I was talking with one of my favorite Dominican couples a couple of days ago (I stayed in their village this weekend), and they mentioned to me how hard it is to be an American and a missionary down here in the DR. It’s hard enough just to be a missionary. They said that most missionaries come and return to the States within a year. The longest they really had seen someone stay (besides the missionary couple living in San Jose right now) was a family that stayed for about two years; they had to leave just this past month for the States. What does that say about our country? Does it mean that we really don’t care about the Dominicans? I don’t think so. Or, at least, I hope not. Does it mean that we really don’t think and prepare beforehand before we go? Yes and no. Does it mean that we tend to “go” so often without thinking about how we are affecting the people long term? I think that hits the nail on the head. What does that mean for us and our reputation as Americans?
This past weekend when I stayed in the village, I realized that no matter how hard I try, I cannot get away from the “American-vibe.” Don’t get me wrong, besides the missionary family and a couple other GAP students that were staying with me, there were no other white people around. I saw some packages, though, that told me otherwise. They were given by the US government to the Dominicans, containing rice and beans, which is a staple meal here for every Dominican. Outside of every package contained at least three labels referencing America, saying things like “US Aid,” “From the people of the United States,” and “US International Development.” Do we really need all that on one single package when the main recipient doesn’t even know English? Don’t get me wrong; I love that America is trying to be generous, but I’ve been learning more and more that Americans have a super bad rep here in the DR.
We are known for a lot of things here, like being the most proud country in the world, always thinking that other countries “need” us, and jumping into things before actually knowing how they will affect others. During first semester, I was talking with a worker on a beach. When I mentioned that I was doing ministry here in the DR, he said, “So you think that we need your help?” It’s true; they actually don’t need our help. Sometimes we give out handouts unnecessarily and do things that we don’t need to do so much that the recipients feel inferior instead of valued.
Have you ever heard the phrase that says, “Work smart, not hard?” Well, I think that we could say that in regards to giving and serving. “Give smart, not hard” and “Serve smart, not hard” mean that you shouldn’t give or serve where it doesn’t actually make a difference. Don’t go spreading your money and time out too much that everything you do is done carelessly and without much prayer. God calls us to give and to serve, but sometimes we give and serve so much that we are worn-out, and sometimes we are innocently giving or serving to things that have no meaning or actually are causing more harm than good. When you give and serve smart and not hard, you can feel free to give and serve abundantly in whatever that area is.
In regards to the Dominican and their views on Americans, they see us giving and serving without care for the culture itself. A short term group that recently came down had taught Dominican kids some popular American dancing, not knowing that dancing for the people in the church is seen as questionable for the Church. That most likely caused a stumbling block for the kids and adults to hear the Gospel, because they were so worried that a Christian danced and questioned whether or not they were even Christian. We try to serve, but sometimes we are naïve. I’m not saying that we should not serve, but I’m saying that we should serve smarter. Many Dominicans see Americans as people who come and go, but don’t care. If we want to properly care for them, then the best thing to do is to stay and build a true, meaningful relationship. Only then will they understand you more as an individual person and a creation of God, rather than one of the many Americans in the world trying to “help.” I would venture to say that this concept applies to more than just the Dominican Republic.
-This week is Semana Santa (Holy Week): the week before Easter. This week is the most dangerous week of the year. People get drunk, act crazy, and have some crazy traditions before Easter Sunday. The government sends out a count at the end of the week, tallying how many people died during the week. Let’s just say that Holy Week is not so holy.
- During Semana Santa, a popular dish to make is Habichuelas con Dulce (Sweet bean dessert). Most people from the US do not like it; it has beans with sweet milk, bread, crackers, raisins, and some other things inside. I tried it and it definitely wasn’t my favorite, but I’m glad that I tried!
- I am still free from lice!
- Weekends in San Jose are always my favorite. Every person in San Jose knows my name. I’ll be going down to pick up some food for a friend and I’ll hear two or three groups of people call out my name. I guess it’s not that hard, since I’m one of the regular white people that comes to the village, but it has been fun to be able to meet new people, visit at others’ houses, and get groups of kids to come together and hang out.
- Please continue to pray for my Spanish as I will be translating next week and the week after.
- Please pray that my eyes and ears are open to what the Lord is doing here in the DR and that I will take the opportunities that are given to me to glorify His name.
- Please pray for peace.