June 2, 2019

Here is the fourth in our series of columns reflecting on our trip to the Dominican Republic. Today's reflections come from David Lester, our Pastoral Assistant for Social Concerns Ministry and the organizer of our trip. 

The Dominican Republic has been a second home to me since I first arrived there in 2005. The people in the communities of Franco Bidó and Batey Libertad took me in as family without asking questions or needing to even speak the same language.  People welcomed me in, solely because I was a person. I did not need any other qualifications. That is the greatest gift and challenge they offer me year-in and year-out. My experiences in these communities have changed my life in so many ways, but the strongest is learning to treat every person as family, without question, just as I was taken in as a member of so many families for just being me. 

My best teacher is my first Dominican mother, Dolores. Each night she would tirelessly prepare dinner for me, neighbors, field workers, a few of her kids, grandkids, and herself. She would always have more than enough food on the table designated just for me, and then similar portions for everyone else. As we all ate, she would sit and watch and make sure we were all happy and well fed. Finally, after it was clear we all had our food, she ate her meal, which most nights consisted of the marrow from chicken bones, and the rice that burnt on the bottom of the pot in which she cooked the rice (a meal staple in the DR) over a fire. This simple sacrifice she made for most of her life—eating the remainder of the food once it was clear her family was fed. She took Jesus’ message of the last shall be first and the first shall be last personally and applied it to her life in a way to make sure that whoever sat at her table felt loved and left with food in their stomachs. Then, and only then, did she find the nourishment she needed.

Dolores is a woman who lives with very little. Her home has no insulation, no sheetrock, just stick framing and clapboards nailed directly to them. There are gaps in the boards which let the weather in. She has a solar panel that powers a couple of 25 watt light bulbs for a few hours a day. Her kitchen walls and ceiling are covered with black soot from years of cooking with fire. I imagine her lungs, unfortunately, probably look similar.

Dolores is one of many people who have welcomed me and many others from across the world into their homes and lives with nothing but Christ’s love. They ask for nothing in return, but graciously accept the love and support we offer. In March, we helped start pour a foundation of a home for four families in a neighboring community, Batey Dos. Last year, there was a fire there and 40 homes were burned to the ground. The community responded by welcoming the people who became homeless into their homes. Our group was able to take the funds our community raised to start the building of a home made of concrete that would not burn like their old homes made of scraps of wood. Now, the communities have a little more dignity.

I was only able to be a part of this because of Dolores and others like her, who taught me how to love like Jesus calls us to and for me to accept that call despite the costs. I cannot wait to take more members of our community there to share these transformational lessons that help us to better build the kingdom of God.