanctuary on the top floor. It’s cooler there, but the tin roof above it has openings that allow large puddles of rainwater to fall onto the floor. Teaching basketball in the sanctuary is fine, unless it rains. Then we must suddenly adjust so we can avoid people slipping and falling in the water.

So we went into Monday with a plan that quickly changed.       Plan and adjust, plan and adjust.

The student team members have been great. Sydney and Garrett Cunfer shared their testimonies in worship of Sunday. Samantha McKinney is a sweetheart to always wants to help people. Emily Lundquist is adjusting to situations as much as she needs to keep tabs on her diabetes and stay monitored. Hannah Lundquist is doing awesome as a basketball helper. Mason Ripple hooped it up with the young boys close his age; and Megan Lundquist got almost as much paint on the walls as she got on herself today…all with a smile.

We’ve adjusted to Dominican plumbing limitations. I will avoid explaining that too much here. We’ve also adjusted to showers that are two degrees warmer than cold, but feel surprising refreshing.

I adjusted quickly to Dominican coffee. Excellente’!

We’re adjusting to having translators, and we’re learning certain words that are helping us communicate.

God is in the adjustments! We’ll see if he has a different plan for Tuesday!

Rhythm Preaching

June 24, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                     June 23, 2013

Our first full day in Santo Domingo was full of new experiences and meeting new friends. We worshiped with The Church of the Liberator, which meets on the top floor of Grace School in the area known as Herrera. The top floor, depending on who you talk to, is the fourth or fifth floor of the building. It is actually the rooftop with a metal roof above it. That may not make sense..unless you’ve been there!

I had the privilege of giving the sermon. It happened to be the 34th anniversary of my ordination service…but it was the first time I had ever preached with a translator. Reuben, a twenty-one year old Dominican student, who was a high school exchange student for a year in Minnesota, stood by my side and we started. The text I read was from John 9:1-9 about the blind man who Jesus made spit mud for and placed on his eyes. He follows Jesus’ instruction to go to the Pool of Siloam and wash it off, and when he does he can see.

I began cautiously. One of our young people said, “Wow, Pastor Bill! Just like back at our church…they didn’t laugh at your jokes either!” She was kidding…I think.

I talked about being blind to what Jesus is doing, and Reuben followed closely behind. I gave a phrase, and Reuben repeated. We got to a point where it seemed almost natural, like inhaling and exhaling.

Whenever I mentioned that Jesus frees the enslaved, or gives sight to the blind, or takes the burdened and gives them release…and then Reuben translated…there was a chorus of “amens” from the Dominican congregation.

The Church of the Liberator is attended by people who have experienced liberation. It is not a white collar suburban congregation, or a contemporary emergent generational church with high-quality graphics and sound. It is not a high-church congregation that prints off a 12 page bulletin each Sunday. Rather, it is a congregation of people who understand in new and transformational ways the rhythm of God in their lives.

Reuben and I preached. We danced the story of release of the captives. Pastor Osvaldo prayed a prayer of blessing over me, and he closed the service with a closing prayer of thanksgiving for the blessings of God, the grace of God, the gospel of God that The Church of the Liberator is proclaiming.

And to that, both Reuben and I say “Amen!”

First Dominican Lesson Learned

June 23, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                    June 23, 2013

 

Our mission team arrived in Santo Domingo safely tonight, except for one bag and one team member. Jeff was meeting us in Miami, but got delayed in Georgia. Hopefully,, he will join us tomorrow.

My first Dominican lesson was learned before we even got on our team bus at the airport. One man asked me for a tip as our bags were finishing being loaded on the bus. I assumed he was an airport porter, so I reached into my pocket and got my wallet out. He said “Twenty!” So “Mister Clueless” gave him a $20 bill.

Then he had a friend standing there also, who I cluelessly assumed was also a porter.

$20 for him!”

My first Dominican lesson cost me $40! It was only after my wallet was lighter that it dawned on me that I had been taken.

When you look clueless, people looking for someone who IS clueless pounce. Losing a quick forty can suddenly make you wiser as you grow poorer. But one of the things about the Dominican Republic is that there are a lot of people…a lot of people who live on the fringe of survival. Sometimes survivak fringe is a place where boundaries are loosened and people do what they need to do to get by.

Understand that we were greeted by many friendly smiling people, genuinely happy that we are here in their land, but we are also acutely ignorant of systems, customs, and tendencies.

Lesson one learned. On to lesson two and more tomorrow!

A 3 A.M. Start

June 22, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           June 22, 2013

 

I arise at 3 in the morning tomorrow! There is something awkward about getting out of bed before Starbucks even opens! 3 A.M. Is one of those times where you’re not sure whether or coming or going…or both at the same time, so you smack into yourself!

The early start is so I can arrive at church at 4:00, so our mission team can pack up, pray, and be on the road to Denver International Airport by 4:45. Several people told me this past week that they would be praying for us…from their beds that morning.

For the next week I’ll be posting a Words from W.W. From Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. I’ll post something each evening about what has happened that day…about the people we meet…the children who will be attending basketball camp…the interactions between our team members with the Dominicans, and also with one another. I’ll try to share with you how we have been blessed, challenged, and transformed.

Our team of sixteen goes expecting to see God work, but, quite frankly, I’m sensing that God will be transforming each one of us even more than the people whose homeland we’ll be visiting. I’m expecting that new revelations about our own lives will come to us.

It will be long hot days in Santo Domingo. Our basketball staff will be conducting three camp sessions each day (8:30-10:00, 10:30-12:00, 1:30-3:00) for a hundred different kids each session. And then from 3:30-4:30 some of the young men in the community have been invited to come and play hoops with us (if enough of us are still standing). During the 90 minutes I’ll be presenting a devotional thought to start with. We call them Buddy Basketball values. They tie some aspect of the game of basketball to the gospel message. Basketball is a great teaching tool to talk about hope, to talk about good news.

Each evening we’ll spend some time as a team debriefing and sharing God-stories from the day. I’m excited to see what God is going especially do in the lives of the men who are a part of the team (Seven of us!).

It all starts with a splash of hot water in my face at 3 A.M, and my Keurig waking up about ten minutes later.

Pray for us!

Being The Student As You Are Teaching Others

June 19, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      June 19, 2013

 

Everyone of us learn in different ways. Some are audio learners; they simply have to hear it. Others are visual; there has to be a picture for them to see. Still others have to be hands-on, they have to be touching something for it to click in their heads.

On Saturday I head to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, as a part of a sixteen person mission team that will be conducting basketball camps and doing construction projects at Grace School in Herrera, and inner city area of city. I go to teach and preach, to help children discover new things, to speak about the love of God and hope of Christ.

But I go as a student who will be teaching others!

How often does that happen? For me, quite often. I learn as I lead. I go as the “expert” who will end up being taught more than he imparts. It demands a sense of “teachability.” How often did Jesus meet with the teachers of the law who were going to teach him a thing or two? There were a few moments where the teacher was taught by the Teacher, but most of the time it seems that the teachers got angered at the idea that Jesus either knew more than them, or that he didn’t agree with them.

Teachers need to be taught. If not they become hardened opinionated “sticks-in-the-mud!”

I’ll be going into a completely different culture where life happens each day in a different kind of normal than I’m used to. Not normal for me is a Starbucks shop that is empty. This is going to challenge my understanding of not-normal.

Different language! I barely passed Spanish in high school, and that happened only because I could cheat off Betsy Wolfe’s paper in front of me. (No relation!) I’ll be learning every day. The excitement of learning will be tempered with a fear that I inadvertently say something that “You mama’s breath smells like cow dung!” I wonder how that would go over?

Lord, help me know when to just nod my head! Help me to communicate non-verbally in ways that speak the love of Christ! Lord, help me to learn things that I never knew; and experience things that will transform me as a follower of Jesus!”

It’s going to be awesome, and I hear they have good coffee there as well!