2015 Dominican Republic Mission Trip Report
Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta, Georgia
By Julia and Julius Ariail
Posted on September 23, 2015
The mission team sponsored by Christ Episcopal Church (Valdosta, Georgia) was in the Dominican Republic from June 15-22, 2015. The missioners lived and worked at the Campamento Monte de la Transfiguración in the village of El Pedregal, just outside the city of Jarabacoa. Major activities of the team included the replacement of a wooden frame house with a concrete block house for a family in the village; renovation of an existing house on the grounds of the Episcopal school to be used as a day care center; conducting classes in knitting, crocheting, fabric arts, and sewing; and sponsoring a half-day “splash party” for the village children. The two construction projects were carried out in partnership with the Youth Mission Team from the Diocese of Nebraska, whose members were in the Dominican Republic the week following our team’s visit from June 22-29, 2015. Significant presentations included funds for 70 scholarships for use by students at the K-8 Episcopal school during the 2015-16 academic year, plus another scholarship for use by a student enrolled in a special education program at a school in Jarabacoa; 8 sets of acolyte vestments and 4 sets of altar linens; softball and basketball sports equipment; and five sewing machines. Christ Church’s mission work at the Campamento in the Diocese of the Dominican Republic began in 2001, and so this 2015 trip marked the 15th year of that missional relationship at this location.
The twenty-one members of this team represented six Episcopal dioceses: Atlanta, Central Florida, Dominican Republic, Georgia, Nebraska, and North Carolina. The team members were Julia Ariail (Lake Park, GA); Julius Ariail (Lake Park, GA); Allison Carroll (Statesboro, GA); The Rev. Sonia Clifton (Orlando, FL); Dan Cook, (Orlando, FL); Jim Drazdowski (Sidney, NE); Emily Gibson (Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic); The Rev. Dave Johnson (Valdosta, GA); Grady Lacy (Woodstock, GA); Charlie Nakash (Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic); Eben Nelson (Statesboro, GA); Gavin Nelson (Statesboro, GA); Pepi Nelson (Valdosta, GA); Andrew Nutting (Orlando FL); Bert Power (Woodstock, GA); Bill Querin (Valdosta, GA); Fred Richter (Statesboro, GA); Rylan Smith (Orlando, GA); Paul Stevenson (Valdosta, GA); Mary Stowe (Chapel Hill, NC); and Debby Wunderly (Orlando, FL). Emily Gibson and Charlie Nakash were resident missionaries on the staff of the Diocese of the Dominican Republic, and joined us for this week at the Campamento. Each team member wore a missioner’s cross that was designed and hand-crafted by a former missioner from the Diocese of Alabama, Jim Ellis Fisher. The team members also received missioner lapel pins from the Diocese of the Dominican Republic in recognition of their work.
Most of the team members assembled at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Orlando, Fl, on the evening of June 14, 2015, for supper and a team meeting. Five of the team members were from St. Matthew’s, and their congregation graciously hosted our supper meal in their parish hall. During the team meeting, the members met team leaders Fred Richter and Julius and Julia Ariail, introduced themselves, and received their team t-shirts and instructions for assembling at the Orlando airport on June 15 and then passing through the check-in and security procedures. Julia and Julius assigned a black duffle bag they had packed with supplies needed for our activities at the Campamento, and the team members brought these duffle bags to the airport the next day along with their personal luggage. All airport procedures on June 15 went smoothly with the exception of our flight’s departure, which was delayed about two hours due to mechanical difficulties with the original airplane. We were switched to an alternate airplane, and arrived safely in Santo Domingo.
Once there, we passed through Dominican immigration and security procedures smoothly and then met Karen Carroll and two fellow missioners, Mary Stowe and Emily Gibson, in the airport arrivals area. Karen is a resident missionary on the staff of the Diocese of the Dominican Republic, and is in charge of coordinating logistics for all mission teams coming from the United States. Mary had flown directly from North Carolina earlier on the 15th, and Emily lives in Santo Domingo as a member of Karen’s support office at the Dominican diocesan headquarters and came to the airport with Karen to greet us. Emily was one of our three translators during the week, and the others were our team member, Grady Lacy, and a local village resident, Leidy Rosario.
Karen helped us board our chartered bus, and then we were on the road to El Pedregal. We stopped once for a supper break at the Jacaranda restaurant north of Bonao, and then again about two hours later for our driver to fix a flat tire on our luggage trailer. We arrived at the Campamento around 11:30 p.m. and moved into our rooms on the second floor of the Stevens Dormitory.
During the six days we were at the Campamento, we found our accommodations in the Stevens Dormitory to be very comfortable. There were eight bedrooms, each with four single beds, two bathrooms with shower and toilet, one washstand, and a large ventilation fan. We had adequate hot water in the showers all week. All bedrooms shared a large common room, and that common room opened onto a porch that overlooked the front lawn where we could rest and review the day’s activities. The food served in the Campamento’s dining hall was outstanding. We appreciated the efforts of the kitchen staff, Ángela, Luz, and Tomasina, to prepare such a variety of good food for us all week.
Twenty-one village women and girls arrived for the sewing, knitting, crocheting and crafts classes at 1 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. The women missioners taught classes in three sections. Seven women and girls learned how to use a sewing machine, cut out fabric and sew a skirt. The mission team brought 5 sewing machines which were left at the camp with the priest’s wife, Ángela, at the end of the week. A local seamstress, Belkis, helped teach the women to sew. Seven others learned how to knit or crochet with t-shirt yarn, make custom designed t-shirts, make headbands, flowers and ruffles for shirts and dresses. The third group of seven knitted or crocheted with yarn brought by the group to make scarves, shawls or blankets. Each day the groups traded places to learn a new craft. On the last day the women got to choose which craft they preferred. The women also brought their handmade crafts on the last day and set up a market where the team members could browse and purchase items to take home. Belkis and Ángela planned to hold sewing classes during the year using our donated sewing machines. The team also left lots of yarn, fabric and related supplies to be used during the year.
Charlie Nakash, the resident construction supervisor on the staff of the Diocese of the Dominican Republic, was our liaison between the local construction foremen and Padre Álvaro. The two construction projects were funded jointly by the Christ Church team and the Nebraska Youth team, and each cost US$5,000. An additional US$800 was made available for the supervision of local workers to demolish the wooden house structure, to dig the footers for the new concrete block walls, and to lay the first three rows of blocks for the new house. These funds also paid for the removal of the roof on the house that was to be renovated to serve as a day care center and for demolition of some of the interior walls that were no longer needed. All of these preparation activities took place before the Christ Church team arrived. Once the Christ Church team began work on June 16, the construction workers split into two groups to work on the house and the day care center projects simultaneously. For various reasons related to the timely delivery of building supplies and the complexities of coordination with the local construction crew, work progressed more slowly than the team members had hoped. The same problems also hindered the construction progress of the Nebraska team when they arrived on June 22. Although much work was accomplished by the Georgia and Nebraska team members, neither project was completed by the time the Nebraska team left the Campamento on June 28. However, enough funds had been left in the construction account to pay for local workers to complete both projects later under the supervision of Padre Álvaro. The house was completed on July 23 with a concrete floor, doors, windows, running water in the indoor bathroom and kitchen, electricity, and septic tank connection, and the family moved in from their temporary housing nearby. On August 18, the day care center was completed, again with concrete floor, doors, windows, running water in the two bathrooms, and septic tank connection.
We were pleased to be able to present 69 scholarships for the 2015-2016 academic year for children at the local K-8 Episcopal school. Each scholarship represents US$350 in contributions, which were received from the following Episcopal churches where our current or former mission team members worship: Christ Church, Valdosta GA; Church of the Nativity, Dothan AL; St. Matthew’s, Orlando FL; St. Paul’s, Savannah GA; and Trinity, Statesboro GA. After our team returned home, we received funds for a 70th scholarship that was donated in memory of a recently-deceased family member of one of our missioners, and those funds have also been transmitted to the Diocese of the Dominican Republic for use at the Campamento’s school. In partnership with a former team member, we also made arrangements to fund a scholarship for a village resident who attends a special education school in Jarabacoa. This 71st scholarship includes support for the student’s daily transportation from El Pedregal to Jarabacoa, and the monitoring of his attendance record and progress in his program. These 71 scholarships represent the largest number that our team has ever given, twice as many as in 2014, and we deeply appreciate the generosity of the donors who made them possible.
Our trip was not all work. Recreational activities enjoyed by the team members included a walk to the local swimming hole at the Rio Yaque del Norte, the river that runs below the Campamento’s bluff, about 20 minutes from the Campamento; a shopping trip into Jarabacoa for souvenirs, coffee, and vanilla to take home; a truck ride to a softball game in Jarabacoa; and a walk to the Salto Jimenoa, one of the local waterfalls, about 45 minutes from the Campamento. The team also had two walks through the village of El Pedregal to visit the sites of construction projects for the Christ Church team in earlier years and to visit with the villagers. These walks through the village also included stops at the work sites of other mission teams who had come to the village, both from other Episcopal congregations and from other faith traditions. Other group activities included Morning Prayer after breakfasts, Evening Prayer after suppers, and yoga exercises led by Fred Richter each evening in our dormitory’s common room.
One of the favorite things our team does each year is host a splash party for the village children. With money we donated, Padre Álvaro purchased 8 plastic swimming pools, had them inflated by an electric pump, and arranged with a local water supply company to fill the pools with water. Three tarps served as slip-n-slides for the 200 children who came to the party on Friday morning and stayed until the afternoon. The party was held on the front lawn of the camp on a sunny day as the five palm trees waved in the breeze. We served hot dogs, chips and drinks for lunch, and cake and ice cream for dessert. Recorded music and a DJ entertained the group for hours. Several of the teachers from the school and our missioners helped monitor the merriment and serve food and drink to the children.
On our last night at the Campamento, we enjoyed a fiesta featuring delicious food prepared once again by Ángela, Luz, and Tomasina; music from loudspeakers, dancing, and a fashion show by the women and girls in their new skirts. We presented gifts of team t-shirts and team crosses to the local villagers who helped us with construction, crafts and translating.
On Sunday, June 20, the team worshiped with our village friends at the local Episcopal Church, Iglesia Monte de la Transfiguración. Bill Kunkle, the Executive Director of the Dominican Development Group who had come to greet our team members and to see the results of our construction projects, joined the team for the service. After the service, most of the team loaded up their luggage on the chartered bus and left the Campamento for the drive back to Santo Domingo. Two members, Jim Drazdowski and Charlie Nakash, stayed at the Campamento to work with the Nebraska team that arrived on June 21. There was a lunch stop at the Jacaranda again, and then the team arrived at the Hodelpa Caribe Colonial in Santo Domingo where we were once again greeted by Karen Carroll who helped us check into the hotel. When that check-in process was completed, the team members began to explore the shops, museums, and restaurants in the Colonial Zone in small, informal groups.
On Monday, June 21, the team said goodbye to Mary Stowe in the morning as she headed to the airport for her flight back to North Carolina. Then after a morning of exploration and lunch in the Colonial Zone, the team checked out of the hotel, boarded the chartered bus, and rode to the airport. The flight back to Orlando was smooth and uneventful. Some team members elected to drive to their homes that same night, but others stayed overnight in Orlando to rest before driving home on June 22. Once everyone arrived home safely, the mission trip came to an end.
Team members submitted these reflections for this report:
El Pedregal is changing. Most of the small alleyways among the houses are newly paved with concrete (although still not the main street into the village). There are more solid block houses now, in part thanks to our work and that of many other mission teams, Episcopalian and others. Still far too many tin shacks, future builds for future missionaries. Our accommodations were the best ever, as was the food. The children are still and always have been the highlight of our visits — eager to hold hands, to be carried, to work, to be photographed, and to walk out with us as we explore the village. And they grow up, but still remember us joyfully. The team too was a best ever, kindness, courtesy and love abounding. Many good conversations and lots of laughter. And then there’s the frustration and guilt over our language limitations. We muddle through, with God’s help. Glad to be home, and reflecting on another successful trip.
Seeing our friends in the village from previous years — always a highlight of any mission trip. Another highlight is seeing the families now living in sturdy houses that our team has built over the years, replacing wooden structures without indoor plumbing. And, of course, there’s the Passing of the Peace during the worship service at the local church. How can one experience that and not be moved?
The people of El Pedregal are truly our friends. When we return to their village year after year, they greet us with open arms and joy in their faces. They work as hard as we do to accomplish improvements to their village, church and school. The women and girls seem delighted to learn something new in knitting, sewing and crafts. We share Christ’s love in worship, work and play. They are so grateful. I receive so much more than I give every year.
Each year we take many blessings with us to El Pedregal, and then we return home with even more.
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So much preparation goes on behind the scenes before a mission team arrives. Thanks to our partners in the Diocese of the Dominican Republic — Karen, Charlie, Emily, Patricia Martin, Padre Álvaro and Ángela, camp staff Luz and Tomasina — who make sure we get to our destination, house and feed us, and lay the groundwork for the success of our projects. Thanks to our partner team from Nebraska for months of helping to plan and fund the construction projects and for coordinating our “back to back” trip schedules. Thanks to Bill Kunkle of the DDG for coming to visit us and for helping to see that our projects were finally completed later in the summer. Thanks to the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Orlando for their hospitality in hosting our first team meeting, for feeding us there, and for housing some of the team members. A Special thank-you to our “Home Team” at Christ Episcopal Church who make it possible for our “Go Team” to accomplish so much on every trip.