Continued Progress

By Thomas Gregory

On Wednesday, I was part of a small delegation from our group who travelled with Rivers of the World’s Jack Wehmiller to visit the two sites where our church worked during our 2013 mission trip to the DR. The group consisted of myself, Steve Fortenberry, Larry Crawford, and Bill Crump, and our mission was to take note of the progress that had been made over the past three years.

During that trip three years ago, our group worked to build water purification systems in the mountain village of Hata de Mana and in the urban neighborhood of Barrio Juan P. Duarte, outside of La Romana. Since that time, the Dominican government has passed regulations that made our filtration systems obsolete, and efforts are underway to expand the buildings that house the systems in order to replace them with reverse osmosis systems that take excess salt out of the water, which enables the water to be sold to the villagers, creating economic opportunity for local residents.

We were told that the system our church paid for and installed in Hata de Mana would be moved to another site on the other side of the island, where water salination is not as big of a problem as it is on the southern side.

Although our team admittedly began the day a bit skeptical of the level of progress we expected to see, I believe we were all generally encouraged by what we saw up in the mountains and in the barrio. It was great to travel back up the beautiful mountain road that became so familiar to me on our trip three years ago. When we arrived at the site on the mountain, a construction crew was hard at work putting the finishing touches on the expanded water filtration building.

After inspecting the construction site, our team walked up the hill to the rear of the project site, to see a new temporary building that housed the town’s school while a new school building was being constructed on the other side of the baseball field adjacent to the school.

Before we left, I walked across the street from the construction site to visit a family our team had befriended in 2013 and to ask about Elenita, the young girl who had taken such a liking to Shannon Melton and her group of then-high school students who travelled to the mountain each day to work with the local children. To my surprise, Elenita’s grandmother remembered me and gave me a big hug when she saw me at her back door. When I asked her about Elenita, she informed me that she and her mom had recently moved to Higuey, a nearby city. It was great to visit with this old friend of ours and to hear of Elenita’s general wellbeing.

After leaving Hata de Mana, we stopped by Batey 106 to check in on our work crew, who was hard at work on the house and conducting Bible School with the local children.

The next stop on our fact-finding mission was the Joe Hartman School in Barrio Juan P. Duarte, which was built on the site of an old landfill. Driving into the barrio, the only thing one can see is trash. There is literally not a square yard in the barrio that is not littered in some way. That is, except for the Joe Hartman School, which is like an oasis in the desert. The Joe Hartman School is where our team conducted Vacation Bible School in 2013 and was the location of the second of our two construction teams on that trip.

When our team left in 2013, the barrio construction team was the one with the most disappointment, because they were not able to see the tangible results of their week’s worth of hard work. However, our return trip demonstrated how important it is to remember that mission trips aren’t always about what one group can accomplish, but about what multiple groups can accomplish over a longer period of time. The construction project that was in its infancy when our team was there in 2013 had been carried through all the way to completion and the result was a perfectly manicured courtyard playground for the children of the Joe Hartman School.

Adjacent to the playground site, a huge new cafeteria was under construction, a testament to the continued success of the school, as well as those, like our church, who continue to support the school’s efforts to educate the children of Barrio Juan P. Duarte.

We then left that barrio and accompanied Jack to Barrio La La Chosa, the site of another Rivers of the World project, which includes the construction of a Baptist church and a new school, a promising project that will provide much needed education in that particular barrio.

After lunch in La Romana, our small team of folks arrived back at Casa Pastoral very encouraged about the continuation of the projects that we worked on in 2013, as well as the work we were doing in Batey 106. 

Ready to Work

By Thomas Gregory

Photos by Anne Marie and Thomas Gregory

On Monday morning, six members of our group led by Dr. Todd Fincher left Casa Pastoral to meet a group of dentists and dental students from Buffalo, New York to perform dental work in the bateys surrounding La Romana.

The rest of group returned to Batey 106, not to worship, but ready to work. With full bellies from the morning’s breakfast of oatmeal, sausage, bacon, and fruit, the construction crew began painting the metal panels that would become the roof of the house. Beth Tackett and her team of Vacation Bible School leaders arrived at the community church, unloaded their school supplies, and did their best to get the word out in the community about the day’s program, which consisted of games, songs, and arts and crafts.

On the construction site, the local construction workers were hesitant to trust our team of volunteers, which made for slow progress in the morning, but once the locals caught wind that our ranks included a professional contractor and a civil engineer, they warmed to us and our abilities, and things began to move a lot more quickly on the duplex we are constructing in Batey 106. By the end of the day, Patrick Johnson (the engineer), was on the roof with a local man installing roof trusses and the metal panels, a real sign of the progress we had made, both in the construction of the duplex and in building relationships with the locals.

By the end of the day, our construction team had installed the roof trusses, painted the roof panels green and installed them, and painted the exterior and interior walls bright yellow.

At 4 p.m., our group loaded the big yellow bus and headed back to La Romana through the sugarcane countryside. Back at Casa Pastoral, we enjoyed a dinner of beef, rutabagas, carrots, rice and beans, and chocolate cake. Before ending the day, our group gathered to discuss experiences that were “life giving” as well as those that were “life depleting,” providing everyone with an opportunity to share their day’s experience with the group.

On Tuesday morning, we enjoyed scrambled eggs, croissants, sausage, bacon, and fruit for breakfast. We then loaded up and headed back to Batey 106, accompanied this time by a missionary who spoke fluent Spanish, Creole, and English. The addition of Ketley to our team proved to be a Godsend for our Vacation Bible School team, who had difficulty communicating with the local children the previous day. With Ketley’s assistance, the VBS team was able to conduct their program in the school, which provided much needed structure for the kids and yielded much better results for the leaders.

The construction team continued working on the duplex house by installing a concrete floor. At our team’s request, we had a gas-powered concrete mixer delivered to the construction site, which sped up the mixing process ten-fold. Normally done painstakingly by hand with buckets of water, bags of cement, a pile of sand, and shovels, the mixer took most of the manual labor out of the mixing part, which allowed us to channel that energy into transporting the concrete from the front yard to the inside of the house by wheelbarrow.

A late morning rain shower provided a much-needed break for the concrete hauling crew, comprised primarily of high school boys. After a lunch of pork, rice, and ham sandwiches, the boys were back at it, loading wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of concrete into the house. Even in the rain, the boys didn’t let up, working hard all the way up to quittin’ time. Their mamas would’ve been so proud!

While the VBS team finished their day’s lesson, a small group of artists led by Angie Crick Cole began to sketch a mural of Jesus with little children on the side of the church. Although the rain put a damper on their plans for a while, they made some progress, and given dry weather, should finish their work by the end of the week.

Our group was pleased to welcome Jack Wehmiller, our contact with Rivers of the World, to the job site in the afternoon. Jack and his wife CJ were instrumental in helping us prepare and make plans for the trip, and Rivers of the World is the organization building the houses in Batey 106. It was good to see Jack again and have the opportunity to get to know the Dominican Republic a little better through his experience working in the country.

Back at Casa Pastoral at the end of a long, wet, muddy, hard day’s work, the team showered up and met for dinner, which consisted of chicken, pasta, veggies, break, and cake. The group socialized in the courtyard before our nightly meeting, where we discussed things we were thankful for, ways we were stretched beyond our normal routines, and people through whom we saw God at work in the DR.

Return to La Romana

By Thomas Gregory

It's been three yearsalmost to the daythat 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.