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Highway to Home

There is a lot you can learn from on a brief drive here in the D.R.  Take a peak at what I (Pat) saw each day for the past three months as I drove to and from Montellano from and to our house in Cangrejo (about a ten minute drive…when there are no cows in the road or when the local military base isn’t doing any marching drills down the highway).  The photos below show my way from Montellano back to our house in Cangrejo (captions for each photo are above the photo).

Below is the “highway” (or autovista) that goes along the edge of the north coast and connects all the cities and towns.  You’ll notice that it is only a two lane road. Also notice that there are no street lights.

Autovista near Montellano

This is one of the main turnoffs (calle de bomba) for Montellano. “Bomba” is the word used for “pump” and that can refer to anything that pumps…ball pump, tire pump, but in this case it is referring to the gas station (gas pump), which coincidentally is a Shell station.  One thing to know  is that here there is no such thing as a self-serve gas station. It seems like a meaningless job in our eyes, but the guys who pump gas for people are getting their only form of income (small at that) most likely for their families.  The “Antony Santos” advertisement you see on the post are hung all over the place. I believe he’s a singer and is coming soon. These signs are everywhere. You’ll also notice the bars on the walls, windows and balcony of the house. All homes (including ours) have them.

The road is shared by all kinds of motorized objects. As you can see in this photo motorcycles (or moto conchos) usually drive on the right side of the road in the median. And when someone on a moto is carrying a gas tank as you pass them, and a tour bus who is driving down the middle of the road passes you (as you see coming), it can get a little nerving.

A shared road...cars, motos and sometimes even cows.

Danilo is one of the two main presidential candidates running for office. The elections aren’t until later in the spring. He is running against the other candidate, named Hipolito Mejia (but more commonly referred to as Papa for his campaign slogan – llego Papa). The way it works here is that each candidate is given certain weeks to hang their signs in order to reduce the potential amount of violence and sabotage from the supporters of the other candidates. It’s Danilo’s turn, and his purple signs are everywhere. If I had the opportunity to vote based solely on their marketing campaigns, I’d vote Danilo. He has a much friendlier face and less cheesey (yes, this is less cheesey) marketing plan than you see on the signs for Papo…trust me. I’ll cover the elections more down the road (pun intended).

The large, flowery stalks you see in the background on the other side of the road are sugar cane. They are in high bloom right now and very tall. If there aren’t buildings lining the street, sure enough you’ll see instead more sugar cane. And since the local factory is out of business, it just grows and grows until someone decides to do a “control” burn of it.

Danilo for President sign

This is the bridge that goes over the river. Cangrejo, the little town where we live, is on either side of this river. If you didn’t know, cangrejo is the Spanish word for “crab.” Not sure why, I’ve never seen a single crab around here. Back to the bridge…just to the left of where I am is a school/church that is run by another ministry called Servant’s Heart Ministries. In the mornings and afternoons, you’d see lots of children crossing this bridge on foot as cars and trucks zoom past them (tight squeeze for sure).

Bridge over the River in Cangrejo.

This is the turn off for the Mustard Seed orphanage and also our friend Bernard’s house. There are Mustard Seed ministries throughout the Caribbean and South America. Hogar Immanuel is the Dominican chapter. Mustard Seed operates an orphanage for children with severe mental and/or physical development conditions (“para ninos con discapacidades”). It is so hard for the average family to care for their own children in the economic conditions in this country, so it’s no surprise that children with disabilities are often neglected or abandoned. We are wanting to spend more time in the future at the Mustard Seed.

Mustard Seed sign

We are finally almost to our house. This is the entrance to our “neighborhood” called Maria O as well as the way to get to the La Union Haitian village. When giving directions to anyone (especially the local utility technicians), you have to give them other points of reference. In this case, we say turn at the signs for the Banca de Siler and American Fender stores, which also has a colmado (small street store) where we often get our drinking water botellons (5 gallon bottles). A little further up the road behind the row of trees are the homes of some of the officers who serve in the Dominican Air Force.  The homes are just before the entrance to the base itself. One day as I was on my way to the Makarios School, I was surprised by a large group of soldiers on the road, who must have been participating in some marching practices…although they didn’t look very organized. I hope that’s not indicative of the way they guard and protect their nation.

Maria O entrance

Here is one of the two main streets in our neighborhood (and the last photo on this journey…phew, right?). This neighborhood is actually quite surprising in comparison to other areas in and around Cangrejo. We were blessed to find a home here especially for it’s convenience to the area where we want to serve and the safety element for our family.  You don’t find too many paved neighborhoods around here.

Oh, and do you like my windshield? It was fairly clean at the start of this brief journey, and now check it out.

Maria O neighborhood

Until our next journey together…

Christmas Time at Makarios

It’s the last month serving full-time with Makarios here in the D.R. before we launch our own ministry, and we’ve had a series of fun Christmas events take place at the Makarios School. Below are some images and descriptions of some of our fun we’ve had with the students and staff at the school.  Look for future posts on our last few days with Makarios and what we look forward to in the future.

We took a few photos of the kids for the Makarios Christmas e-blast that went to all the donors and supporters of Makarios. These were actually taken in October but by that time the local grocery stores were already playing Christmas music. These guys LOVED this. 

I have several individual photos of the students from the day of our Christmas photo shoot but these two stuck out to me. Aylin just has these remarkable eyes, which coupled with the Santa hat just made this picture. And Erickson’s smile could brighten up any Christmas tree.

The week before the end of the semester we held a Christmas Extravaganza which involved a showcase of different presentations that the kids performed for their students. Before the students came out, Profe Yomo read the Christmas story. We always want to take the opportunity to share Jesus. 

Each class performed some type of act for their parents. I was especially proud of Profe Sarah’s 1st graders, who are usually quite a handful. But maybe because their parents were there watching or maybe they were really nervous, but their song went so well. 

It was a really great few weeks to end our time working with Makarios.

 

A Day of Throwing Eggs & Flour

So apparently today (November 30) is a tradition here in the D.R. where youth (younger and older) take to the streets armed with water balloons, eggs, and flour for some lighthearted (mostly) fun. They will throw these at each other usually, but it’s also a tradition to throw these at passing cars, unless the driver tosses out a RD $5 peso coin.  So far, I haven’t been attacked and I haven’t had to throw out any money, but I stopped by the colmado (small street store) and got some change just in case.

The tradition, it is told, is to honor an old baker back in Spain who in protest to one of the old kings took some water and flour (and possibly eggs) and threw them at the king to illustrate his opposition to the king’s ruling ways.  It’s yet another excuse, I think, to use to skip school.

There seems to be all kinds of traditions here that to us seem pretty silly. I’m sure we have our own silly traditions as well back in the States, but this one takes the cake (pun intended).

And We’re Back

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So we had a virus on our blog, which we’ve cleaned out, but at the expense of some of our most recent posts. But at least we’re back online and can communicate life.

Dia de La Raza

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Today is La Dia de La Raza – The Day of the Race. In the Dominican Republic it’s the day they pay tribute to the native Taino indians who inhabited the island when Christopher Columbus discovered it way back in history. Unlike in the U.S. where we celebrate Christopher Columbus, here in the D.R. he is more of a reminder of the brutality he used to practically eliminate the natives. Even though most of the Dominicans and local Haitians have European and African descendantry, they don’t like to be associated with Columbus.

So instead of celebrating Chistopher Columbus’s “discovery” they celebrate the native race he tried to destroy and enslave. I find it still a little ironic that their imagery of the native Taino people is similar to the Native American indians portrayed in the United States. I’m not convinced they wore feathers on their heads but such things tend to stick. Regardless, the kids (and professors) definitely looked cute in their outfits.

4 Cosas

These four items (not the rubber band though) have been vital in the first few weeks of life here.

 

  1. The Bible 
    The one thing to get me through everything. I love that each morning at school we start with a staff devotional, where we each get the opportunity to share what the Lord is working in us. The sword and rock!!
  2. The Dictionary
    This and Google Translate have been a life saver for me. I carry this little dictionary everywhere and just ask for patience with those who I’m trying to speak with. I’ve come to find out though that those in the D.R.  sometimes use different words, but people still get the idea and appreciate that I’m trying to learn.  Spanish lessons with one of our bilingual teachers (Johan) are coming soon and I’m praying our proficiency takes off. We shall see.
  3. The Water Bottle (with duct tape and CalvaryChatt logo)
    An essential item to have on me at all times. I have drank more water in the last four weeks than I think I have in the last four years. And I usually sweat it all out by the end of each day. (sorry…gross, I know, but it’s the truth)  Since I’ve taken this photo, I’ve already used up all the duct tape and will be applying more to it later. This was an old camp trick that I learned. One is always ready with duct tape at hand…the cure all for anything broken, ripped, torn. 🙂
  4. Coca Cola
    I get a treat each day for lunch from the nearby “calmado” (tiny store). These 1/2 liter cokes in a glass bottle have real sugar in them and only cost $25 RD (about  $0.65 US).

October Newsletter

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Here is our latest newsletter (and our first one from the field). ENJOY!!
Getting Settled and Some Big News – http://eepurl.com/gbilv

Our New Norm

It’s been a little while since we’ve submitted a blog post. Sorry about that as a lot has been happening these past few weeks. I believe the last time we wrote on the blog we were still in Tennessee.

We finally left the States on August 25th for the Dominican Republic. We flew into Santiago and got in about an hour later than scheduled (around 9:45 p.m.). When we landed we experienced our first cultural difference. As the jet touched down in Santiago, all the Dominican people started clapping and cheering for a safe landing. We of course joined in (and I said a silent prayer of thanksgiving that the Lord got us there safely). By the time we got out of the plane, our kids were SO tired. New culture, tired kids, trying to pick up 12 checked bags and not being able to speak Spanish all made for an interesting segway out of the airport. Needless to say, we forgot one of our bags at the airport and didn’t even realize it until the next day AFTER we had already drove all the way up to the north coast. It worked out though but we did have to wait a week for it to be picked up by another Makarios staff member who brought it up when they arrived. Oh, did I forget to mention that it was the luggage that contained all our meds and 90% of my wife’s clothes (yeah…I heard it a little)?!

Our first week was great! We got to finally meet some of the other American staff serving with Makarios who’ve been here for years. We also got to meet the Dominican and Haitian staff who help out at the school. Such a sweet week of training and time worshiping together. It was also a fully engaged week of helping our family get acclimated to life in a new culture and a new way of living. But the good thing is that all the new staff (and families) have been staying together in the missions house (Mak House as it’s called) so it helped that we were experiencing the transition together.

The New Normal

I thought I’d list out some of the various cultural differences of which our family is in the process of adjusting.

  • It’s HOT…all the time, and it’s a luxury to be in air conditioning. In other words, the only place that has had A/C that we’ve been to so far is one supermarket in Puerto Plata. And when we got there, Addie decided to have a seat in the open air refrigerator section next to the yogurts and cheeses.  The heat is especially tough when inside without fans (luckily we have them in both the Mak House and at the school) and also at night.
  • Somewhat related to the first point…we’re sweating…a lot. I hear our bodies will begin to adapt to the climate a bit and we’ll perspire less and less over time but for now I look as if I lost a balloon throwing contest by about the second hour in the day. The nights, when the power has gone out (more on that next), have been the worst. So bad that one morning, Addie climbed in our bed and as she touched my sweat soaked bed, she said aloud, “Daddy, did you wet your bed?” Yeah, gross!  Thank the Lord that the last few days it’s been a little cooler at night as we’ve learned how to optimize the placement of our fans and allow the breezes to come in.
  • The power is spotty. This is Jenni’s biggest complaint so far. The power goes in and out throughout the day. It’s a common thing here to have inverters (car battery units that store up electricity when the power is on so that when it goes off you can still have a little power to keep your fridge from thawing and to allow some fans and lights to work). People here are used to it, but with us technologically addicted Americans, it’s been adjustment. This has especially been problematic when we’ve tried to Skype with someone or we’re in the middle of an email and it goes out.
  • Tarantulas! (eek!!) So, the day we pull up to the Mak House and the first thing we see is the kids of the other missionary family running out to greet us with a LIVE tarantula they caught INSIDE their room. Don’t worry it was in a closed in an air tight rubbermade. But it definitely made my hair rise up knowing they’re around. But I’ve done some research and their looks are way more scary than their bite (literally). I haven’t seen another one since. THANK GOD. Just praying we don’t find one in our own house. The couple who’ve been here for two years said that’s only the second one they had ever seen so that was a little more relieving.
  • Pesos! The exchange rate for the Dominican dollar (or peso) is about 38 pesos to the American dollar. That has made shopping and ATM withdrawls a fun experience. It’s a little strange having $1000 and $500 RD bills in your wallet/pocket and seeing your grocery bill for $5,000.
  • Trash is everywhere on the sides of the streets (but not nearly as bad as in Haiti), which sometimes makes the smells around here not so pleasant.  There just isn’t as nice of a public works system in place here to be able to take care of it.
  • ROOSTERS! This island and their roosters…ugh! We’ve awoken every day at 6:00 a.m. to the (loudest) crowing of rooster.
  • Sleeping in…what’s that? Because of said roosters and the fact that the sun come out about 6:15 every morning, there’s no such thing as sleeping in any longer.
  • Driving Dominican style! I’m getting pretty used to driving on the streets here, but it sure is an adventure. Motorcycles (or motos/moto coaches0 are everywhere, like little mosquitos flying in and out when you least expect. And a painted two lane road is actually used as a four to six lane highway at times. Paved roads are few and far between and we’ve yet to find a road without pot holes. I can’t wait to teach Jenni how to drive a stick in this! (prayer request)
  • My biggest prayer request is to learn Spanish. I am learning new phrases and words everyday but I definitely wish I was fluent. I do have hope though as Chris, the field coordinator who’s been here for two years and leaving in October, didn’t know any when got here and his Spanish now is really good. I’m also going to have some lessons by one of our English speaking Dominican teachers. But I expect to see plenty of people (especially the students at the school) laugh and look at me strange when I say something completely wrong (have to remember that man is “hombre” and pig is “hambre”).
There is a LOT more to our new norm that we’ll share in the future, but I thought I’d give a first little update.
Coming soon, a little more about our work (as the principal of the Makarios School), the other staff here and trying to find a house to rent. It’s a fun time for sure.

The Hard and Good Parts of Change

As we had our family time in The Word and said prayers tonight, we read about how God supplied manna to the people of Israel and then also how He produced flowing water out of a dry rock after Moses faithfully was obedient to follow His instructions.  God showed how He loved the people of Israel and took care of them, even when they were (at times) so doubtful in what He was doing with them in the wilderness. They went from predictable lifestyles as slaves into a state of freedom, but the freedom came with some changes. Those changes in lifestyle brought out the worldly emotions and fleshly reactions to life’s stresses in so many of the Israelite people. But the Lord was still faithful. He allowed the “wilderness time” to work at their hearts, and then He later blessed them with the promised land.

We’re getting much closer to “go” time for our family as we embark on our missions call to the D.R.  And it’s starting to hit home with all of us. We’ve already begun to shed many a tear over the changes taking place…and we haven’t even moved yet. I remember moving as a young boy from Pennsylvania to Tennessee. It was the summer before my eighth grade year and I was leaving the greatest group of friends that I’d ever known. We were a great click of friends who all lived in the same neighborhood and all went to school with one another. We also played on the same sports teams and were in the same Boy Scouts troop. We went on excursions together, like winter campouts and frozen lake hockey games, sleeping on an aircraft carrier in Charleston, and going to several Baltimore Orioles baseball games (I still can hear the crowd cheering on Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken, Jr.).  We also went through those pre-puberty stages together…awkward, but a rite of passage closer to manhood…you can’t ask for a greater bond after that. If I needed to, I would have died to save them (and I did in many of our imaginative days in the galactic world of Planet Backyard).

It was hard to leave them and say goodbye.  And it was hard to adjust to the new life in the foreign world that is the “deep south” mountains of Tennessee, which now has turned to be the “home” I’ve known most in my life, and where I’ve experienced blessings upon blessings. And of course many of those blessing are in the form of relationships with some of the most incredible, and Godly, people. The Lord has used these new friends to continue to shape me into the man I am today…one so drastically different than I thought I’d become (and that’s a really good thing). It’s hard to leave them. It’s hard to go through the emotions of doing life differently. Changes are hard.

Tonight, after eating our dinner on our plastic plates and drinking out of our water bottles, my kids shed more tears thinking about leaving their friends and our dogs. It is hard for all of us. Although our youngest, Asher, who’s two, seems to be taking it the best. Oh, to have that resilience to change…that’s the everyday life of a toddler…changes upon changes. New things to learn each day. It’s no skin off his back (yet I think it will hit him in many ways all too soon, especially after he begins to understand that we won’t be seeing his grandparents as much). But for the rest of us, it is hard because we know what we’ll be missing. We have gotten so used to our life here in Chattanooga.

But like Moses, we must continue to be faithfully obedient in heeding the Lord’s call, despite the hard changes we face. And as we venture off into the midst of a new land (much more foreign than the mountains of Tennessee), we look on to the future blessings that await us…ones that the Lord promises will be far greater than we’ve ever experienced thus far.  No doubt, the changes in our new life in the D.R. will be great and at times very challenging, but our “promised land” awaits us. It may not be a physical land that’s flowing with milk and honey, but I’m confident it will be an opportunity for us to experience life more connected to the Almighty. How could it not be, as He has called us to this journey. And by following His will, His Word promises that we will experience more of Him. And that’s exactly where I want to always be.

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Please be sure to visit our CURRENT PRAYER REQUESTS page to see what you can specifically be praying for our family in this time. Thanks!

We Are Family! Meeting the Mak Peeps.

When you serve in a foreign nation and everything is new (including the language), it’s not uncommon for others of similar backgrounds to come together. Think of the various communities or “little” villages that emerge in cities across the nation – Little Italy, China Town, etc. Over the past several months, prior to us joining Makarios, we began to establish some communication with others serving in the Dominican Republic that we would hopefully one day develop close ties with once we moved to the D.R. We definitely look forward to those relationships still occurring (Cutts family, Iannone family, Luther family and James family) and having the opportunity to enjoy some time with all of them. But it definitely feels even better knowing that now we enter into an even tighter community of like-minded people who each are involved in the Makarios ministries occurring in the D.R.

This past week we had the opportunity to meet and get to know most of the other American staff members who will be serving alongside us in the D.R. (minus the Upton family and Snapp family) and also getting to better know those back here in the States doing everything they can to build up the support of the organization back home (Sharla, Chuck and the other Austin Mak staff). Ever since we felt the Lord leading us to accept the position with Makarios, we still had this tiny bit of anxiety lingering as we still had not met face to face (minus one Skype conversation) with any other person from the organization. Well, all fears vanished as we had the chance to finally meet everyone in person, and to our joy the Lord has really done an amazing job of putting this team together. We are super excited about the others we will not only be serving alongside, but who we also be living with and who we will be turning to when we celebrate the joyful occasions and when we need prayer and support during the times of struggle. In many ways, it’s just like our own little village…the Makarios family.

By far this is the greatest aspect of joining Makarios. Before, our family was headed down there alone and we were only relying on the little bit of communication we have had with the others mentioned in the first paragraph. I think the Lord knew that we needed more people directly in our lives down there. Now, we have the joy of joining others in a combined effort to serve the Haitian and Dominican people together. This will lead to even more common experiences that we can go through together. And the on-the-ground support system will be even better for us, which as a father is a huge relief (or answered prayer). My wife and even our kids now have other people in the Mak community to interact with. We can’t wait to virtually introduce you to each of them as we continue with our life on this big adventure.

The Menold Family

The Menold Family, serving alongside us (and the others) at Makarios.

First, we wanted to introduce you to the Menold family (stress on the “men” and not the “old” – haha). Josh and Jen Menold, from Raleigh, N.C., are the only other couple with kids who will be moving to the D.R. at the same time. Josh is serving as the Director of D.R. Operations with a focus specifically on managing the finances, organizing the outreach services, facilitating the visiting groups, and co-leading with me on the various Christian leadership opportunities involved in the ministry. Jen is serving as the host for all visiting groups. One of the greatest things about having them on the Mak team is that they have five children, all eight years and under. Oh what a huge answered prayer. Jenni will have another mom (who also is homeschooling) she can talk with and each of our kids will have other English speaking kids to play with from the start. I can’t tell you how big of a deal this is for us.  We loved spending time with them this past week and learning more about how the Lord called them to serve and humbly follow the Lord. There are many, many aspects of their journey that we share in our story as well. You will hear much more about Josh, Jen and their kids throughout the years on this blog.

It is exciting to see the team come together, knowing that indeed all of the American Mak staff will truly become a part of our family as we go through this wild journey together.

But even as I type those words, my heart aches about leaving the family (by blood and by re-birth) we leave back here in Chattanooga. There are too many of you all to list.  This is definitely the hardest part of leaving for the D.R. Because to “leave” you actually have to “leave” someone behind. And that’s all of you who we love so much. Of course, it’s definitely NOT a good-bye. It’s an “until the day we see you when you come visit us on the beach.” We look forward to sharing the joys and pains of our journey via Skype, Facebook, Google+, Blackberry Messenger and all the other forms of communication we’ll be using (and of course through this blog). Thanks for all you guys have done to encourage us! We love you all deeply!