DR Part 4 – the final days

Day 6 – We started out with breakfast and morning prayer and announcements at Doulos an then it was off on a new adventure.

We drove down to La Vega to visit the T.E.A.R.S. School.  T.E.A.R.S. stands for True Evangelism Always Requires Sacrifice.  TEARS was started 11 years ago by Roderick and Twila Davis.  They sold everything and picked up their two toddlers and moved to one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Dominican Republic and started a school.  We started with a introduction to their ministry and a quick tour of the school.

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TEARS is free to all that attend.  Their parents are required to perform some volunteer house at the school but they do not have to pay.  There is usually quite a waiting list to get into the school.  Children not only receive a private education but also a free breakfast or lunch (school is half day, some come in the morning and some in the afternoon) and also medical care if they are sick.

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a classroom at TEARS

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surrounding neighborhood

The situation at TEARS is much different than the situation at Doulos.  In our book study, When Helping Hurts, we learned about the three levels of poverty and response to poverty – Relief, Rehabilitation and Development.  Doulos is working on the development level while TEARS is working at the rehabilitation level.  Both are crucial and very different.  It was interesting to see the two side by side and think about the differences and where we might fit in, as individuals and as the church.  Lots to think about.

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TEARS also partners with a school strictly for Haitian children which we were also able to visit.  I guess I would say this school was maybe on the border between Relief and Rehabilitation.  The relationship between Dominicans and Haitians is quite complicated and difficult.  There is much that I don’t know about the situation and history but in a nutshell from what I understood, Dominicans do not want Haitians in their country, at least for the most part.  So, Haitian children are basically ignored by the Dominican government.

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kids at the Haitian school
photo credit: Cara Lemmage Photographs
copyright 2014

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photo credit: Cara Lemmage Photographs
copyright 2104

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photo credit: Cara Lemmage Photographs
copyright 2014

The school is part of a church and we spent time talking with the principle and the pastors wife.  And also singing with them.  And once again it didn’t really matter that we spoke different languages, we recognized each others songs by melodies and the words just seemed to come.

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Pat J entertaining the kids
photo credit: Julie Peterson

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kids at the Haitian school
photo credit: Julie Peterson

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kids at the Haitian school hanging out with Kayla
photo credit: Julie Peterson

After visiting the Haitian school we had lunch at the TEARS headquarters and met and talked with Rod and Twila Davis.  Once again, I sat there shaking my head wondering how someone sells everything, packs up their family and heads off to serve in a completely foreign country.  Their story was really amazing.  There is a great video on their website that tells just a portion of their story but will give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

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Roderick and Twila Davis, founders of TEARS
photo credit: Julie Peterson

Then we headed back to TEARS.  We had a chance to play with the kids during recess.

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We learned about the water treatment plant that they have at the school.  In the Dominican you can not drink the water.  Some homes have running water for showering and toilets and some don’t but you can not cook with or drink the water.  They must buy bottled water for consuming.  TEARS partnered with Stewardship Foundation Varsity Bible Church and Healing Waters to develop and build a state of the art water purification system on school grounds.  They are able to provide clean water bottled water to the barrio at about half the price that they would pay elsewhere and use the funds to maintain the water system and school programs.

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And then we were able to present them with the donations that we had collected and brought down with us.  At the time we set out collecting things we really weren’t sure at all what to bring.  They did say school supplies would be good, so we had crayons, papers, scissors ect.  And just crossed our fingers that that was what they needed.

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Nancy Lee and Nancy enjoying a cup of coffee while we wait to present our donations to the teachers

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Barb (or Wendy as she was called by this point in the trip because Tina decided she looked more like a Wendy and we just all decided to go with it) is a soccer mom.  She has two girls in soccer and is a soccer team manager.  Wendy Barbara knows soccer, whether she ever really wanted to or not she is now a soccer expert.  So, in one of pre-trip meetings she said, “I wonder if they could use any soccer stuff?”  Nancy Lee said, “I don’t know but it can’t hurt to bring some if you have anything.”

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Some of our donations

So, Wendy Barbara, or WB for short, made a few calls, sent a few emails and she soon had piles of soccer stuff donated by her fellow soccer moms.  She stuffed them in the biggest suitcase she could find and lugged it all the way down to the DR, hoping all the while that someone might be able to use some it.

Well, as it turns out…..yes they could most definitely use it.  The TEARS staff all got a little teary when they opened Wendy Barbara’s soccer suitcase.  It turns out they had been working on getting the paperwork done to get into a soccer league, they had this idea about sports evangelism, about connecting with kids through sports, through soccer in particular, to build relationships, keep kids out of trouble and maybe find a way to mention a few things about Jesus along the way.  The Friday before we got there the PE teacher came to the principle and said he had all the paperwork approved, they could be in the soccer league, all they had to do was get a team together, which would be easy but the things was, they had no equipment.  The PE teacher handed a list to the principle with what he needed.  The principle just said “we have no money for this right now….we’ll just have to pray about it.”

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Courtney translated for Wendy Barbara and the PE teacher

Well, you can guess how it ends can’t you?  We show up with Wendy Barbara and her soccer suitcase and every single thing on the list is in that suitcase.  Every. Single. Thing.  Wendy Barbara and Her Magical Soccer Suitcase.  Sounds like a children’s book doesn’t it?  Oh and also, the kindergarten and 1st grade teachers were about to run out of paper and art supplies, so our paper, crayons and ect. were exactly perfect.

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Some of the staff with all of us

By the end of the day we exhausted but happy and grateful for all we had experienced.  We stopped at a beautiful Catholic church on our way back through La Vega and then at a roadside convenience store for some refreshments – there may or may not of been Presidentes consumed.

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Cara gives the day a thumbs up

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And then back to Casa Tranquila for our dinner and nightly debriefing and tree rat watch. This was Kayla’s last chance to spot the tree rat and I think she was determined not to leave the Dominican until she say him/her.  Luckily we did not have to leave her behind because she did spot him/her.  I’m not sure anyone has ever been so excited to see a tree rat.

And then we had to pack up.  It felt in some ways like we’d been gone forever and in others like we had just gotten there, so it was with mixed feelings that we gathered our stuff and stuffed in our suitcases.

Day 7 – We headed out for one last breakfast at Doulos and one last Doulos cheer.

We said our goodbyes, which wasn’t easy.  Even though we’d only been there a few days we felt like part of the Doulos family and we were going to miss these crazy people! And then we piled in the van to head down to Santo Domingo.  It was a longish ride in a smallish van and we had a little trouble finding our resort but we arrived all in one piece.

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Giavonni and his girls
We sang You Are My Sunshine to him before we left

A couple of things.  Rules of the road are different in the DR.  It’s a bit more of a free for all I would say.  And lots of motorcycles with lots of people on them, without helmets, and also lots of people riding in the backs of pickups on tops of loads of stuff.

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In Jarabocoa there were basically no street signs or street lights, just every driver for him or herself.  Santa Domingo is a much larger city so there were street lights, although it appeared that they may have just been optional.  When you were stopped at a streetlight people would walk down between the cars knocking on your window trying to sell you things.

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The beach at our resort was really nice, except if you turned to the right you did see some sort of oil refinery.  But if you looked off to your left it was nothing but ocean.  I will so though that I enjoyed Jarabocoa much better.  There were lots of vendors at the beach walking up to you every two minutes wanting to give you a massage or pedicure or sell you gum or sun glasses.  You felt bad saying no but were very annoyed all at the same time.  That part I did not like. The warmth and the sand and the beach was really nice.  But I will say that this is when WB and I started to feel a little homesick, even knowing that bitter cold temperatures were waiting for us back in Minnesota.

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Day 8 – Headed home.  It was time.  We packed up and headed out.  It was a fairly uneventful trip home, except for the part when Kayla earned the nickname Kingpin Kayla.

You see Darrel had offered to personally roast us all some coffee.  Who can pass that up?  So we had all bought coffee, several bags of coffee in most cases.  Then there was the problem of how to get it all home.  Pat M had a bag that had previously been filled with donations but was now empty.  Kayla and Tina had shared a bag so we figured if we stuffed the coffee in Pat M’s bag and Kayla checked it, then we wouldn’t have to pay extra for someone checking two bags.  Perfect!

So we sorted out the coffee orders and wrapped each order in black plastic bags and put them all in Pat M’s suitcase.  Handed the suitcase over to Kayla and off we headed to the airport.

We went through customs and security and had some extra time to grab something to eat at the airport.  WB and I grabbed found a Pizza Hut and Lays Potato chips, it was really good.

Then we hear Kayla’s name being called by the gate agent.  Weird, wonder whats that’s about?  She was asked/ordered to report to customs immediately, so that her bag could be opened in the presence of customs agents.  Huh?  What is up with that?….

We never thought about what bags of coffee beans wrapped up in black plastic bags, neatly lined up in a suitcase going to the United States, might look like under X-ray.  Poor Kayla.  She goes on a service trip with a bunch of church ladies and gets marked as a possible drug runner.  See this is why you never agree to take someone else’s bag, even if they are known to you, and even if they are church ladies, maybe especially if they are church ladies.

Pat J went with her to customs, luckily Pat and Kayla both speak Spanish, and they got it all sorted out.  Thankfully, we did not have to leave Kayla in a Dominican clink.  That would have been really hard to explain back at POP and may have deterred some from going on future trips.  Plus a real bummer for Kayla!

Once Kayla and Pat made it back to the gate and we all breathed a sigh of relief, Wendy Barbara dubbed her Kingpin Kayla.  And as I drink my Dominican coffee every morning, I can’t help but think of Kingpin Kayla.

It was a long day of travel but fairly uneventful.  It was COLD when we got off the plane in Minneapolis but we were so glad to be home and see our families and sleep in our own beds.

I can’t imagine a better group of ladies to travel and have this adventure with.  I will have one last post with a few final thoughts and pictures in a day or two but the bottom line is I am really glad I had the experience and so grateful for my new friendships.

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