Mission Trip: Day One, Los Perez

Our mission trip gets underway with digging a cistern to bring clean water to the folks of Los Perez.

At the end of July, a team of eight from Lifeline Church headed down to Santiago, Dominican Republic, for a week-long mission trip with G.O. Ministries. Over the next several posts, I’ll be sharing some thoughts from my journal.

Two roosters started calling out. What they had to say to one another at 4:30 am is beyond me, but it must have been important for they continued their conversation for at least the next hour and a half it took for me to crawl out of bed. There are no real windows on the buildings here…just slats that probably do a poor job of keeping out the weather. It feels very exposed, and normally this wouldn’t bother me as, again, I can sleep …but that hasn’t stopped me from naming these roosters “Lunch” and “Withsmashedpotatoesandgravy.”

At breakfast, folks rave about the freshness of the pineapple, having ripened on the tree just before being cut. Thelma and I are in agreement, however, the pineapple ripened this way isn’t nearly sweet enough. It tastes almost like a mild spice. As this is the closest thing to a dessert as I’ll get, I want sweet.

We drive through the city to the barrio. First the road is a two lane road, then it’s three, then it’s a one way road—but not really, because cars are coming in the opposite direction and nobody seems to notice lanes. Horns are as necessary to driving as brakes and gasoline. Motorcycles don’t mind the lights or the flow of traffic, and they even ride along on the sidewalk. Every time we get in the van a comment is made about the craziness of the traffic, and this time it was me, though my commentary was limited to a gasp as a delivery truck rushed within inches of hitting the side of the van where I was sitting. I couldn’t ever drive here.

The buildings all look as if they are either under construction or have simply been forgotten. Nice buildings sprout up between the two extremes, and the relative nature of the view makes these buildings look cathedral and pristine.

We arrive at a blue church in Los Perez, east of Santiago, in the jungle. The building is a tin roof shack, the frame of which is especially thin with two-by-fours spliced together and covered with thin split logs pieced together like loose siding. The sides bow out, giving the illusion that it will collapse at any moment…but this is only an illusion, I suspect…the faith here runs quite strong.

An old, white Spanish bible rests on one of two large black tanks at the altar. These tanks were a project of some twelve year old boy wanting to earn his Eagle Scout badge by bringing clean drinking water to the folks of Los Perez. Raw water is trucked in and run through the tanks. The problem is, Pastor Niko needs to pay for a full truck of water even though the tanks don’t hold a full truckload, and he distributes the water so fast they run out between deliveries. The infrastructure here is such that there may be electricity and there may be water…or there may not be either. The filtration system runs on a car battery, so that is one problem solved.

We’re part of the solution for the other problem. We’re digging a cistern that was started by earlier teams. It will hold a large volume of raw water so there will always be a constant supply. We were told we had only a foot more to go, but it seems that no matter how far down we dig, it will never be deep enough. Feels like we’re shooting for China, or whatever the heck is on the other side of the globe from the Dominican Republic.

The foreman started another foot, so we will have another morning to dig. It is hot, tough, work…sweaty, muddy, raining dirt as we throw shovels of dirt up and over our heads to the ground. Folks in the street shovel that dirt into wheel barrels, or try and catch the pitch with their shovel. Every once in a while, someone gets hit in the face with a shovel-full of dirt tossed up from the hole. Full wheel barrels get carted off to Jennie, now called Jungle Jennie. She had disappeared into a plantain patch across the road, and works with the neighborhood kids to spread around the dirt.

As lunchtime nears, the number of kids multiplies, spilling into the church for what might be their only good meal of the day. We help serve a mix of rice and some sort of meat, dished on colored plates that correspond to the nutritional needs of the children. Blue plates for the big kids, red for small, and green and yellow for all others. If you try to give the wrong colored plate to a child, they wag their finger (ala Seinfield) and say, “no, no, no.” I got a lot of fingers wagged at me while hunting down a kid needing a green plate. “Verde?” I shout, and eventually give up, trading the plate for a blue one.

The children eat so fast we couldn’t get the drink out quick enough.

Afterwards, some play games with the kids—something like rock, paper, scissors—but whenever a round ends, one of the players has the other player’s face in a pinch. Another game involves a circle, where everyone counts off but can’t say a specific number. As the circle counts off a round, I guess ocho is the bad number.

The Dominicans are big on siesta. From noon to two p.m., everything shuts down. We went back to the dorm for lunch and then took a much-needed nap. Afterwards, however, we had lost so much steam so fast, we insisted on siesta dos before dinner. It didn’t matter that the dorm was open to the street noise, or that Lunch and Withsmashedpotatoesandgravy still yammered at one another, I read about two sentences of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and crashed asleep.

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