The noise awakened me from my awkward slumber. We must be almost there, I thought, my mind still greasing its gears for consciousness. People were jabbering all around my seatmate Deanna and me. Several hundred feet below, lights twinkled and vanished behind us as the airplane jerked and shook, flying over the sleeping city.
We had started our trip apprehensively, but if one looked closely, God was there, working things out and protecting us, leading to not a few sighs of relief. Leaving well after our scheduled time on Friday morning, we drove from the Andrews Academy parking lot to O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. At the airport we were to meet another person joining our mission team. To our dismay, we discovered she had neither a passport nor her birth certificate and the other documents to get to our destination. Just as we began to give up hope, we were informed that she could make an affa davit that would work in place of the other documents. Thanking God for his providential leading and breathing an immense sigh of relief, we traipsed around the airport shops and terminals, trying to find efficient ways to waste time. Our first flight sent us off to Newark, New Jersey. We arrived at sunset and started the Sabbath marvelously, viewing the extraordinary sight from the air, as we were in a holding pattern over the city.
In Newark we had a three hour layover. Some people went to McDonald s for food. Others occupied the pay phones for extended periods of time, calling parents and wives. I temporarily released myself from my job of guarding luggage to call my parents and reassure them that I was safe and sound. When the time came to leave again, we were confronted with a disconcerting situation, but as usual, God saw us through. At the gate there were many people shouting in Spanish and demanding something we couldn t understand. I was standing next to someone with a concerned look on his face who appeared to be wearing a military uniform. He looked as if he spoke both English and Spanish, so I decided to ask what was happening.
"What is all the ruckus about?" I asked him.
"These are a group of people who were supposed to leave twelve hours ago, he replied in a moderate Spanish accent, That flight was full and like two and three people were trying to get on with one ticket. Now all those people without tickets are trying to force the airport people to let them go on this flight. I got bumped from that flight to this one because there were too many people. I hope I get on."
"Hmm," I said, "Is that what all this disturbance is about?"
"Yeah, I think they are also trying to take much more baggage than is allowed for a passenger. They are bringing rice and other things back with them. It s cheaper here you know." he replied.
Now that we were in possession of these comforting tidbits we began to be concerned about boarding the airplane ourselves. Observing the commotion, our hearts began sprouting hopes of sitting next to someone we knew, or at least someone who spoke English.
As we reached the gate, I observed a second interesting situation. One could call it racism I suppose. The people who were pushing and demanding to get on the flight were almost all Hispanics. Our group consisted of fifteen whites and two blacks, and we all looked and acted like average Americans. At the gate, the guards were asking people questions, requesting documents, and in general trying to authenticate who the people were, and who was supposed to be on the plane. When we approached, the guards let us through without asking us any questions at all. Another immense sigh of relief and an example of God s working.
I entered the airplane with mixed feelings: We were off! Finally, actually on our way! But what if I were stuck in a remote seat, far away from anyone in our group, or anyone who spoke English?
Well, actually we weren t quite off yet. I found my seat and soon after sitting down, one of our group, Deanna sat down next to me. We were both very relieved that we were sitting near someone we knew. Two more of our group found their seats across the aisle from us. An old lady sat down next to Deanna. As the plane started backing away from the gate, the lady began having breathing problems. In a flash there were bilingual flight attendants swarming around us. Soon we were headed back to the gate and we saw red ambulance lights flashing outside of the plane. I tried taking a picture through the airplane window by turning off my flash. I don t know how it came out, though, because I lost the film. Paramedics from the ambulance soon joined the fray, armed with oxygen bottles. The old lady began to recover, but then relapsed, so they decided to take her off the plane to a hospital. A new passenger boarded and took the lady s seat. Now we were actually off. Deanna had been to New York the summer previous to this, so she knew where to look for landmarks. Flying off into the dark night sky, we saw the World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty amid the lights of the city. Part way through the five hour flight I fell asleep.
Now, I was groggily coming to life since everyone was getting excited about being so near to our destination.
"Have you ever been to the Dominican Republic before?" my other seatmate asked.
"No, I haven't. I brought this jacket but I don t think I ll need it here, only when I go back." I replied.
"You won t need it, that's for sure!" the native Dominican said laughingly, "The weather is like Florida, only better."
About this time we felt a big bump and settled onto the runway. Realizing we had arrived everyone started cheering. We pulled up to the gate, and my adventure had begun. We all met up inside the terminal and proceeded to the immigration checkpoints. My passport is in two languages, English and French, so the Spanish speaking immigration officers were unable to read it. They stamped my entrance in the exit space and when I left, they recorded my leaving in the entrance space.
Getting our baggage safely was another fear we had. We went down to the baggage claim and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally the belt began to move and the luggage came up from the lower level. While waiting for the luggage, we met a man from the group preceding ours. His group had gotten a grand total of three pieces of their luggage for twenty three people. He was down at the airport checking to see if their luggage had come, like he had every day since their arrival. He told us later how not getting their luggage had turned out to actually be a blessing. Sharing everything among them had given them a special sense of unity. One person in their group had not made a decision regarding Christ in his life yet. That man was the only person in their whole group to get all of one s luggage. The experiences he had of sharing and service influenced him to accept Christ into his life. God chose differently with us, He looked out for our luggage. When we left the airport we were missing only one piece, a sleeping bag, which we got back about four days later.
In the airport were many poor people who would try to carry your baggage for you for hire. They would pick up your bags and start going somewhere, so you had to have an eagle eye on your baggage at all times. We had loaded our luggage and other supplies we brought with us onto carts and were about to move towards the customs area when one of these people grabbed a cart of ours. Marc, a member of our group who was guarding that cart, told him, No, I don t want you to push my cart for me, I m pushing it, and reinforced the message with some Spanish and sign language. The man still grabbed it and pushed it about ten feet in the right direction and expected to get paid. Marc refused to pay him, You pushed it only ten feet and I told you not to! I won t pay you for that. The man was insistent so Marc told him to ask Pastor Yeagly if he wanted any pay. Finding that he wasn t getting anywhere, the man just went off to find something else to do.
The customs people let us through without doing anything more that shaking our boxes filled with cereal and talking a lot. Stepping out into the warm and humid tropical air it hit me with more force than ever before: We were actually here, actually doing a mission trip like I always hear about other people doing. By this time, about 2:30 a.m., I was fully awake. The people from Maranatha had three vehicles to take us to where we would be staying for the rest of the night and the next day. We loaded our bags and boxes into a small flatbed truck that had sides on the bed. There was also a Suburban and what was called a microbus, a kind of glorified minivan that was a little longer and had a whole lot more headroom.
As we drove along, our driver, the man from the group with no luggage, told us about what we were seeing. The night we arrived was a party night for the city. All the political parties would get together and have a party, e.g. in our country it would be like a bunch of the Democrats in Eau Claire getting together and having a party. About this time of morning everything was winding down, but we hoped that we wouldn t get in any trouble. We saw a police truck, like a gray sport utility vehicle, and slowed down some. After we were past, we resumed our previous speed, well over the posted limit.
The police here are kind of funny, our driver told us, I think they must have a limited budget for gas. They always drive around at about 25 miles an hour. At night they just turn on their lights as if to say I m here . They aren t too worried about people speeding. Maybe they don t have enough gas to chase them or something.
Soon we pulled up to a toll booth/checkpoint and sitting beside the entrance to each drivethrough was a man from the army with a rifle. After we passed, the driver told us that they have an obsession with rifles and guns, and that we would see them everywhere we went near security places.
Santo Domingo is situated on a bay harbor so it has a large port. We were driving all the way around the bay to the other side where there was a government camp in a suburb called Haina. This camp was built by the government as a place for government workers to come on vacation near the capitol. It was fairly safe as it had a wall around it and a well guarded gate. About 15 years previous, a hurricane blew through and the government opened the camp for people to protect them during the storm. Obviously it was trashed and had only partially recovered when we arrived. On one side of the camp was an oil refinery. One of its towers burned off excess natural gas, so it became known among us as the flaming marshmallow.
By now in the writing of this piece, I feel I could write almost a whole book about my experiences in the Dominican Republic. I have not even begun to relate them, of the two dogs we found running loose in the camp that we tried to name Salt and Pepper, only to find out near the end of the trip, they were named Jet and Hercules. I have not told of the paid workers at the site, Raffi and Micki. Of Manuel Crespo, the Dominican Maranatha representative who spoke English so well he could almost pass as an American if he wanted, of our two colorful cooks who tried to help me learn Spanish, playing basketball with the members of the church, going to the Bon for ice cream one evening and coming back to find Jeremy teaching the neighborhood children gymnastics, and many other precious memories of the Dominican Republic. God led significantly throughout the whole trip as can be evidenced by incidents in our journey and stay there. I see God work in my life now as then. Sometimes we must wait a few days, or even months or longer to see why God worked things out in a certain way. Every time I have been disappointed in some thing that I wanted to do, God has either given me something better or was actually saving me from a greater disappointment.
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