Welcome to the 2011 Onalaska Church of Christ Dominican Republic Missions Ministry web log. This site is to keep you informed about our mission, preparations for our trips and communications with the missionaries in the Dominican Republic.

Our vision is captured in the messages on our flag:

viajar - Servir - madurar
to go - To Serve - to grow

Levante las Velas y Adelante al Horizonte (LLV y AAH)
Hoist the Sails and Onward to the Horizon

Blog updated March 5, 2011
The OCC - DR blog is being updated to provide information about the 2011 trip and the planned visit to the Dominican Republic in the summer of 2012

Accounts from our activities on Thursday, February 17 are now posted.

This Site
This Welcome section and the Current News section that follow have their permanent homes here at the top of the blog. Starting with this update, posts will follow in order written immediately below the Current News. This means that all posts will be available in this window or through the archive list that can be accessed in the Blog Archive menu at the bottom of the right hand side bar.

What time is it in the DR?


Current News

2011 Visit to the DR
The team for the 2011 visit occurred between February 16 and February 22. Reports are being provided in new posts, one post for each day of the trip. We will soon be making plans for our next visit to the Dominican Republic, tentatively scheduled for the summer of 2012.

Day 5: Monday, February 21

In light of recent events in Japan, the earthquake in Haiti has faded into the background in world news. But the effects still linger. A recent outbreak of cholera has affected some in the Dominican Republic and resulted in travel advisories, which we do pay careful attention to. We always try to practice good hygiene so I can’t say we did anything special. And now, three weeks after we touched down in Miami, it would seem we have not contracted any serious tropical diseases.

This is no thanks to the shower in my room, however. In spite of the shower-head heater, the water never got warmer than “gasp - Brrrr!” It was all I could do to get under it and I washed as if it were a time trial. But putting this in perspective, bathing for the people in the mountains is usually accomplished outdoors in a big tub. I still shiver at the thought.

As for Haiti, David was planning a trip a few weeks after our departure. Among other things, he was going to deliver some pews to a church there and needed a truck to haul them. He had made arrangements to meet a Haitian driver in downtown Santiago so we went with him and Ramon. The driver never showed up, but we did see a number of vendors hauling their wares from a storeroom near where we parked. There were some big loads being toted.

He has to do this Every Morning

We also saw this truck, a sort of Haitian UPS. It was loaded. I mean, even by Dominican/Haitian standards, it was loaded. And each sack, and box, and piece of furniture had a name - someone to whom the particular item would be delivered.


...and Heading for Home

When we got back to the house, William was there to take us to the prison where he was having a session from “The Quest for Authentic Manhood” series. He tells us that there are many programs offered at the prison and the men there can chose which ones they want to participate in. Except for this one. It has been so effective that it is mandatory.

Not Even Half a Load

Now I had a co-worker whose son spent a few days in the county jail and when he got out, he complained about the food. According to his dad, he slapped him. When his son asked why, he said, “That’s for KNOWING the jail food is bad!” So I’ll tread carefully here, but I’ve now been in jails in Uganda and the Dominican Republic. This one is, in the mini-universe of jails I have visited, a better place. But it is a jail and I’ll have to admit it’s a bit tense being inside after having surrendered your driver’s license at the gate. But the session was well attended and all of the men seemed pretty engaged by the DVD message and spent some time in small groups going over questions.

After lunch, we headed into town to visit the Christian bookstore. There, we picked up 30 Bibles to give to Juan for the families at Tinajita. We took a brief swing through the fort above the city - the first time I had seen it - then went to Nacional and Pizza Hut to get provisions (the pizza for an early dinner).

Flowers. And Cannons.

We headed out again after dinner to attend the revival meeting in Las Carachas. On the way we met Giovani coming home from school and picked him up. He hadn’t eaten dinner, of course, and I was guessing he was hungry. I had some snack bars and gave him one. The first thing he did was to break it in half and give a piece to his young cousin. That was nice. The revival was attended by about 70 people. It consisted of a session of loud, upbeat music followed by a sermon that was delivered the same way. Just as darkness fell, the mosquitos came out in full force, signaling the end of the meeting. We packed ourselves back into the bus and headed back to the house.

Singing at the Las Carachas Revival

Some of the 70 People in Attendance

Carmen and Jeff organized a digital photo sharing session, collecting the pictures all three of us had taken into one place (my laptop). Later in the evening, Juan and Santos (from Yaguita) came over to bid us goodbye and deliver some gifts that Juan had crafted. It got late and everyone left. We took Carmen home and said our goodbyes, as she would have to be at work as we made our way to the airport in the morning.

During the evening, Gracesqui had come to the house and, in what is now no surprise at all, gave us gifts: organic coffee and coffee mugs that said “I Love You” on them. I have mine in the new basement room to use with my Keurig coffeemaker. A reminder of a special place and special people. It is hard to leave. But it is always good to get home too. With those thoughts, I braved the shower one last time and turned in, hoping that the yappy little dog would not somehow come back for a going-away serenade.

Day 4: Sunday, February 20

There’s this a concept that is rendered in German as Fingerspitzengefühl. Literally, It means “fingertip feeling” and it refers to the ability to maintain an accurate and detailed mental picture of a complex, ever-changing situation. Just so we are clear on this, I do not posses the ability. This becomes painfully obvious on mission trips. Witness the obvious, and well-placed, concern that Sharayah had about my ability to keep up with the team during the trip as reported in the account of Day 1. I made it through the travel day in pretty good shape, although I did walk away from my backpack after passing through the customs screening upon arrival in Santiago. Jeff made a good catch on that one.

So perhaps that explains how it was I incorrectly attributed the sandwich making to Saturday evening as in the original post for Day 3. I'm sure that the sharp eyed readers that you are, you’ll notice that the report of that activity is no longer in the Day 3 post, but appears now where it should. Here. In Day 4.

Sunday services are not until 2:30 and we took advantage of the chance to sleep in. It wasn’t too late though before I got up and went down to help Ramona deal with all of the coffee she had made. This is when I found Gracesqui, Ramona and a few young helpers already busy making the hard roll, salami sandwiches to be given to the congregation after the services. After making a few dozen, Gracesqui would put them in bags, 2 sandwiches in each along with one lollipop.

Working on Small Meal for after the Sunday Service

Sandwiches are Packaged and Ready to Go

We had carried up about a hundred canvas bags to use to distribute rice. I don't know when it happened, but as the crew was making the Sunday snacks, William pointed out that there was a large sack filled with the smaller bags which were already packed with rice!

Bags of Rice Marked Iglesia Cristiana

After a while, we realized that Carmen had not come down so I went up to check. And that’s when I had the en-cow-nter that you can read about here: Cowering.

After the sandwiches were all made and packed, we had a chance to have a long conversation with Gracesqui. He told us a lot about his ministry and some of the needs in the mountain community. The congregation is encouraged to share their faith and to invite their neighbors to services. The occasional meals that are served during Saturday fellowships and the regular snacks offered after Sunday services do attract people to the church. There are Bible studies during the week that are hosted by congregation members. The host family provides hot tea and Gracesqui and Ramona bring crackers and sugar for the tea.

The camp has hosted groups for a session of the Authentic Masculinity series and a women’s retreat. One group of women came from over 100 miles for a 5 day get-together at the camp. Right now, the camp can host groups of up to about 50. Getting the dorm buildings done will allow for larger groups.

After lunch we headed up to the church. William’s sermon was on the “Love that goes Beyond” and, for our benefit, he invited Carmen to translate as he preached. She did an awesome job. During the sermon, William touched on the concepts of faith, hope and love – the same as on the rice bags. After the service, we helped pass out the sandwiches and then, a little later, the rice.

The Mountain Church Before the Afternoon Service

William Preaches, Carmen Translates

After-Service Snack

Paito with a Bag of Rice

Our plan was to leave for Santiago immediately after the service. Carmen needed to be back for work on Monday and we were hoping to go to the Haitian service with Juan Jr. However, a message had somehow been delivered to Gracesqui that he was needed to transport a young lady who was very near to delivering her baby. We took a side road to get to her house. Now you have to imagine this… the main road is dirt, rutted and, with the rain, muddy in places. This side road was all of that and then some. We got in about a mile or so, then stopped. Gracesqui pointed out a house about a quarter of a mile away. Her house. We could go no farther so we were waiting for her to walk to the truck. She and another lady and a young (4 – 5 years old) girl were with her. Everybody got in the truck and we headed back.

Walking Back to the Camp
This is after we got the call to go pick up the young lady to bring her to the hospital in Santiago. Most of the people who we were taking back to the camp jumped out and walked as we went off on a side road.

Waiting for our "Patient"
The young lady we came to pick up lived in the house in the distance and had to walk to where we were waiting in the truck.

I was in the back with a couple of young boys and the little girl. She just laughed as we bumped along, periodically shouting out “Beep, beep!” When we got to the main road again, we stopped and the little girl jumped out and went running down the road towards the church. All by herself, just running along, saying “Beep, beep!” No one seemed the least bit concerned. In fact, we just drove away. She was, I am sure, going to meet someone at the church who would care for her. The community of believers that Gracesqui talked about.

We made it into town and it seemed evident that the baby was not quite ready to make an appearance. If it been any closer, the trip down would have sealed the deal for sure.

Virginia had dinner ready for us and we enjoyed a time of fellowship before taking Carmen back home then returning to turn in for the night.

Dinner at the House in Santiago

Day 3: Saturday, February 19

Did I mention the curiosities of driving in the Dominican Republic? It doesn’t much matter as I’m going to delve deeper into the subject anyway. It should probably come as no surprise that stop signs and yield signs are treated with a certain degree of disdain. More than mere suggestions, I believe that when people here encounter one of these intrusions into their vehicular progress, they don't just see STOP or YIELD. They see, "I double dog dare you!" This is a place where you can be fined for driving without your seatbelt buckled if in a car or without a helmet if it’s a motorbike. However, if you are one of the ten or twelve people in the back of an open pickup truck, well then you can pretty much do what want. I’d suggest holding on. Tightly.

Today was the day we were to go up to the mountain camp at Palo Alto. Gracesqui came in his truck and we met José Luis. José had attended a Bible college in Costa Rica, studying missions. He has been helping out at the camp and would be there with us for the weekend. Carmencita was with us too, it being the weekend which meant she did not have to work.

The ride up was, as usual, a jolting experience with off and on rain showers thrown in for good measure. For as much as it had rained, the road was, however, in pretty good shape.

Rainy Ride up to the Camp

José and I rode in the back and conversed as well as we could with the limited knowledge we had of each other’s languages. There is going to be a board appointed to oversee the camp. One of the things they will work on is the mentoring of younger men such as José to take on leadership positions. José would like to be involved in the work in the mountain community.

Gracesqui and Ramona's House at the Camp

José-Luis at the Camp

We arrived in time for lunch and had a chance to meet some of the young boys and girls who are always around. The yo-yo's provided a chance to have a little fun, especially as I offered my rendition of the "around-the-world" trick.

Ramona Has Lunch for Us...

...and Coffee on the Stove!

Don Rafael Enjoys Some Café Organico

It Did Not Take Him Long to Get the Hang of it

After looking over progress on the camp buildings and staking out sleeping quarters, we enjoyed an afternoon visiting with Gracesqui, Ramona and other friends we have made over the years. There seems to be focus on getting the camp equipped to handle retreats for larger groups from surrounding communities.

The New Dorm Building

It Didn't Rain ALL the Time

There was considerable activity in Ramona’s kitchen – in addition to her keeping us supplied with good, strong organic coffee; the coffee is grown, dried, roasted and ground by people living in the general area around the church and camp. The goal is to find a way to earn income from this resource. Anyway, most of the activity was directed at cooking big bowls of rice and chicken and others of salad and loading them into Gracesqui’s truck. After he delivered the food to the church, he came back and collected us; “us” meaning Ramona, Jeff, Carmen and I along with some rather large number of young boys and girls for the ride to the church and the community dinner.

It was cool and damp and this kept the number of people attending the dinner down. Still, there were about 60. We helped serve the meal and learned that you start with the youngest then move up the age scale. The plates prepared in the kitchen were targeted at the ages being served, so the helpings got progressively larger. Gracesqui had some welcoming remarks and there was loud music playing throughout the meal. Everyone was engaged in conversation and enjoying the meal.

People from the Community Enjoying the Saturday Fellowship

In the Kitchen of the Fellowship Building

Serving. Literally.

After the meal, the group retired to the church where Jose-Luis offered a message as a young man prepared to be baptized. When everyone was ready, he and Gracesqui went into the shallow pool in the small addition connected to the rear of the church. Everyone crowded around the door to catch a glimpse of this glorious event.

Baptism at the Mountain Church

The Lights of Santiago from the Mountain Church

We rode back to the camp in the dark and drizzle. After another long day, we made our way to our sleeping quarters using head lamps to light the way and turned in to our church-pew cribs for a cool, comfortable night of rest.

Carmen's Crib

Day 2: Friday, February 18

Driving around Santiago is always a raucous adventure. Cars in every state of repair swirl around the busy intersections, somehow avoiding each other and the ubiquitous cell phone accessory salesmen who tout their wares when, and if, traffic stops when the light turns red. And I am always impressed by how much the honking of horns improves traffic flow. At least I think it does; why else would everyone be doing it?

Added to this excitement is the knowledge that David has prepared to take us out in the blue bus by loading on three bottles of brake fluid, a gallon of water and a tool kit. The latter includes a sturdy fencing tool - a combination hammer, vice grips and pry bar. Thus outfitted, we venture forth for the day...

David Carefully Navigates in SantiagoTraffic
Note: this picture is from day 1 and we are in the van. I know some of you observant types would have picked up on this!

We ride out to the Pontezuela school and have a look around while David and Ramon talk with Eduardo about getting the large water tank up over a passageway so that the bathrooms can be provided with running water. There is a new office space above the first floor office, but it is unfinished and thus far not used. The steep drop-off behind the school appears to have been stabilized by a large infusion of fill and the building appears to be pretty much as it was 2 years ago. There are a number of students in the play area, doing calisthenics and otherwise enjoying being out, even though it is raining. Giovanni has a large parakeet or small parrot (an ornithologist I’m not) and enjoys showing it off.

Ramon and Eduardo at Pontezuela

David Discusses Things with the Pontezuela Staff

Having gotten off to a bit of a late start, we head back to the house via Nacional and Pollo Victorino to get supplies (including quite a bit of Café Santiago) and pick up our lunch. Once again, Carmencita joined us after work, bringing our team back up to full strength – all three of us!

The afternoon had us making the trip up over the mountains to Tinajita. We drove the bus off on a side road as far as we could then got out and walked down into the neighborhood. The reason for this was a wickedly steep hill, one the bus would not have ever gotten back up.

On the way to Tinajita

Posing for a Photo Before Heading Down into Tinajita

We spent the next few hours looking at the new church building and visiting with families living nearby. This included a visit with Juan’s mother who served up another wonderful cup of dark, sweet coffee. We were told that any visit to a home in the Dominican Republic should include a time for sharing coffee. I can live with that.

In the New Church Building

Juan witnessed to the families, reading a different verse and delivering a different message at each stop. We had some toys that we were able to offer the children – balls and bats, marbles and yo-yos along with hair decorations for the girls.

Juan Reading to One of the Families

Juan told us that he came up on Sunday afternoons for services in the building which at the moment only has a few pews. There are a small number of members and the home visits give Juan and Karo a chance to talk to people and tell them about the importance of accepting Christ and becoming part of a local congregation.

House where Juan Lived When He was Growing up

As I had suspected, getting back up to the bus was just a bit more difficult than getting down to the church and homes. On the ride back to the city I asked Juan if the families we visited had Bibles. He said he didn’t think so and we agreed that when we had the chance, we would go to the local Christian book store and get some for him to take on his next visit.

We visited with Carmencita after dinner and, after driving her home, headed to our rooms to rest up for our trip up to Palo Alto in the morning.

Day 1: Thursday, February 17

After my visit here in 2009, I wrote in my journal that “I normally wish no ill will on any person or animal, but for one yappy little dog in the apartment next door, I will make an exception.” Now I feel bad that maybe this actually led to some calamity befalling said pooch as I did not hear even a single yap all night. OK, maybe I don’t feel all that bad, what with having actually enjoyed a restful night before a busy day.

As usual, we started the day with breakfast then, after a headcount to make sure we were all present or accounted for, we set out for the exchange office. There, in addition to getting pesos for our dollars, we had a shot of thick, sweet coffee. This is a place I could do business with again! Now, about the headcount thing: this is normally Sharayah’s job but she wasn’t along so it fell to me. She did offer some encouragement, though. On the trip down, she sent me a text that read, “I think even engineers can count to two!” We’ll see.

It was a busy day and before it was over, we had visited with Juan de León Gutierrez and his sons, getting caught up on some new and exciting ministries.

Driving Through Santiago

Our first stop was at Juan senior’s law office below the Cien Fuegos church. We visited briefly and he told us about the new church leader training program, Escuela Teológica Luz y Verdad or ESTELUVE. This is a program of 12 classes which are offered at the church on Thursday evenings. Completing the course requires attending classes over a 14 month period and the first round of classes started this year.

Jeremías de León is the director of admissions and registrations at ESTELUVE and, today, he came along with us on our morning visits as a translator. With David driving the van, he led us into a nearby neighborhood where we met with Jonas de León, who has started a church and education center called Las Piñas. There are about 80 children in the classes, which, at the moment, are not certified. These are children who are not able to go to school for various reasons; Jonas is working to get the school certified, something that will require him to hire professional teachers. Jonas would also like to offer breakfast. All of this, of course, requiring funds which are not available. Jonas makes regular visits to homes in the neighborhood, witnessing and inviting them to church services where there are about 25 members at the present time.

The Learning Center at Las Piñas

Children in Class at Las Piñas

Roadside Fruit Stand

We then made our way to the home of one of the leaders of the Yaguita de Pastor church where Juan’s son, also Juan de León (or “Juancho”) is the pastor. Juan’s wife, Karo, was there along with several other families from the church. We enjoyed fellowship and a wonderful meal of chicken, yellow rice and peas, a lettuce, tomato and cucumber salad and fried yucca. Juancho told us about some of the work being done by the congregation at Yaguita. They have started small group meetings in the nearby neighborhoods of La Pastor and Las Carachas and are encouraging people there to join the congregation. Both neighborhoods are about 5 to 10 minutes from the church by car, 25 minutes on foot. A number of the church leaders have distributed bags of rice as an outreach to the community. Karo leads a women’s group, which meets every 2 weeks. One of the programs was a lesson in candle making with the candles subsequently being sold.


Jeremías and Juancho

Time for Conversation

On the way back to David's house, we visited the Las Carachas neighborhood where the Yaguita church will be holding a revival (see the post for Monday).

In Las Carachas

What's That Going to Look Like?

We found William and Jackeline at the house where William filled us in on his prison ministry, which he is very excited about. He had just had a session of the Authentic Masculinity class with about 65 prisoners attending. He also told us that he would soon be starting a class for the guards. Carmencita was through with work, so she came over and joined us for the remainder of the day,

William, Ramon ('mon) and Carmencita at David and Virginia's

In the evening, we went back to Cien Fuegos to see the ESTELUVE classes in session. There were two classes going at the same time, one in the church sanctuary and the other in the upstairs classroom. Juan hopes to be able to get more desks refurbished so that they can hold all classes in the two classrooms that are set aside for the courses. After an hour, the students swapped rooms for a second round of classes. Then, during the third hour, they all gathered together in the sanctuary for the Spanish 1 class.

One of the ESTELUVE Classes in Session

David Entertains at Cien Fuegos

It was, as I said, an exciting day. There are important things being done in the local churches. The people are reaching out to their neighbors and taking the need for training seriously. We can learn from their example...

It Was a Long Day For All of Us

You can learn more about the de León family ministries at their website, deleonministry.org.