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My beach view

My beach view

A little bit of Paradise

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I went for the last time (this trip at least) to my “adopted” church. It was harder than I had though it would be. Although I do not speak much Spanish, these people have become my family here. They have loved me. They have translated for me. They have allowed me the privilege of worshiping God with them.

Near the end of the service, the pastor’s wife did something I was not expecting. She asked me to come to the front of the church. She asked the church leaders to come forward and a group of men and women came forward. They laid hands on me and prayed for me. I was undone. They thanked me for worshiping with them. They prayed for my family. They prayed for my trip home.

A benediction in the most wonderful sense of the word.

I was so blessed to have been her. The presence of God is here and, for a month, I got to experience it in my life and I was so richly blessed.

Adios, mi amigos.

Oh, I have a hope, I have a treasure
I have found a place
Where I have no need for my earthly possessions
And my worries just fade away

And when sickness and death are at my door
Trying to steal from me
Oh, they cannot take what I’ve already laid down
At Jesus feet

Matt Hammitt

En La Cruz

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EN la Cruz

Me hirió el pecado fui a Jesús
móstrele mi dolor
perdido herrante vi su luz
bendijome en su amor
Coro:

En la Cruz, en la Cruz
yo primero vi la luz
y las manchas de mi alma yo lavé
fue allí por fe yo vi a Jesús
y siempre feliz con El seré

Venció la muerte con poder
y al cielo se exaltó
confiar en El es mi placer
morir no temo yo

CORO

Aun que el se fue
Solo no estoy
Mando al consolador
Divino Espiritu que hoy
Me da perfecto amor

CORO

Pico Escondido (Hidden Peak)

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When my daughter, Jillian, was in high school she took two missions trips to the Dominican Republic. Her destination was Pico Escondido, a Young Life Camp in the central mountains, sometimes called “The Dominican Alps”.

Jillian has always had fond memories of this place, so I wanted to visit. I contacted Roy Clifford, the camp director. He is from Winston-Salem, but has been living in the Dominican Republic for 14 years.

I went last Saturday for a visit. I just went for the day, so it was a little grueling:

Driver picked me up at 5:15 to go to the bus station
Left at 6 to go to La Vega
Left about 8:30 to Jarabacoa
Motoconcho (motorcycle taxi) to Pico Escondido (the camp I was visiting)
Roy who directs the camp took me to the bus station on his motorcycle
Bus to La Vega
Problem in La Vega – no bus to La Vega for THREE DAYS!
Plan B – Bus to Santiago
Another problem – no bus to Puerto Plata for two days
Then a miracle the ticket agent got me a seat on the 3:30 bus
Problem with the bus, no air conditioning, I feel sort of sick
The one hour trip takes two hours
I’m so tired that I take a taxi (150 pesos) instead of the motorcycle (30 pesos)
FINALLY HOME at 6
Such is travel in the third world!
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This is a view of Jarabacoa, the nearest town, taken from Pico Escondido. It is truly a beautiful and special place.

I arrive about 9:30, earlier than expected. Roy was tied up, so I hung out for a little bit and a young man brought me a cup of coffee.

Roy arrived and gave me a tour. Everything is first rate. Wood and stone buildings hug the hillsides, dorms, dining hall, a fantastic gymnasium and, my favorite, a giant swing that is really high!
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Most of the buildings were built by volunteers. Most of the Dominican kids come here for three or four days. Although it is subsidized, it is still expensive. Hundreds of kids benefit from this place, both in the Summer and year round. In the Summer teams come from the US.

Some of the Dominican kids on staff there get an opportunity to compete for college scholarships. They will have an opportunity. They will be future leaders in the Dominican. Leaders with a heart for the Gospel and heart for this place.
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I understand now why Jillian loves this place. It is beautiful. It is special. And, by being here, having fun, being loved and hearing the Good News, kids are transformed for good and for Eternity.

Pascua en la República Dominicana

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Happy Easter from the Dominican Republic! While I will miss the beautiful Anglican Liturgy, I’m looking forward to Easter at my church. Worship ROCKS every Sunday. Easter??? I can’t imagine.
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I’ve been listening to Easter music for about a week. My favorite Easter hymn? Hands down? Thine Is The Glory. What is not to like? Great words and music by GF Handel? How could it get better?

1. Thine is the glory,
Risen, conquering Son;
Endless is the victory
Thou o’er death hast won.
Angels in bright raiment
Rolled the stone away,
Kept the folded grave clothes
Where Thy body lay.

2. Lo! Jesus meets us,
Risen, from the tomb;
Lovingly He greets us,
Scatters fear and gloom;
Let His church with gladness
Hymns of triumph sing,
For her Lord now liveth;
Death hath lost its sting.

3. No more we doubt Thee,
Glorious Prince of Life!
Life is naught without Thee;
Aid us in our strife;
Make us more than conquerors,
Through Thy deathless love;
Bring us safe through Jordan
With Thy power and love.

Chorus:
Thine is the glory,
Risen, conquering Son;
Endless is the victory
Thou o’er death hast won.

Have an Easter full of BLESSINGS!

A long Good Friday service

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At church last night my pastor told me that there was a service today. My Spanish is not very good, but I thought he said there were services at 9 and 12.

So I arrived at 9. There were a few people there. A woman in a white dress began praying. In Spanish. For an hour. Yes, an hour and, as far as I could tell she was praising God for an hour. Passionately and with great devotion.

Then, lots of singing. LOTS. Here was my favorite:

En la Cruz, en la Cruz
yo primero vi la luz
y las manchas de mi alma yo lavé
fue allí por fe yo vi a Jesús
y siempre feliz con El seré

At the Cross
At the Cross
Where I first saw the light
And the burdens of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith I received my sight
And now I am happy all the day.

Then testimony after testimony by members of the congregation. Words from Scriptures related to Jesus’ passion.

Finally, at the end, we were at the front of the Sanctuary, many were dancing, people were being prayed for. Anointing with oil. This guy was pretty far out of his comfort zone.

We finished at 1:15. Yes, that is over four hours. Yes that is the longest church service I have ever been to.

Bored? Never. Rarely have I seen such sincere and passionate Faith. I was enthralled.

Adios, Puerto Plata

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My time in Puerto Plata is almost done.  I have been here 34 days.  I’m proud of my accomplishments.  I feel like I really know the city.  I have gotten out, met people, done things.  As I told a friend, I’m an “all in” kind of guy.

Living in a city for an extended period of time allows you to experience things that you never could from a casual visit.  The people, the way the streets run, the sights, the smells.

The first time I thought I really knew a city was London.  I was 18 years old and living for a month around the corner from the British Museum.  Although it was 40 years ago, the memories are still with me.  The smell of diesel from the buses that passed outside my apartment.  The big windows on the front of our apartment that we would swing open and sit on the sills and watch the people in Bloomsbury passing by.  Our shower that folded down from the wall.  These memories are the things that shape us and make life “life”.

When my I told my mother that I was going to Puerto Plata, she said what she often says.  “You have always had itchy feet”.  She speaks the truth.  God has given me a great curiosity about the World and it’s people.  It yields its secrets to me and I grow in knowledge.

Puerto Plata is now a part of me.  I have part of it in my person, in my thoughts  and in my memories. Herman Raucher said “life is made up of many comings and goings and for everything that we take with us,we must leave something behind”. I believe that.

So I have compiled two lists to finish this post: things I will miss and things I will not miss. Hope you enjoy!

What I’ll miss

1. Fresh pineapple for $1.00
2. Mango everything – fresh mangoes, mango nectar, mango margaritas
3. Coffee and a croissant at a little café on the beach
4. Walking out my front door in the morning and seeing the fog over Mt. Isabel de Torres
5. Walking along the malecon (the broad esplanade by the sea) in the late evening
6. Drinking a Presidente beer sitting in a tiny beach bar and watching the Atlantic waves
7. Basil cookies
8. Sun-washed days
9. Chino, the man who maintains my apartment who has an ever-present, infectious smile
10. Jacelyn, the young woman who washes my clothes & cleans my apartment
11. Ari, my pastor’s wife who is ALWAYS overflowing with JOY and always greets you with “Dios es bueno”, “God is good”
12. Orange juice that I saw being fresh squeezed
13. Leche con Guayaba
14. Frances and Henry who have helped me at the Meeting Place
15. The French bread with herbs from La Sirena
16. Cheap pistachio ice cream
17. The youthful energy of Cabarete beach
18. The coffee at Cabarete Coffee
19. The Glorious beauty of Paradise island with its fish and coral reef
20. The grilled fresh sea bass at Mr. Luis restaurant
21. Brugal rum that you cannot buy in the States
22. Exploring the city
23. Feeling like this is my city and my neighborhood
24. Saying “Hola, Como Estas” to people on the street and having them actually respond
25. The adventure of the Damahagua Waterfalls
26. My “adopted” church, Templo del Dios Vivientes
27. My friend Victor Manuel who has been very kind to me
28. Roy Clifford and the Young Life camp, Pico Escondido
29. Phil Miller and Servant’s Heart ministry in Sosua
30. Beautiful beaches
31. The women in my neighborhood that sell bananas and avocados every day
32. The young man at the Mini Market around the corner who sells me my water
33. My little back yard swimming pool
34. The abundance of flowers
35. My yard full of tropical plants, flowers and cactus
36. La Parrilla steak house one of my favorite restaurants here
37. Singing in Spanish
38. Speaking Spanish to Wilbur and watching him be confused
39. The vibrancy of the city
40. People watching in Parque Central
41. The sun setting over the ocean, seen from the colonial Fortaleza San Felipe
42. Yucca with onions
43. A whole aisle of hot sauce in the grocery store
44. Fresh, cheap, good avocados
45. Having my morning prayer while watching the sun rise over the ocean
46. Jeffrey, my landlord in Puerto Plata
47. Passion fruit juice
48. Yogurt in cool flavors – mango, papaya, passion fruit
49. The cable car and the awesome view from there of the port of Puerto Plata
50. The Christ statue, stretching his arms out over the city

What I won’t miss:

1. Thieves
2. No car
3. No microwave
4. Being treated rudely in shops because I am an American
5. Pervasive begging
6. Drivers who try to run over you
7. Being charges $3.00 to withdraw from the ATM
8. Motorcycle taxi drives who harass you, yet are never there when you need one
9. Losing electricity
10. High food prices
11. Irregular sidewalks
12. Barking dogs
13. Dogs running loose
14. Traffic
15. Motorcycles coming from nowhere
16. Rice and beans (too many of them)
17. Being propositioned by prostitutes
18. No dishwasher
19. Not being able to drink tap water
20. Seldom having hot water
21. Having to boil water for my dishes
22. Internet network connection errors
23. Having to add money again and again to my phone
24. Expensive beer
25. VERY expensive wine
26. People staring at me
27. Being cramped in the GuaGua bus
28. Having to think every person I have a transaction with wants to rip me off
29. Having to hide my computer
30. Having to buy beers individually
31. Expensive meat
32. Tips automatically added to my bill
33. Waiting FOREVER to cross the street because everyone would run you down in an instant
34. My poor Spanish and difficulty communicating
35. VERY slow restaurant service
36. Waiting 30 minutes for my restaurant check
37. A post office that never delivers mail
38. Hard clothes dried without a dryer
39. No decaf coffee in restaurants
40. Open sewage holes in the sidewalk
41. Trash in the creeks and rivers
42. Feeling lost because of my lack of language
43. Sweating a LOT
44. Being lost, really lost before I found a map
45. Loud, very loud, motorcycles
46. These trucks that buy junk metal that have loudspeakers and scream as the run through the neighborhood
47. Having to always be vigilant
48. Having to keep up with my passport
49. Trying to figure out how much money I am REALLY paying for something
50. Having to walk blocks to throw out my garbage
 

Casa Museo Gregorio Luperon

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Gregorio Luperon is one of the founding fathers of the Dominican Republic. He was born int a poor family in Puerto Plata. From a young age he helped supplement the family income by selling fruits and vegetables. He was very bright, and taught himself many things, including French, by reading books.

His house in Puerto Plata has been converted into a museum.
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It was dedicated in 2011. The Dominican Government spared no expense and everything is first rate. The renovation cost 90 million pesos (about $2.5 million). The house is lovingly restored inside and out – green paint on the outside and wide plank floors inside. The exhibits are first rate, too.
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My guide spoke pretty good English and was able to answer a host of questions.

Luperon helped in the 1860’s. After a 22 year occupation from Haiti (1822 – 1844), it seemed free. But, the president wanted to give the Dominican back to Spain. Luperon was against it and he marshaled troops to fight the Spanish. He won the battle and, for about a year, served as president. He spent the rest of his life in Puerto Plata as a sort of elder statesman.

And the people here revere him for the hero he was!

God’s Glory displayed in Paradise

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Yesterday I took the day off. It is my last week here. Trying to check the things off my list that were “must do”. One is Paradise Island.

Paradise Island is off the coast of the Dominican. It is about an hour and a half west of Puerto Plata where I am staying. That puts it about an hour from the Haitian border.

We went by bus for an hour and a half through the Domincan countryside. Being single, I often travel alone. But, on these tours I always seem to meet interesting people. This trip it was a couple from New Jersey, my age who are recent empty nesters. Here on their first trip together without kids in forever. Cute.

Then we took a speedboat for about 20 minutes to the island. A big sandbar, really. We had three hours there. The main attraction? Snorkeling in the coral reef that surrounds the island. It is a national park. The photo above is from the internet is really what it looks like.

If you have never been snorkeling in a coral reef, my advice? Sell something, buy a ticket and go to one.

They are magical and breathtaking. In the water, surrounded by color, shape and movement, is to be enraptured.

The forms and colors of coral are amazingly diverse. Large, small, yellow, lavender, white, purple, orange, and on and on. Moving reveals part of its mystery but, treading water for a moment and focusing yields more mysteries of the almost microscopic vitality of the reef. Colored fish so small that you can hardly see them. THEIR ecosystem is one small cavity in one piece of coral in this vase expanse. Layer upon layer of life that has not been extinguished.

And the fish. They are incredible. Ever color every size. Hiding in rocks. Swimming in the open seas. I saw a school of fish all black, but edged in blue in blue. Flat, smaller fish, swimming in delightful communal synchrony. Another, body of neon blue, the overlaid with rainbow colors. That was the most fantastic and my favorite.

Once I went out I did not come back in until the boat was about to leave. I was too enraptured. In those hours the Creator spoke to me: ” I made this. It is good. And created for your delight and for my Glory”. What a gift. What a glorious, free, divine revealing.

One of my favorite poems is by Gerard Manly Hopkins. He was a Jesuit Priest who was also was a poet. His poem “Pied Beauty” expresses my experience:

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

I give Glory to God for a glimpse of dappled things, of seemingly endless array, and supremely worthy of Creator praise.

And in the vicissitude of created things His beauty is past change.

Amen.

The Mirabel Sisters – Martyred for Freedom

Mari Teresa Mirabel

Maria Teresa Mirabel

Minerva Mirabel

Minerva Mirabel

Patria Mirabel

Patria Mirabel


Rafael Trujillo was a butcher who ruled with military precision as dictator from 1930 until 1961.

Trujillo hated Puerto Plata. It was the home of many intellectuals and liberal thinkers who were vocal in their criticism. Trujillo hated the city so much that he ordered the port to be filled with cement.

His secret to power was simple. Kill anyone who disagrees with you. During his reign of terror he murdered over 50,000 people. Among those was the Mirabel sisters.

The four sisters grew up on a farm outside of Puerto Plata. Maria Teresa, Minerva, Patria and Dede. They were modern women and they spoke their mind. They were outspoken against Trujillo. Of course for Trujillo, that would not do.

Two of the sisters husbands were put in prison by Trujillo in the old colonial fort in Puerto Plata. Maria Teresa, Minerva and Patria went to visit them. When they left, the three, along with their driver, were brutally murdered. Trujillo’s henchman then threw their bodies off the side of a mountain to try to hide the evidence.

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Today the three sisters are revered in the Dominican Republic for their courage. And their sister Dede, who was not killed has dedicated her life to raising awareness of the sacrifice of her sisters. Even at 89 she is tireless in making the truth known.

This monument stands near the Puerto Plata airport in honor of these brave women.