By Thomas Gregory
It's been three years—almost to the day—that a group from Greenwood's First Presbyterian Church was in La Romana, Dominican Republic. In some ways, a lot has changed compared to the previous trip. The majority of the participants are here for the first time, and even those of us who were fortunate enough to come here in 2013 have returned to La Romana with a different perspective. In other ways, though, much is the same as it was three years ago. We are staying at Casa Pastoral, the same place as before, and I've recognized a few familiar faces among the staff here. We will also be working to combat the same circumstances of extreme poverty, substandard housing, and limited access to education that the people who live in the bateys outside of La Romana face on a daily basis.
We left Greenwood at 10:45 p.m. on Friday night, fifteen minutes ahead of schedule (which was the first miracle of the trip). We arrived at Atlanta International Airport at 5:45 a.m. on Saturday morning and worked our way through security to catch our non-stop flight to Punta Cana Airport. Once on the ground in the Dominican Republic, a familiar yellow school bus arrived and took us off in the direction of La Romana, an hour away. Once at Casa Pastoral, our group was served a delicious dinner of chicken and rice, and we all took our time to get settled into our bunks, working through a few expected kinks along the way.
This morning, our group woke up and enjoyed a breakfast of pancakes, bacon, sausage, and fresh fruit. Shortly after, we put on our Sunday best and headed to Batey 106, about thirty minutes outside of town, to worship with the people we will be serving over the coming week. When we unloaded the bus in Batey 106, the neighborhood children were there to greet us with hugs and smiles and the locals welcomed us into their church for an hour-long service. Much to Rev. Steve Fortenberry's surprise, the pastor of the church called him forward to preach the sermon, which he did while being translated into Spanish for the locals. Following the sermon, Lisa Melton led the congregation in singing "Jesus Loves Me" in English. After worship, our group visited with the locals and played with the kids before heading back to Casa Pastoral. The worship service was a great start to our week and the perfect introduction to the kind community of Batey 106.
Back at Casa Pastoral, we enjoyed chili and crackers for lunch, and I even cobbled together the ingredients needed to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. After lunch, we were driven to the coast for an afternoon on the beach at Bayahibe. We returned just in time for dinner, which consisted of pork, potatoes, broccoli and carrots. To close the night, Steve led us all in a discussion which gave us a lot to consider as we prepare to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ in a way that both honors our common faith and respects their different culture.