It is not too often that one is ill and does not mind too much. This August was one of those rare times for me. I came home to the U.S.A. with an infection from the Dominican Republic. I brushed my teeth with local water, ate fruit from the side of the road without washing it and unknowingly ate some damaged potato based food. In the future I know better nonetheless, it was an awesome experience to be a missionary in the Dominican Republic. I spent 8 days in the country with an organization dedicated to bringing school supplies to poor children in the area. Although the organization is not Catholic I was able to accompany them because Juan Camilo, the foundations' president is Catholic and one of my parishioners.
While in the Dominican Republic we operated with a very small team which consisted of Juan, Calixta (his wife), Lile (I call him my bodyguard),Rudy (the driver), Ramon (the truck driver) and Luis (the truck driver assistant) and myself. In addition to the 7 of us many other people assisted us throughout the trip. (The Photo Above is of the School Supplies we handed out.)
The first province we visited was Elias Piña, DR. In this province we had planned to neatly distribute the school supplies to 2,000 poor children in the school yard of a school. Unfortunately, although the value of the school supplies we distributed only amounted to $5 (including shipping) the children feared they would not get their package. It was impossible to have them make lines in order to receive their school supplies. Eventually things did not go as planned and we handed the school supplies to the children at a military base with the help of the local police, the Dominican Military and the Dominican Red Cross. At first I was annoyed and frightened at how difficult it was to get the children to cooperate but upon further reflection I was saddened that what would be difficult to give away in New York was so desperately needed in Elias Piña.
(The image above is taken from the top of the distribution truck in Elias Piña.)
The second province we visited was La Romana. There I had the privilege of celebrating Mass in a parish which had one of the most beautiful tabernacles I have ever seen in my life. After Mass we distributed the school supplies in the parish hall. I was saddened to hear that some of the children were accustomed to receiving their school lunch as the first meal of the day.
(This is the sacristy in La Romana. I"m in the middle with the pastor on my right, sister is with a small child on my right.)
The third province we visited was San Pedro de Macorís. We went to the Bateys of the province which was the poorest I saw in the whole country. Their roads were made of dirt. The roofs of the homes and chapels were made of zinc. Sometimes the zinc was rusted. They did not have soap, running water or electricity. The most heart breaking was that some of the kids did not have shoes. In this poverty I did notice something profound. The nicest structure they had was the chapel. They also were very happy and smiling. One child was so happy we came to help his community that he gave me Spanish Limes (known locally as limoncillos). After we handed out the school supplies in San Pedro de Macorís a friend of mine took me to his home in Santo Domingo and then to the airport at 4 am to head back home.
I think that every American Priest should take a missionary trip such as the one I did. I will never read the word poor in the Sacred Scriptures in the same manner as I used to. My idea of what poverty is has profoundly changed. We live so comfortably here in New York as compared to the people in the Dominican Republic who I visited. As we saw on August 14, 2003, if the light goes out in New York it makes headlines across the globe. In the Dominican Republic, however, as Rudy put it "Father, the light does not go out here, it just comes sometimes." In New York, just about everyone outside of the City of New York has a car. In the Dominican Republic the lower Middle Class make about $250 usd per month which is not enough to buy a car. Instead they have scooters. In New York, we can drink water straight from the faucet, in the Dominican Republic doing so can make you sick. Jesus says "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.'" (Matthew 25:35-36) When asked when this was done he replies "‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’" (Matthew 25:40b)
(The picture above is of an outhouse made of rusted Zinc in San Pedro de Macorís.)
For more pictures and videos of this trip go to the DR Mission Trip page by clicking here.
Tips for those who will go on missionary trips.
1. Pray. Pray. Pray. Without God instead of a missionary trip you would be on a community service trip.
2. It is always a good idea to be accompanied by locals if you know them.
3. Register with the US Embassy in the country you are visiting and let them know how long you're staying, where you will be visiting and what flights you will be on. The more information they have the better.
4. Save the local US Embassy number on your cell phone. Make sure you give the Embassy both your local and US numbers. Realize that once you leave this country their 911 system may be non-existent. The help of police officers and the military might not be what we are accustomed to in the United States.
5. Check with the Embassy for any advice they have about the country you are visiting. It might not be safe to visit.
6. I've been told that the Canadian embassies have good information as well. Why not check what our neighbors in the North have to say about the country you are visiting.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.