4 “Sermons” by 2010 Dominican Mission Youth
11 July, 2010
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Walter Stamm | Natalie Rorick | Justine Walker | Amy Young

Walter Stamm

“Where do you see God active today?” this question was as frequently asked in our small group discussions as “what’s for dinner?”  If you asked me this question before the Dominican trip, I would’ve had some witty, immature response to get some laughs. 

With our world heading to a more secular ideology it’s becoming harder and harder for people to believe in a higher power, a divine entity, a God.  Life is taken so inconsequentially nowadays, there is no fear of the afterlife and it seems as if no one really cares. 

Though with all the new knowledge we have gained throughout the new millennium it’s hard for people to fully grasp and hold onto the idea of having a God.  We know that stars won’t die if we behave badly, galaxies won’t crumble due to our actions, and the universe could care less about our insignificant existences, so why should we? 

And that is where I saw God active on the Dominican trip.  I saw a group of teenagers suddenly care.  We all lost our little social clicks and niches that we had and became an inclusive group of friends no matter age, race, or gender. 

Looking into the smiling faces of all the kids on the trip I realized why the world was losing its grip on God.  It’s because God is kind of lazy, God is not going to get up and find you, you have go out and find God.  And through the 10 days I spent there I did find God, I found God in the bliss of the citizens of the Dominican, the insightfulness and intelligence of all who went on the trips, and the sheer beauty of the landscape. 

Where we are so intertwined with all of our material possessions, the people of the bateys are intertwined with God.  I could not comprehend how they were so happy with their living conditions. Some will say it’s because they have never known anything else, but I think it is because they have all found God and have a connection that few in the USA can say they have. 

The bateys made me think of the feudal times of medieval Europe and the idea that suffering brings salvation, but what I saw in the children of the bateys was everything but suffering.  I witnessed such a pure sense of happiness and bliss that I have never seen before, and this bliss and happiness was not specific to the children of the bateys, it ran rampant throughout the Fairmount group as well.  It seemed that all inhibitions melted away in the Dominican heat and we became such a cohesive group that any reservations any of us had were taken away in a wave of joy. 

Whether it was stomping on each others heads while trying to make a human pyramid at the beach, relieving ourselves side by side in the vastness of the sugarcane fields, or just sitting back and enjoying the time, I knew that God was with us. 

God was with me as I wandered aimlessly through the sugar cane; he was with me as I worked in the bateys, he was with me as I laughed, cried, and slept. 

So why should we care? Because what we are is God’s gift to us, but what we become is our gift to God.

Natalie Rorick
Simplicity and Patience

After a few days of settling back into my American lifestyle, I receive a phone call from one of the managers at the Italian restaurant where I work. She kindly, but curtly asks, “How was your vacation?” My first reaction was, “it was good.” Yet, in my head, I thought, “Vacation? Is this lady nuts?”

I remember telling her that my travels to the Dominican Republic wouldn’t be a vacation, but a mission trip. I also remember her lack of eye contact, her impatience to leave after a day’s work inside, and her fussing over when she would next be able to smoke a cigarette. Tough life! 

In contrast to what I really experienced, she thinks I am a privileged child who basked in the sun at one of many resorts along the coast of the Dominican Republic.  I admit that I am privileged and I swam where thousands of tourists are lured each winter. But, I traveled to the Dominican Republic to learn about the culture of the Dominicans and Haitians and to offer support however I could. With my employer’s brisk inquiry about my trip and her failure to believe that there is more to the Dominican Republic than just resorts and beaches, she has taught me a lot about what I learned from this trip: patience and simplicity.

Each day I resist the impatience I once had while waiting for red traffic lights to change, dealing with a broken remote, and of course, now being a lifeguard at a beach, where I constantly deal with rude and obnoxious people.  As I face each of these small obstacles in my day, I relate back to my experiences in the Dominican Republic, and how I used patience and grew to appreciate simplicity in a country that struggles with poverty and deep tensions.

What has impacted my life from my mission trip to the Dominican Republic is the simplicity of life’s basics that I used to take for granted. Let’s start with food. How many of our mouths water at the sight of Wendy’s Baconator? In all its whopping complexity of up to 840 calories, Wendy’s now offers one, two, and even three beef patties stacked between bacon, cheese, mayo, ketchup, and two hefty sesame seed buns. To me, simplicity is overlooked in America. The food options we have are overwhelming, and much too complex for what is actually needed to sustain good living. In the Dominican Republic food is not in abundance and one works to acquire small quantities of food. 

A particular image replays in my mind each time I see hundreds of mangos stacked at Heinen’s grocery store. In one of the batey clinics I worked in, a small window opening propped up with a piece of wood captures the sight of Haitian children running towards a tall, lush mango tree. Eager to have something to eat, children throw hefty rocks in hopes that mangos will fall into their hands.  A child handed me one as a gift, and I smiled, even though I knew he was hungrier than me.

Besides being able to have abundant food at home, transportation in my life is undoubtedly simple. With many cars per family, RTA, and bicycles, I can go anywhere.  Transportation in the Dominican Republic is an adventure and not something one takes for granted. After a four-hour flight to Punta Cana, a 2-hour bus ride to La Romana with a surprising pit stop at Burger King, our bus encountered a traffic delay.  All of our heads peeked out of the window to see construction work on a one-lane highway. Awesome! We were so close to the city, yet in the Dominican Republic, nothing is too close to being where you want to be. Tired and in need of a bathroom, Walter Stamm, ventured into the bushes alongside our bus. With a line of vehicles in front and back, Walter, like Huckleberry Fin, is an adventurer who left his American persona behind. How many of us would ever dare to get out of our cars to use the “bushes” on the side of I-271? Our first encounter with Dominican traffic teaches us a lesson.

Being together gives us a chance to not dwell on what was once thought as wasted time, but to value what we take for granted. 

Basics not only include food, purified water, and transportation, but the manner in which we communicate.  We often wondered if our sincerity and kindness would defy American stereotypes. After a day or two I shed my shyness and approached young, old, Haitian, Dominican, and even people on our trip I didn’t know. At the Good Samaritan Hospital, while painting curbs yellow, Caitlin and I enjoyed the company of Moses, a young adult adorned in a Boston baseball hat and an Ipod. While we marveled at our painting job, he teased our painting abilities while dancing to an array of American and Dominican tunes.

Each day our group encountered people who longed for companionship. I remember a girl named Naustica who I assisted while handing out glasses at the batey clinic. After a few hours we became close and my Spanish surprisingly improved over the course of that day. It was her enthusiasm and care that helped me improve my Spanish. Even on the bus, back and forth I would translate all the things people would say around us and she would understand, laugh, and then add a response that would keep us smiling. It was truly amazing how time and patience work wonders in a country that lives in a measure of chaos each day.

The emotions and relationships I had in the Dominican Republic have renewed a sense of simplicity and patience in me. It wasn’t just the people of the Dominican Republic who helped me rethink what I say or do now, but everyone. I am committed to having more than one perspective and understanding each person’s background through inquiring and listening patiently. I am able to resist judging too quickly, and instead, share my experiences so that I can communicate a better understanding of others.

Janine Walker

Good morning, my name is Janine Walker and I’m a 10th grader at Cleveland Heights High School, and I would like to share my experience from the Dominican Republic with you. I wanted to go on this trip not only to help but to see how the people live, work, and play, and to understand their culture better.

The first day working I went to the medical batey and I was surprised. First the ride there was quite interesting and highlighted a huge transition. We went from the fast-paced city with the horns, sirens and lights to silence and with nothing but sugarcane.  It was everywhere, as far as the eye could see and beyond. Among the sugarcane were dirt roads with no signs or markers, only the occasional motorbike packed with up to three riders. 

I have no idea how we found each batey, but eventually we arrived. We pulled up to communities of shacks with tin roofs, dirt floors with animals big and small from horses, donkeys, roosters, to dogs, kittens, baby chicks, and lots of flies.

My job in the batey was to give the people medication to rid their bodies of parasites and worms that the unclean water gave them. I also got to play with the children.  It was amazing to see how excited they got over a tennis ball or even a Frisbee. 

These people are so loving and grateful for what they have, but I began thinking, “how are these people still smiling when they hardly have a place to go to the bathroom, the water they drink is unclean and scarce, their homes were built of wood with tin roofing and were barely stable.  On top of that these Haitian Bateys are isolated by the many miles of sugarcane, almost trapped in this life of poverty by sugarcane manufacturers and their government.

Yet they are still smiling. They could only dream of living the privileged life you and I both live. Or something as simple as their children being able to get out of the batey and attend the university of their choice, even getting the chance to get paid more than 3 dollars a week cutting sugarcane from 6 in the morning to 6 at night.

All of that thinking led me to a sugarcane field, but this isn’t just a sugarcane field it was different. Among the low leaves of the sugarcane, stood a single tall palm tree.

Every time I saw that tree I said to myself, what a random place for a palm tree, but again I thought, why is that palm tree there? To me that palm tree began to represent hope. Hope for the Haitians in the bateys and the hope they have that things will get better, not to mention the faith they have in God and how they know he will solve all of their problems. Then I realized these people aren’t necessarily happy in the situation they are in, but they are so grateful for our help.  They don’t have time to be sad about what they don’t have so they are thankful for all they have and rely on God to handle their problems.  So they keep working hard for a better future for the next generation and have faith that change will come.

In closing I would like to thank Fairmount Presbyterian Church for allowing me to join you on this incredible journey which has changed my life and encouraged me to continue to help others in need. This trip has opened my eyes to see the world and how beautiful its people are. I am so grateful for this wonderful opportunity to travel with you. I feel honored to share this experience with you, so once again I would like to say thank you.

Amy Young

I came into this trip predominantly thinking two things: one, that I was fully prepared and that I knew everything we’d be going through in our work because of my experience on the last Dominican excursion, and two, I was really hoping I wouldn’t get sick this time around. Arriving in Punta Cana, driving to La Romana, it was like replaying the same wonderful movie from 3 years before. The only difference was, I thought I was more prepared. I was wrong. Physically, I was fine. I packed my 100% deet bug spray, mini detergent packets, extra socks, tums, 3 towels, 2 boxes of fiber one bars, my own arsenal of Band-Aids and Neosporin: as far as materials went, I was ready for anything. I never really got sick on the trip, and the carbo-sugar infested diet didn’t bother me too badly. But this time around, I wasn’t ready for the amount I’d have to face myself.

The activity I opted for most was the medical clinic, mostly because I didn’t think myself capable of doing much other than deciphering the doctor’s handwriting and filling out prescriptions. Honestly though, it was something I enjoyed. However, there was another side to the medical clinic that really scared me: playing with kids. You wouldn’t think a 17 year old girl would be in fear of playing with a dozen young’uns. But I am. And I was, until I had to face the music, and go out to play. It wasn’t 5 minutes until I was running around, chasing our gold ball from Jumbo, playing soccer, something I hadn’t done in years. Little guys laughed watching me run around, but I didn’t care. It was fun. Kids were groping at my hands, touching my hair, epitomizing acceptance. And what was more, I actually understood them. Even with my limited Spanish, I could have small conversations and get to know a little bit about them. I felt great, and I realized that these kids made me feel great. After a major storm, some rough housing, and a few more games, we packed up our meds and left, but the happiness I got from messing around stuck with me for the rest of the day. Back in the states, I got to thinking; What if I put aside my fear, and did what scared me sooner, how much more could I have gotten out of this trip? How much better could I have embraced these kids, my neighbors? It’s really sad to me that I’ll never know. But it taught a lesson to me, to hold on tighter to the chances I get and the people I know.

Of all the emotions I anticipated on this trip, I really wasn’t expecting to encounter crippling sadness. That changed at our agape feast. We sat in a circle, all staring at each other, and were asked to share our deepest sorrows. I really didn’t want to face the deepest sorrows of my life, unpack all the baggage and ask myself such an important, devastating question. But we were all in this together, and as the bowl was passed, my water works began. As more people shared, I realized I wasn’t crying for me, I was crying for other people. I wanted so badly to be supportive in some way, any way, to give them a hug, to do something. As usual, I started thinking on a grander scale. There are so many problems in this world I can’t solve by myself; it’s an endless version of ‘we didn’t start the fire’. And what was I really, consistently doing to help any of it? Nothing. I was in a state of hopeless realization and extensive self disdain when we were asked to share our greatest joys. Again, as the bowl was passed, people shared, and most all of our greatest joys were other people and each other. Again, I got to thinking, and in the end, created a few metaphors. Our dependence on our neighbors creates a web of hope for the world, really. And our lives are skies filled clouds. The storms will come, but they will pass. One day our sun will set, but just as sure as the sky stays blue, there are always people to count on. After a very emotion feast, I figured that yes, there are an infinite number of problems in this world. But this group made me realize there are an infinite number of people trying to fix them, and that I needed to try my hardest to be one of them.

When I got back to the states, I found myself at a loss. I really missed the routine of getting up at 6:30 in the morning, going to work, and building pyramids on the beach. I missed going to breakfast with 30-something people. I missed the knowledge that on any given day, I could honestly say that I helped someone, that I did something tangible or worthwhile. The most surprising and sad thing this trip made me realize is that I don’t feel like I can say that here, with the way my life is right now. Knowing that I could be doing so much more and yet haven’t for so long is a tough pill to swallow, but one that I am glad to take.

 This trip didn’t usher on a complete self-reinvention, but more like an in depth reality check. There were a lot of feelings, problems, and questions I didn’t want to face, and didn’t think I would have to while I was in the Dominican, but I did, and it gave me a stronger back bone for when I have to face other questions in the future. I know now that I should get to answering those things, get to doing something better, and now I know I will always have somebody to count on to help me.