Friday, January 23, 2009

A Dream In Hato Mayor (Ah-toe My-your)

On Tuesday, Jim and I were two planes passing in the sky. While mine was arriving in the Hoosier state from the snowy hills of Maine, his was headed to the warmer clime of the Dominican Republic. We will have spent thirteen days apart by the time he gets home again. Jim left with a group of people on a mission trip to the barrios of Hato Mayor, just outside the city of Santiago. This will be the third trip members and friends of our church will have made to this neighborhood since the summer of 2007. We originally made our first trip to help complete the building of a church there. The church had been the long-time dream of one man, Pedrito, and his wife, Arelis. There were no churches in the near vicinity of their little community. To get to the closest church would have required a combination of three different modes of transportation and would have cost more than the neighbors could afford. Pedrito and Arelis asked themselves, "Who will teach the children about God?" The silent yet clamouring answer they received was, "You."

For fifteen years, Pedrito built this church, literally, brick by brick. You have to understand that Pedrito and Arelis make very little money. Pedrito has a health condition that prevents him from holding regular employment. Arelis teaches at two different preschools and makes the equivalent of $4000 per year. They are not rich, but what they have, they share. Last spring when I was there, I watched as an emaciated woman approached the gate of their house. Although I could not speak the language, I could tell some bargaining was going on. The woman would talk, Pedrito would shake his head. Gently he spoke to her. Soon, Pedrito reached into his pocket and placed a few pesos in her hands. Through a translator, I learned that the woman was a drug addict and she came begging for money. We asked Pedrito why he gave her money. His response was, "She has babies. They need milk." A few moments later, the woman walked past, a quart of milk dangling from her hand. With a nod and a glance, she whispered, "Gracias, Pedrito."

Whenever Pedrito would receive a donation, usually a small one, he would purchase materials for the building. Perhaps it would be enough for two cinder blocks or perhaps a coil of wire. Bit by bit, he cleared the land. Piece by piece, he built. Fifteen years later, we came to put on the finishing touches. For years, the people in the barrio would watch him. "Look," they'd say, "there goes crazy Pedrito. What's he doing today?" They would scoff and they would laugh, but during the two weeks we were there, a change in attitude became apparent. We gringos became quite a novelty in the neighborhood and curiosity brought people out of the woodwork. Before our return to the U.S., we were able to have the first worship service within the church. They packed the house!

The first service was at night, scheduled to begin at 6 pm. Well, you know, there is American time and then there is Dominican time. By 7:30, we were ready to roll. The journal entry I wrote about this night said this:

Just want to tell you quickly that we have finished the work we hoped to on the church in Santiago. We had the first service of celebration in it last night. The electrician came Sunday afternoon, so we had lights! It looks wonderful even though there is much more for Pedrito to do when we leave. It was a very emotional moment. Joel (his son) had been sick and we didn't think he was going to make it to the service. He came a little late. I was very blessed to have been able to see his face when he approached the doorway. He stopped just short of entering. When he saw the church filled (really filled) with people from the central church, he burst into tears and started sobbing. He was overcome with emotion from seeing his father's lifetime dream come true. I am crying just thinking about it. Laura said, "THIS made everything worth the work." During the whole time of gathering and worshipping, Pedrito would not enter the church. I watched him. He would circle the church and look in through the windows. From window to window, he would travel. He was invited inside by many, but each time he would give a slight shake of his head. To another window he would go. Oh, how I wish I could have known what thoughts went through his mind. I know his heart was overcome.

Father and son 1

Father and son 2

I am green as a ripe avocado with envy that I couldn't make this third trip.


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