All posts by jjohnsonsl65

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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Travel Day(s)

Good morning/night!

C069C7FD-This was a beautiful sunset photo taken before heavy rain and lightning storms hit Phoenix. We have incredible youth who weathered this storm – the rain and the long layover. Unfortunately our plane was unable to handle the storm and our flight from Phoenix to Miami was canceled.  God placed the right people on this trip and in our path. These youth (as you all know) are incredible! We played games, got to know one another through conversations, braided hair and are still excitedly looking forward to our rescheduled journey to the DR. We will be arriving in the DR on Tuesday afternoon. I will post our updated itinerary in the comments tomorrow morning, (and email parents) but for tonight we are resting in a nearby hotel. Sorry for the short post, but I am headed to get a few hours of sleep. Further details tomorrow.

Lord, thank you for these youth. The joy and patience and humor and hearts for you and for one another are evidence that they are the body of Christ. Thank you for these incredible chaperones and their adaptability and patience with me. Remind us to keep our eyes on you and keep the clouds out of the sky tomorrow!

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Day 5 – On the Mend

So far this vacation has sucked! But I think it’s going to change now. After two long days of travel I was with our group for one day of site seeing. The next two days were spent in my hotel room. Yesterday we left Bethlehem/Jersusalem and traveled north to Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee where we are staying for two days. On the way we stopped at Caesaria Maritima (Herod the Great’s city called Caesar’s City on the Sea), Mt. Carmel where Elijah hid from Jezebel after defeating the Baal prophets, Nazareth and the Church of the Annunciation, Cana and the Church claiming to be the place Jesus turned water into wine, and finally to our hotel in Tiberius where we look out over the Sea of Galilee with Mt Hermon on the horizon – it’s beautiful. 

I didn’t get to enjoy yesterday’s sites as I spent the time in bathrooms at every stop. Last night they took me to a sketchy walk-in clinic where I saw a doctor that spoke Arabic and wrote me a prescription in Hebrew. I have no idea what I have or what I’m taking, but he said I would be fine in a day by taking these meds for two days. So I’m going to brave it today and try to pilgrimage with the group around the Sea of Galilee on this Day of Our Lord. Blessings to all as you gather to worship Him wherever you are.