Day 5, Saturday (Sabbath) June 15, 2019

Jordan River: The Jordan river flows from the north down into the northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee. From there it flows out of the Southwest corner of the Sea of Galilee and flows south to the Dead Sea, snaking its way in and out across the borders of the countries of Israel and Jordan. At the place where it flows out of the southwest part of the Sea of Galilee to go to the Dead Sea there is a traditional place (and highly commercialized) set aside for Christian pilgrims to be baptized. We had the opportunity to be dunked in the river here in a baptismal remembrance celebration.

This is most likely not the place where Jesus was baptized by John. It was most likely further south near Jericho as it says all Judea was coming out to hear John preach and be baptized by him (Matthew 3:5, Mark 1:5, Luke 3:3, and John 1:28, 10:40). In John 10:40 it refers to the place being across from Bethany (not Bethany by Jerusalem, but a town called Bethany of Perea across the Jordan (in today’s country of Jordan) near Jericho – see also John 3:23. Thus, the country of Jordan also has a traditional baptismal site for pilgrims, but we are not going there.

Sea of Galilee: The Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:18-22), is also known as the Sea of Tiberias (John 6:1, 21:1); also known as Lake Gennesaret (Luke 5:1). While we think of “seas” as salt water, this is what we would call a lake for it is fresh water. It is the main source of irrigation for the surrounding lands’ farming. For many millennia wars have been fought over control of this valuable water source. This is where Jesus walked on water (Mark 6:45-52), where Peter tried to walk on water (Matthew 14:22-33), where Jesus calmed the storms (Mark 4:35-41), and where some of the disciples had made their living as fisherman (John 21). Across the sea, to the east, was gentile territory in Jesus’ day. Beyond those hills/mountains was the area of the Decapolis (“ten cities”) and the story of the Gerasene Demoniac(Mark 5:1-20) in today’s Jordan and Syria. It’s hard to imagine the herd of swine rushing down those “cliffs” to their death, even if the water levels were higher in Jesus’ day – it would take some effort and intentionality on the part of the pigs. The witness of the healed man from the legion of demons led to a Christian community that still exists today and boasts of one of the oldest Christian churches on earth. 

Jericho: Touted as the oldest city on earth. Famous in the bible for the story of Rahab in Joshua 2, and the walls coming tumbling down in Joshua 6 (Hebrews 11:30). It was the last stop on the road from Galilee to Jerusalem and here Jesus met and stayed with Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10 and healed the blind beggar in Luke 18:35-43. As you travel from Jericho up to Jerusalem you can imagine the setting for Jesus’s famous parable about the Good Samaritan who was beaten and left for dead by robbers in Luke 10:25-37. This was a notoriously dangerous trail/road in a desolate land where robbers hid behind rocks to attack pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem.

Dead Sea: the lowest place on earth – over 1400 feet below sea level. The site of ancient Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Qumran Caves (Dead Sea Scrolls) where the Essenes resided. Many wonder if John the Baptist wasn’t part of the Essene community. It is salt water, with a salinity of about 35%, 9.6 times saltier than the ocean. Because of its density and salinity, it is near impossible to sink – one floats. 

Masada: Overlooking the Dead Sea, this was Herod the Great’s fortress project that became the last stand for the Jews against the Romans in 73AD. This was after the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple in 70AD. Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, reports that as the Romans built a ramp on the western side (remnants can still be seen today) and prepared to breach the fortress on top, 960 Jews committed suicide rather than being enslaved by the Romans.

It was hot today – especially down at the Dead Sea. Our day started at the Jordan with a commemoration of baptism ceremony where most of us put on our white robes, prayed together, then one by one were dunked in the Jordan reminded of the promise or covenant Christ made to us in our baptism. For me, this was an overwhelming and moving experience. I lost it emotionally when my oldest son, whom I baptized 24 years ago came to me to be dunked and hear that promise once again. It was equally powerful to do the same for my siblings whom my dad baptized, and for my wife, cousins, and congregational members. From there we went to Qumran and learned of the Dead Sea Scrolls and saw the caves, then onto Masada, which was a highlight for many. We ended the day at our hotel on the Dead Sea and many of us went “swimming” (one only floats) in the Dead Sea. This was a highlight for many as well. We have one night here and leave tomorrow for our final destination (for the Israel part of the trip). Spending time in fellowship over food, or drinks in the evening has also been such a joy.

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Day 4, Friday, June 14, 2019

Capernaum: One of the highlights for me on this trip. This is where Jesus made his home during his three years of ministry (or however long it was) – see Matthew 4:13, and Mark 2:1. At the age of 30 Jesus left his family and home in Nazareth in the hill country of western Galilee to settle in the fishing village of Capernaum on the northeast part of the Sea of Galilee. This is where he met his friends Peter and Andrew, James and John. Due to earthquakes many centuries ago, Capernaum is ruins and rubble today. That said, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to get a feel for what life might have been like. At the back of the town is the second century synagogue where you can imagine Jesus teaching and healing – see Mark 1:21-33. In the center of town there is a round church built on stilts with a glass floor in the middle of the church. It is built over a house. It is a fairly sizeable house compared to the surrounding houses. In the house, directly below the glass floor of the church, is a room with some ancient Christian markings. Archeologists wonder if this might have been used as a place of worship or meditation by early Christians. Some therefore wonder if this wasn’t Jesus’s house, or perhaps Peter’s. Some wonder if Jesus didn’t have a room in Peter’s house. Peter, Andrew, James, and John were all fisherman. To own a wooden boat for fishing was an expensive enterprise. You can look around the landscape and see that it isn’t a land of forests. To import wood to build and own a fishing boat suggests these men were of some means and prominence in that town. It puts a whole new perspective on them leaving everything and following Jesus.

Tabgha: means “Seven Springs.” Here there are natural springs that well up and flow out of the ground into the Sea of Galilee. Because of the natural water source there is also vegetation (trees) that grow around there offering shade from the hot sun and arid surroundings. This was a natural place for people to gather and is suspected to be a place Jesus often taught and met with his disciples. It is the place attributed to Jesus teaching and feeding the 4000 (Matthew 15:38, Mark 8:9) and 5000 (Matthew 14:21, Mark 6:44, Luke 9:14, John 6:10). Because it is associated with that miracle the symbol you will often see around this area is the symbol of fishes and loaves. You will see this on the floor under the altar of the Church of the Multiplication run by the Benedictines. Next door (with a fence separating them) is the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter run by the Franciscans. This church is built over a rock that is attributed to the place where Jesus broke bread after the great catch of fish in John Chapter 21. It is tradition for pilgrims to throw a rock from the shore into the sea with a prayer: confessing one’s sin and throwing that into the sea to be drowned, washed, and cleansed. 

Caesarea Philippi: “Philip’s Caesar City,” built by Herod Philip in honor of Caesar. This is way up northeast in the Golan Heights near Syria. Built at the base of Mount Hermon near a grotto (cave) that was once the major spring that fed or began the Jordan River. After several earthquakes over the centuries the water source has been closed off. In ancient times there were temples built to the Greek god Pan where we get terms like panoramic (today’s pronunciation, I believe in Arabic, isBanias). There was also a temple built to Caesar. It was here that Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do people say I am? And who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:13ff. and Mark 8:27ff.) And it was after Jesus was here that he led Peter, James, and John up a high mountain and was transfigured (Matthew 17:1, Mark 9:2). Would that high mountain have been Mt. Hermon, the highest mountain in the whole area? No one knows for sure. Many places have been attributed to the transfiguration (like Mt. Tabor, which has a church atop attributing itself to the transfiguration), but it makes sense that Mt. Hermon would have been the site since if follows their time in Caesarea Philippi, though it was six days later, so it could have been anywhere.

Sea of Galilee: The Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:18-22), is also known as the Sea of Tiberias (John 6:1, 21:1); also known as Lake Gennesaret (Luke 5:1). While we think of “seas” as salt water, this is what we would call a lake for it is fresh water. It is the main source of irrigation for the surrounding lands’ farming. For many millennia wars have been fought over control of this valuable water source. This is where Jesus walked on water (Mark 6:45-52), where Peter tried to walk on water (Matthew 14:22-33), where Jesus calmed the storms (Mark 4:35-41), and where some of the disciples had made their living as fisherman (John 21). Across the sea, to the east, was gentile territory in Jesus’ day. Beyond those hills/mountains was the area of the Decapolis (“ten cities”) and the story of the Gerasene Demoniac(Mark 5:1-20) in today’s Jordan and Syria. It’s hard to imagine the herd of swine rushing down those “cliffs” to their death, even if the water levels were higher in Jesus’ day – it would take some effort and intentionality on the part of the pigs. The witness of the healed man from the legion of demons led to a Christian community that still exists today and boasts of one of the oldest Christian congregations on earth.

Highlights of today included taking a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee (after a Saint Peter fish lunch), visiting Caesarea Philippi and the Golan Heights, visiting Capernaum, visiting the churches at Tabgha and the church on the Mount of Beatitudes, and, of course swimming in the lake. It was hot today (over 90 degrees), but tomorrow will be hotter as we go to Jericho, Masada, and the Dead Sea. It’s humbling and overwhelming at times seeing, walking, praying, and experiencing these places. As one person reflected, equally impressive are the living stones that still witness to Jesus today – the pilgrims we’re traveling with, as well as the pilgrims from all over the world coming with the same appreciation and devotion, speaking many different languages but united with us in this one faith and promise.

2019 Israel Pilgrimage

Day 1

Travel to Israel, crossing the Atlantic and many time zones. 43 people. 30 of which are from St Luke and the others are Brendan Wiechert’s mom, Sandra, and Pr. Jim’s family from Seattle, Kansas City, and Wisconsin.

Day 2

Arrive in Tel Aviv and meet up with the three groups – 25 on one flight from Spokane, 8 on another from Spokane, and the ten from other cities who met up in JFK to now combine as one.

Some preliminary background information that will be helpful as we see places and talk about their historical and biblical significance. I encourage you to read the biblical references, not just my materials. 

Who was Herod? Well, which Herod are we talking about? Herod the Great was the first Herod and was known for expanding the nation of Israel and for his massive building projects: Caesarea Maritima, the Jerusalem Second Temple, Masada, and Herodium. He supposedly ruled from 37BC to 4BCwhen he died. However, Matthew attests that it is Herod the Great that is associated with Jesus’s birth story in Matthew 2:1-21 (and Luke 1:5). It is Herod the Great that is accredited for the massacre of the innocence following the story of his search for the Messiah through the Magi. In Matthew 2:22-23 we hear that Jesus and his parents returned from Egypt (where they fled to escape Herod the Great) only to find Herod’s son, Herod Archelaus ruling (who was even more ruthless than his father), so they went up to Galilee and made their home in Nazareth. 

Herod was a vassal King. He had ownership and authority over Israel but was answerable to Caesar and paid taxes to Rome. After Herod died, Rome divided Israel into four sections and appointed four tetrarchs: Herod the Great’s three sons and his sister: 

 Herod Archelaus over Judah (Matthew 2:22), 
 Herod Antipas (Luke 3:1 & 3:19, and almost every other mention in the gospels is in reference to him) over Galilee(who built Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, which is still there today, and was building Sepphoris , a new large city outside of Nazareth which is now ruins today), 
 Herod Philip (Luke 3:1 & 3:19) over the north and east regions (he is the one who built Caesarea Philippi up north I will talk about on Day 4). 
 Salome I who was given a few cities to ruler over, but who is not mentioned in the bible. 

While Herod Antipas of Galilee is the Herod who dominates the NT in Jesus’s adult life, and with regard to the Christian movement in Acts, it is Archelaus who is important to note as well. Archelaus didn’t rule very long because the Jews in Jerusalem and throughout the territory of Judah/Judea were so incited by his ruthlessness that Rome removed him and put in a “prefect” to govern over Judea and to keep the peace. The prefect that was governing over Judea and the capital city Jerusalem during Jesus’ ministry was Pontius Pilate.

Jesus’s life and ministry were spent up north in the region or territory of Galilee. In Luke 3:23 we’re told Jesus was 30 years old when he began his ministry. Nowhere in the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are we told how long his ministry lasted. In the synoptics we’re told that Jesus went “up” to Jerusalem in Judea (which is south of Galilee) the last week of his life for the festival of Passover where he was then betrayed, tried, and crucified. It’s from John’s gospel that we get the notion that Jesus’ ministry lasted 3 years because in John’s gospel Jesus goes to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover three times: John 2:13, 6:4, 11:55 (thus dying at the age of 33 if one accompanies this with Luke 3:23). In Luke 23:7-12, in the exchange between Pilate and Herod, Jesus is being passed between Pilate in Jerusalem of Judea and Herod of Galilee. 

Day 3

Caesarea Marittima: “Caesar’s City by the Sea” – Built by Herod the Great between 22-10BC and dedicated to or in honor of Caesar, the Roman Emperor. Not to be confused with Caesarea Philippi, which we will see tomorrow, and I will write about for Day 4.

During the NT times Caesarea Marittima (normally just referred to as Caesarea) was a Roman settlement where Herod often lived and later Pontius Pilate often lived or stayed, unless he had to go into Jerusalem to keep the peace (especially on high festival celebrations or holy days). You’ll find a stone with an inscription referring to Pontius Pilate here. During the Byzantine era (after 325AD when Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire) Caesarea became a center of Christianity until it was sacked during the Muslim conquest of 640AD and has been unpopulated since. During the Christian Crusades (around 1100AD) it was fortified as a garrison but destroyed in 1265AD by the Mamluk Sultanate. Today it is an Israeli National Park. 

The biblical importance of this site can be found in the Book of Acts: 8:40, 9:30, the story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts chapters 10 & 11, also 12:19, and then many passages relating to Paul in Acts 18:22, 21:8, 21:16, 23:33, and Paul’s trial before King Agrippa in chapters 25-26. In this last part of Paul’s life, he was imprisoned in Caesarea for two years before being taken away and set sail for Rome to be imprisoned and stand trial before Caesar in Rome. Paul’s long imprisonment in Caesarea is perhaps of mot importance and significance to Christian pilgrims today. 

Megiddo: a knoll or “tell” outcropped in the middle of the Jezreel Valley. The ancient fortress built upon this hill served as a forte for Israel throughout their ancient history, and the plain below as a bloody battlefield for many a war. Controlled 26 different times by different empire including Israel, Babylon, Egypt, and Assyria. At the temple of Karnak in Egypt the hieroglyphics tell the story of a great conflict fought here in 1468BC. The Pharoaoh Thutmose III captured 924 chariots. 3500 years ago! Right here! Har is the Hebrew word for mountain. Har Megiddo means “Mount Megiddo.” This is where the term (in Greek) Armageddon in Revelation 16:16 originates – the final battle takes place at this ancient battle site. These are the same stones that King Josiah once walked upon all the way back to Joshua (Joshua 12:21). See also Judges 5:19, II Kings 9:27 & 23:29, II Chronicles 35:22.

Mount Carmel: part of a western mountain range off the Mediterranean Sea in Northern Israel. It hosts Israel’s third largest city, Haifa. David’s wife Abigail is from Carmel (I Sam. 30:5, II Sam. 2:2). Most notably, this is the place where Elijah battled the false prophets of Baal – Elijah vs. King Ahab, Yahweh vs. Baal. Read I Kings 18. There is also reference to Elisha as the “man of God from Mount Carmel” in II Kings 2:25. In a cave on Mt. Carmel archaeologists discovered the remains of a Neanderthal woman (named Jabun I) and evidence of human activity dating back over 600,000 years, making this one of the oldest known inhabited places on earth. At Mount Carmel we will visit Elijah’s cave, as well as see the beautiful Bahai Temple and gardens.

Mount of Beatitudes: Read Matthew chapters 5-7. This is the famous site where Jesus supposedly gave his Sermon on the Mount. I say supposedly because there’s no archeological evidence to prove this. That said, it’s likely. It has been regarded as the traditional site for over 1600 years. Jesus made his home in the fishing town below this hillside in Capernaum. It sounds like large crowds were gathering to listen to Jesus’s teachings. This barren hillside would provide a great place to teach, view the surrounding region of the Sea of Galilee, and see the beautiful lights of Tiberias at night. The Franciscan chapel was built in 1938. I am looking forward to staying here. There is a “Jesus Trail” that connects this mount with other Christian sites (40 miles long). I’m looking forward to some walks in the morning or evening on the Jesus Trail or down the hill to ruins of Capernaum. I’m looking forward to having some time to read my bible and pray in the beautifully manicured grounds, and in the chapel. I’m looking forward to a glass of wine with my brothers and sisters in Christ as we gaze out over the Sea of Galilee.

Nazareth: Jesus’s home town (before moving to Capernaum to start his ministry) – see Matthew 2:23, Mark 1:9, John 1:45, Matthew 4:13, Luke 18:37, John 18:1-5, 19:19, Matthew 26:71. Located in the hill country of Galilee. Nazareth was a Podunk little town in Jesus’s day with a population of about 200-300. It was just outside of the new Roman city being built by Herod (Anitpas) called Sepphoris. Sepphoris is an archeological site today while Nazareth has become one of the largest cities in Israel today with a population of nearly 100,000. Today it is predominantly Arab with about 70% Arab Muslims and 30% Arab Christians. Jesus was known as “the carpenter’s son” (Mathew 13:55, Mark 6:3). We tend to think of a carpenter as one who works with a hammer and wood. However, if you visit the ruins of Sepphoris, which is probably where carpenters from Nazareth were employed, it was made of all stone, like all of the cities of that time. A “carpenter” was more along the lines of a mason in our terms today. A decisive moment in Jesus’ ministry was in Nazareth – see Mark 4:16-30. For Christian pilgrims today Nazareth is visited to see the Church of the Annunciation where Mary was supposedly visited by the Angel Gabriel – see Luke 1:26-38. Also read John 1:35-51 (“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”) for some cultural and historical perspective from Jesus’ day.

One of the highlights for me today was meeting the Arch Bishop of the Ethiopian Eastern Orthodox Church. Even though he’s looking at me like, “Who is the guy? And why is he touching my shoulder?” he was very kind and gracious. Other highlights were going swimming in the Sea of Galilee, seeing Caesarea, Megiddo, and the fellowship. What I have enjoyed most, and am looking forward to most, is experiencing this trip through the eyes of those who are coming here for the first time.

Cultural Capstone Commencement

For our last morning in Baharona, we were invited to attend a worship service at a Pentecostal church. It was a moving experience. The music was so loud that even our youth were wide eyed at the explosive volume. We swayed, danced, raised our arms and belted out music that we didn’t understand, but saw the words projected on a screen. It was warm and many were sweating as we sang 3 songs for 45 minutes. Following that, the preacher began speaking on texts from Exodus and Numbers and the meaning of a call. He compared the Bible to our GPS and stated that where we are called, we are equipped for that call. A timely message (thank you Lord) for our youth, who patiently waited over 30 minutes as we listened to the first half of the sermon before needing to leave to catch our bus from the Casa. This sermon made Pastor Jim’s seem short –shocker, I know.

As we departed from Casa Bethesda, we said our thank you’s and goodbyes to our hosts: the kitchen staff that fed us, to the translators that had become our best of friends, and all that will hold a special place in our hearts.  We were fortunate to have Franklin to translate our expression of thanks to these staff, but even our English words didn’t feel adequate (as seems to be a theme in these posts). It is so difficult to describe how completely and wonderfully we were cared for and how wholly held in their hands and care we were.

The bus drive to Santo Domingo began with many of us resting. After a quick bathroom stop at a large local grocery store, we began the movie Fireproof. If you haven’t seen it – it is a wonderful Christian movie starring  Kirk Cameron. It was a terrific time-filler that was even more impactful with our emotions already bubbling out of our hearts.

We then unloaded the bus in Santo Domingo and walked through the streets past and through buildings that had been standing when Columbus arrived. Next we spent our remaining pesos at a local souvenir shop. Many of us had purchased Larimar from our bus driver, Alejandra and one of his sons, Willie. Larimar is a beautiful aqua colored stone, that is only found in the Dominican Republic. It is rumored to be a stone from the lost city, Atlantis and bring peace and tranquility to the wearer. The souviner shop was a flurry as we bustled and bartered for the items we wanted and looked for items for our friends and family back home.

We then were treated to a dinner in town, that was so rich in culture and filled with dancing, laughing, singing and enjoying one another’s company. We first witnessed some incredible Spanish (with a Dominican flare) dancing including the couple taking turns spinning on a bottle. Then we were individually invited to dance with these incredible dancers. After teaching us different dances, we joined together in group dances. It was a joyous celebration of the week and a cultural capstone.

We then met this morning at 4:00 am in our hotel lobby to arrive at the airport at 4:45. The airport staff was again friendly, patient, and kind to our large group. Currently in Miami, we are collecting our photos on one laptop and reflecting on our trip together. We look forward to sharing more stories and seeing our loved ones tonight.

Taran Denning

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Final Day in Baharona

Final Day in Baharona

Again, I come to this blog near tears. I don’t even know where to begin in order to share the emotions we felt throughout the day. It was an incredibly emotional day that began with two of our larger community floors of the week. This was in the batey, Pueblo Nuevo. It was on a hill and required teamwork to make progress on these floors. The youth did incredible job. They have been resilient in the heat and humidity. Our hearts have been set ablaze by the love we have seen and the joy of the Dominicans, who have so very little.

Next we returned home and toured the fifth batey (where we hadn’t been yet this week) and then returned to Los Robles to spend time with the children. Our friends from yesterday ran to greet us. We played games, handed out stickers, gave away the last of our baseball mitts, braided one another’s hair and gave the most sincere and genuine hugs as we said our goodbyes. I had heard the youth from last trip describe how much joy the Dominican Children had found when the “Americanos” drove up, but today from the jubilant hello to the tearful goodbyes, the love of these brothers and sisters in Christ was palpable.

We returned to have a BBQ with the staff that we had grown so close to this week. Together we ate, danced and prayed. We also exchanged our most heartfelt thanksgivings to one another, through our wonderful translator, friend and COTN leader, Franklin.

Taran Denning

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In Defense of Hope

Good evening!

I woke up this morning thinking, “How can it be Friday already?” and it is still hard to believe we only have one day left in the bateys.

I am reminded today of 1 Peter 3:15, which challenges us to “always be prepared to answer for the reason for the hope that is in you” (I seem to always hit Men’s Bible Study for that reading).  I am reminded because my answer is firmly in “our youth.”  I witnessed and experienced that hope again today in both the Algodon batey as our youth worked in very hot and humid weather hauling water, shoveling sand and concrete mix, and carrying buckets of concrete for our 3rd and 4th community

floors.  And I witnessed it again this afternoon in Los Robles as we visited three home rebuilding projects from the 2015 mission trip and participated in our second baseball “clinic.”  In both bateys our youth participated with joyful hearts, encouraged each other with renewed spirits, and built and renewed relationships with the children of the batey.

I have incredibly high hopes for this next generation (Generation Z until it is better defined) of youth.  I am amazed at how they embrace being the most globally connected, technologically competent, and sophisticated generation.  They are eager to make their mark and do great things.

I have been witnessing this next generation and particular group of “kids” at St Luke for a long time.  I am no longer surprised when I see how they rise to challenges, love and support each other, and raise up the community around them.  But, I am always impressed.  As someone said, “they don’t just represent the future, they’re creating it.”

Our youth are no longer the innocent “little children” Jesus declared would inherit the kingdom of heaven, but today we worked and played with those kids.  They wrapped their arms around us and offered us their hands and hearts without condition.  Our youth may lead this next generation, but these are the children who will bring it home.  I am blessed to be here with both.

Brendan Wiechert

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Community Floors/Friends/Fellowship

Today was our first experience walking through one of the bateys. We poured two concrete floors for homes in the Algodon batey. As a warm up for our discussion this evening our youth were asked to describe their morning with one word. Some of their responses were: Sweaty, teamwork, hot, dedicated, successful, pigs, goats, children, hopeful, happy, enlightening, tiring, community, thankful, and blessed. Our first year Dominican Republic mission youth were particularly struck by the poverty in the batey. We had heard of the small, shanty-like huts that people called home, but what we saw gripped our hearts in ways that we will never forget. The experience – the smells, the sights, the feeling, the taste in the air – were deeply impacting. Our project was to mix concrete, move it into two of these homes and spread it (with the finishing help of local construction workers). Our water source was for mixing the concrete was a ways away from one of the two houses, so we made a chain. After shifting through mixing the concrete by hand with shovels, several put the mix into buckets. These were passed down person to person to the home. The bucket was empty and preliminarily spread. This proved to be tiring work, but all were able to help, which made for wonderful morning of working together and community building – among our youth and among locals. Many of us reflected on how the young local children jumped in to helping with this sweaty and challenging work.

The afternoon was spent with the I Love Baseball team and staff, as we again saw the beauty and love of Christ in our brothers and sisters from the Dominican Republic. The staff and team explored with us, swam and played with us. I am again captured by the selfless love we have found. The falls themselves were beautiful as we marveled at God’s creation. On our way back to Casa Bethesda this evening, we stopped briefly to walk along the shore of the ocean. Some of our youth were seeing it for the first time. We got to take a group picture before loading on to the bus. Our kids were exhausted with a full day of work and play.

Taran Denning

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Uplifting Grace

Today’s trip began with breakfast in Santo Domingo, followed by a bus ride to Casa Bethesda in Barahona. As a first timer to the DR, as with many others who have never been, this bus ride was surprising. Our bus was one of the larger vehicles on the road. Because of this, we would honk to signal smaller vehicles that we were passing. This honking was a signal to scoot over or move out of our way. In addition to this different tradition, we say motorcycles with three and four people on them speed down the shoulders of the road. I was thankful we hadn’t decided to travel by 13 bikes instead of the bus.

We then arrived at Casa Bethesda and unpacked quickly because Madre Belkis was ready for us to eat. Because my own Madre always asks and I’m guessing others may wonder…we had some delicious pork (that had a teriyaki/BBQ flavor), white rice, beans, mango juice, Coke,  Fanta and/or sprite with the best ice cream for dessert. After dinner we covered ourselves in sunscreen and headed out to tour the local COTN head quarters and join the I love baseball team and children in one of the local bateys.

Now I have to admit, our youth by the time we had unpacked at the Casa, were taking a sigh of relief that we had arrived at our final destination and it felt like our energy was dipping. This all changed after we met the Niños De Las Naciones (Children of the Nations) staff here in Bahrona and then proceeded to the batey. As we arrived, the bus driver honked in a rhythmic pattern beckoning the children to the baseball field. One of our venture leaders Franklin had to get out of the bus to ask children to move as they stood in the road, wide-eyed and waving in anticipation of these Americanos who were about to arrive. As we got off the bus, I quickly took a photo of the batey sign before children surrounded us. Each and every one of our youth and chaperones had at least one child on each hand. It was a joyous and beautiful moment. We proceeded to play with the littlest of children and some older ones. We played baseball with the I Love Baseball program. The group’s momentum, attitude and demeanor instantly switched directions. We were so uplifted by the love of these children. The Dominican children’s joy, love and smiles were more than contagious. It was something that changed something in our group. We felt like our hearts, smiles and emotions were literally raised up. Our smiles beamed from ear to hear. Our hearts were overflowing. It was incredible.

We then came back for dinner and took the evening to reflect on our experience and cool off in the pool. As I sat, I thought and thought about how to write this post. I didn’t know how to express how we were so affected and how our compassion for these people had so greatly swelled. So I opened up my camera to the first photo I took getting off of the bus (see below). The name of the batey we played in was “Batey Altagracia”. My Spanish isn’t good, but I am told this means high or lifted up grace. And I couldn’t help but raise my hands, head and heart to thank God for this trip. It was a reminder that God had called us to this place. Thank you Lord for the Dominican children, these youth, the opportunity to be on this trip, the COTN staff and the grace that showers us. God, all the glory be yours! Amen.

 

Taran Denning

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Embraced by God’s Love

We last posted with the hopes of our journey on the horizon. We chased that horizon by boarding an 11:00 pm flight from Phoenix to Charlotte. Getting some rest on the plane ride to Charlotte, we then boarded our last flight to get to the Dominican Republic. Many of us thought this third flight flew by (pun intended). We napped and filled out our customs forms in route.

As we touched down and walked into the airport in Punta Cana, our senses were on overdrive; the smell of island air, the bright colors of the painted walls, and the jubilation that we had finally arrived in the Dominican Republic. After gathering our checked bags (and using Maria’s Spanish abilities to track down an oversize-bag) we walked out to find a string of dozens of friendly taxi-drivers competing for our attention. For me personally, it felt like the seas parted when Edwin and Franklin stepped through the crowd. The COTN logo embroidered on their polo’s was like a familiar face among the whirls of sights and sounds. Franklin saw our matching COTN shirts and beamed with joy. He literally picked me up off the ground with a hug.

Our group was then continually showered with God’s love through Franklin. We loaded a charter bus and drove to Santo Domingo. On the way we sang “Feliz Cumpleaños” to Carson who’s birthday it was today. Franklin said, “Welcome to Our Dominican Republic which is also now your Dominican Republic.” He so abundantly shared God’s love with us and was so excited we were there, it reignited our group in incredible ways.

Further extending this open-arm embrace, we checked into our hotel and were treated to a Dominican style buffet and some chose to cool off in the hotel’s swimming pool. We are off to bed to get a full (hopefully 8 hour) night of rest. Tomorrow we will arrive at Casa Bethesda, settle into our rooms and jump right into our schedule (which Edwin has readjusted incredibly) to grow and meet others as the body of Christ.  Thanks and praise be to God.

Taran Denning

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Good afternoon, St Luke and friends!

I once served on a church committee where we started each meeting with the following prayer:

“Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little, when we arrive safely because we have sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the waters of life; having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity; and in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes; and to push into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love.” – Sir Francis Drake

When I copied that down before the trip, I thought I’d be reflecting on it from the DR. But, here I am unexpectedly sitting in Phoenix, Arizona, when I thought I’d be on a bus right now on our way to the Casa Bethesda in Barahona, Dominican Republic. And somehow it seems more appropriate than ever.

Our logistics for this trip blew up last night like a thunderstorm over the Arizona desert, or in fact, because of a storm over the Arizona desert. The storm wiped out our flight from here to Miami, and we were forced to give ourselves to the mastery of our Lord. We are now rerouted to Charlotte, and then to Punta Cana. And our drive to Barahona has now doubled. The shores we had planned to visit have not so much changed, but our journey has certainly been disturbed.

But, despite our many challenges, our youth remained infectious in their enthusiasm during our 2:30 pm to 1:30 am stay in the Phoenix airport, our chaperones built relationships over bad jokes and good times with Sean at the American Airlines customer service counter, and all of us gained a greater appreciation and heart for Taran as our “chaperone of chaperones,” friend, and mentor to our children. We have been blessed along the way with care and support from Sean at AA, Seattle and in-country staff for COTN, and the incredibly hospitable Sleep Inn in Phoenix.

Our dreams for this trip and final destination and service in the Los Robles and other bateys are still 48 hours away, but our “horizon of hopes” has become more clear. We yearn for the smiles of the Dominican youth, the rewards of service work and partnership in the bateys, the care and hospitality of the COTN staff and Casa Bethesda, and the continued community we are building with each other.

We ask your prayers for us and those we will encounter in this journey for strength, courage, hope, and love!

Brendan

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