One day in Navas, my husband, Lloyd, and I went visiting with Pastor Gabriel. Our first stop was at the home of Pastor Carlos (now in his 80s) and his wife, Juanin. (Pastor Carlos still pastors a church in a small community called RuiSeñor.) Prayer for healing is central in his services. We prayed for Juanin’s mother and sang one of her favourite hymns. Juanin’s mother, who is referred to the community as Mamita, was one of the first Christians in the community of Navas. As she lay in her bed, Mamita sang along with us.
Our next stop was half way up the hill at the home of Pastor Bono. Pastor Bono and his wife live on a large piece of property with a big house. Pastor Bono walks slowly and his wife uses a cane to walk. Both Bono and his wife love to recall experiences from the past and to sing the old hymns and pray together with visitors. Each time we come, they pull up chairs and we form a circle and laugh and chat then pray. Although we came to visit and bless, it was such a blessing to be with him.
Later that day in the evening, we went to see Pastor Juan Perez. Pastor Juan suffers from Parkinson’s Disease and his activity is pretty restricted. Sometimes visiting Juan’s home involves bringing a package of food items for Juan and his wife. As we sang hymns and talked about God’s comfort, tears came to his eyes and then ran down his cheek.
In Hebrews 6: 10, we read, “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help him .” May all retired pastors be remembered for their ministry and their preciousness to the heavenly Father.
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” was the question Cain asked God when he was confronted by God after killing his brother Abel. The fact that God asked Cain about his brother indicates God’s concern for our care of each other.
I ask the question today whether I am my brother’s keeper and if I am, who is my brother? Should I be my brother’s keeper? Should the church concern itself about the welfare of people inside and outside of the church? In the years after the Great Depression, governments became increasingly involved in providing social assistance. The church relaxed and let government and social agencies care and provide for others. We are in a period now when government is withdrawing some of the benefits and assistance it provides. Will Christians and churches step up to a growing need?
What causes me to reflect on the question of being someone’s keeper? I just returned from the Dominican Republic and our small team went out to visit families and bring benevolent food packages to people in the community of Navas. At one site, we found a family living in a home constructed of poles cut from trees, then covered by banana or palm leaves. Three houses were located on a small compound at the edge of a cliff; the homes belong to members of an extended family. An older couple in poor health lives in one of the houses. The house would be blown over by a strong winds and the house had no sanitation. They use a bucket and then dump the contents in a hole behind the house.
Norma, a member of the benevolent committee, was appalled by what she saw and began to gather supplies, cement blocks donated by the syndicate, used wood from neighbors who are demolishing a house and more blocks donated by neighbors and cement purchased as a result of a gift of the mission team. A few days later the mission team returned to the site and saw the foundation canals dug, a foundation of blocks laid and re-enforcing bar placed ready for the 3 or 4 rows of blocks at the base of the house. The gentleman for whom the house is being built sat on a chair on a heap of dirt and sobbed as Dominicans and Canadians prayed for him and the continuation of the work. The local church was providing support and labour even though it is in a construction project for a new much larger sanctuary.
Should we be concerned about our brothers and the less fortunate? Yes. In the church community of Maizal we encountered a family in desperate situations. A couple and their two year old and two month old children had nothing to eat and the father was at the point of considering suicide. As a brother’s keeper, we purchased pampers, baby formula and food. Jesus said when speaking about feeding the hungry. “Whatever you have done for one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40. We must be our brothers’ keeper.
Navas is a community which stretches out along the main street and is home for about 9000 people. The road slopes steadily from the East and is a comfortable walk going west but more of a challenge climbing east. From the eastern tip there are houses along both sides and just before approaching bridge there are two small corner stores. In these stores you cannot go in between the aisles and pick out what you want. The store is very small – there will be a cooler which holds pop etc. and perhaps another for cheese and salami. To purchase something you go up to a window and ask for what you want. The owner can reach everything in the store with no more than four or five steps.
As you continue west, on your right you pass homes and stores, a government building with a guard sitting outside a lane leading to a school and another to a clinic, a hairdressing salon and finally a church. On the left on a corner you will set a lot of motorcycles and several men sitting on a bench or leaning against a tree. They are the motorcycles taxi drivers who are busiest at the hour of opening and closing of classes in the school. Next to this area is a restaurant now no longer open and then you come to the corner to turn off left and to the property of the church construction site. There are no gas stations, no hardware store, no bake shop, no bank, nowhere to make photo copies etc. You can’t buy a diet coke, a birthday cake, some of your prescriptions. Unlike a town back in Canada, there are men on donkeys or groups of cattle moving down the street.
Yet Navas is a community I like to visit. There is a great church, wonderful friends, lots of green grass and flowers and slightly cooler temperatures than many parts of the Dominican Republic. We are enjoying wonderful hospitality, great meals, fresh pineapple and mandarins and good but strong Dominican coffee.
In the last couple of years when we went to the Dominican Republic as missionaries, Pastora Gladys opened her door early in the morning signaling that coffee was ready. She had already made a quick trip to the local store for fresh bread. Along with this breakfast, Gladys shared smiles and great stories about the ministry in her church in Hatico Mao. We have known Gladys for several years and she has always been gracious. She is willing to store things for us when we are home in Canada and to do laundry and prepare food and to pray for us both when we are there and at home. As she leaves her home, she always looks across the street and up to the roof to wave to us. It was from the same roof that we could check and see if coffee was ready.
Gladys has been pastor in Hatico Mao for 10 years. We have watched the church grow and mature during those ten years. The congregation has changed from being mostly children to now having more adults than children. For several years, we have visited Hatico for services, for craft classes, street evangelism and children’s ministry. The physical structure is small and has few rows of block for walls and then wood on the walls up to the roof line. The roof is of tin and the wiring is visible as it is strung between bulbs and fans. A dream for Gladys and her congregation has been to enlarge the building and make it more secure with concrete walls, a new entrance set back from the sidewalk and more space inside. A gallon jug sits by the pulpit and has the name galon de fe – a gallon of faith – and people dropped coins and bills in the jar as one initiative to raise funds for construction.
Pastor Gladys has prayed for construction and the new structure will be a reality soon. We are spending five days with Gladys and the congregation this month, teaching, visiting a neighbourhood school and participating in services. Gladys’s prayer for Hatico is that the congregation becomes a totally committed congregation. Please join her in her prayer.
We are coming to Tulum – four of us. In fact, by the time you read this we will already be at the Grand Bahia Principe in Tulum, Mexico. Tulum is 99 kilometres from the Cancun airport and we, Lloyd and I and Vicki and Dave plan to spend a week in Tulum.
What am most I looking forward to? There will be Latino music, palm trees, swimming pools (one with a swim up bar). Relax, I’ll be ordering diet coke while relaxing in the sun by the pool. There will be swimming in the Caribbean, in the beautiful clear water with the fish or climbing the concrete rocks and having the water and waves splash over us, viewing the dolphin swim area or seeing the sea turtle area.
Will my favourite be the buffet, or the specialty restaurants like the Tortuga (Turtle) or Las Olas (the Waves) at the beach or Las Caracolas (the Shells) by the smaller pool? I am looking forward to some typical Mexican food like enchiladas or chicken in mole. Will I go on an excursion to the Tulum national park to see the ruins?
I know I will enjoy relaxing, not cooking, not answering the phone. I will enjoy being with my family and I will enjoy being in Mexico again and listening to Spanish. Tulum, Tulum, I come.
Simplicity is a spiritual discipline with both outward and inward aspects and it is impossible to live a life of outward simplicity if there is not simplicity in the spirit. Inward simplicity is a very freeing feeling and comes with letting go of a variety of attachments or concerns and worries. Trying to keep up with the Jones, consumerism, credit card debt, desire for temporary pleasure, trying to please others etc. robs us of the contentment that simplicity can bring us. Simplicity frees the mind to focus more on God. Outward simplicity increases with the giving away of things and the letting go of attachments to toys, electronics and having everything new – new clothes, new car, and new furniture. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also Luke 12:34.”
Less than two years ago, my husband and I moved from a house to an apartment and it was an opportunity to reduce the things we have. I really did not need three sets of dishes nor did Lloyd need 80 + frames for his photography. We have seen others who have spent days and days getting ready to move because of the quantity of things they own. Questions like “What will I do with this? “Where did that come from?” and “Do I really need this?” take away from us our peace. How can I justify several pairs of shoes in my closet when I see a leader in the Dominican church wearing shoes with holes in soles of his only pair of shoes?
Richard Byrd, explorer to the Arctic and Antarctic, wrote,” I am learning that a man can live profoundly without a mass of things.” His lesson is one that today’s society desperately needs. How can we make our lives more simple: giving away things, not buying on credit and learning to rely on God as a God who provides for our needs. One of the blessings of being in the Dominican Republic is experiencing the simplicity of life.
A much loved hymn states, “I love to tell the story of unseen things above.” The story of Jesus and his love is described in the hymn as wonderful, true, a story of love and glory and of a story with power to change lives. Several residents in retirement homes love to hear and sing that hymn and many others and most of them know the story of Jesus. They come with delight to the Sunday afternoon service in the residence. Last week, Esther, Lloyd and I loved being part of telling the story.
The story is found in the first few verses of John 7. Jesus talks about a place he is preparing – a room for us in heaven and he promises to come back and take us there even though he assures us we know how to get there. In Fairwinds Residence where we visited, there are many rooms but not everyone gets in. There is a waiting list, people have to complete papers and make a payment in advance. They can bring some things with them to the residence, a favourite chair, or a painting for the wall. They can bring some clothing and shoes photographs and other personal items.
We can’t bring anything to the room Jesus is preparing for us in heaven. Our place there is a gift and Jesus paid the price; He is the only way to that beautiful residence but not everyone gets in to one of those prepared rooms. We have to accept the gift of eternal life and a room in heaven by accepting Christ as Saviour. What a joy there was for us in singing and telling the story because as the hymn states some have never heard it and the ones who have heard want to hear it again and again.