Calais Trio Share Faith & Resources in the Dominican Republic

Enjoying her interactions with a group of children in the Dominican Republic is Rachel Burden, who served as an English instructor while in the Caribbean country. Burden was among a trio of travelers from Second Baptist Church that made the journey. (Photo courtesy of Rachel Burden)

By Lura Jackson

 

Even though Maine and the Dominican Republic are separated by approximately 1,800 miles, various groups of Mainers have traveled together to the Caribbean country to offer their help, support, and skillsets to its poverty-stricken people. One particular interfaith group, originally based in churches around the Bar Harbor area, has been going annually to the Colegio Moriah compound in Los Colinas. Three members of the Second Baptist Church in Calais – Rachel Burden and Kathy and Mike Francis – joined the group on their most recent trip, which returned at the end of February. 

This is the second year that Kathy has been able to go. “I always wanted to be a missionary,” Kathy explained, describing how opportunities would come up time and again but for one reason or another they wouldn’t pan out. When the chance to go to the Dominican Republic came around last year, though, it was different, and she was able to go. “When the time is right, God opens the door.” 

For Rachel, the trip represented the possibility to return to the Caribbean, where she had done mission work over ten years ago. She had been wanting to return to the area, but her children were too young for her to leave them for any length of time. Seeing how last year’s experience impacted Kathy was the last bit of encouragement she needed. “It was moving for me to see how much she enjoyed it and appreciated her time with the people there,” Rachel said.

“I went because of Kathy,” Mike said. “I was unsure, but I went, and now I want to go back and help more somehow.”

Upon arriving in the Dominican Republic, the trio were struck by initial appearances. “The first thing I noticed is the closeness of the shacks,” Kathy shared. “You can’t really call them buildings until you get to know the people that live in them.” The areas were divided by barbed wire separations, and the ground was strewn with filth and garbage.  The sight was a distinct contrast with the interior of the compound, which featured basketball courts, a church, and a large school. “Just on the other side of the wall, there are shacks and roosters and so on,” Rachel said, describing the “juxtaposition of [relative] wealth and poverty” as being very arresting.

Perhaps the second thing that was immediately noticed was how happy the people were to see them. “The people were so warm and welcoming,” Rachel said. At the church service the day after they arrived, they were greeted with open-armed hugs by the parishioners. 

The three would stay with their 16 companions within the compound during their visit, working with the locals on various projects and assisting with the efforts of the church and school. Mike, who works with concrete in Maine, offered his skills to the local crew as they built an addition onto the school. Unlike in Maine, nearly every part of the process is done by hand, and the workers lacked tools and suitable attire. One man had only a pair of women’s sneakers to wear – a situation remedied by Mike when he gave him both his work shoes and dress shoes before he left, along with his hammer. 

Kathy helped out in various tasks. One morning, she was on the cleanup crew, picking up nails and sorting “junk” lumber. The nails would be carefully straightened for reuse, and the “junk” lumber would similarly be used in any way that it could. Kathy also worked in the donations area, sorting clothing donations  by gender and size. Each group member was allowed to bring two 50-pound bags and a carry-on. Most of the volunteers chose to bring donations in their 50-pound bags rather than personal belongings.

Kathy and Mike were particularly happy to be reunited with Jonathan, a 19-year old young man that Kathy explains they have “kind of adopted”. Jonathan lost both of his parents in his youth, and when Kathy first met him last year he was sleeping on the floor of a concrete building. The conditions left him with tuberculosis and pneumonia. Kathy and Mike provided him with money for a bed, medical supplies, education, and a little extra money at Christmas time, and now he’s “doing well,” Kathy shared.

Rachel taught English in the school. “That was a little overwhelming,” she said with a laugh. She and another woman were assigned to help out with the English class. When they got there, however, they found out that the English teacher had just quit. “They brought us to the classroom. We had no lesson plan, we had no chalk, we had no papers.” Using the small amount of Spanish that Rachel knew, the pair were able to get through the lesson using charades and creativity. “It gave me a lot of appreciation for teachers in general, but especially in areas that don’t have the resources that we do.”

The lack of resources in the Dominican Republic and the community-mindedness that proliferates around Colegio Moriah fosters a deep sense of connection between the people that live there and their faith, something that was visible to the Maine crew. “Their faith is strong, real strong. That’s all they have there,” Mike said. Rachel concurred, adding, “Since they don’t have anything, they depend on each other.”

Kathy shared her own insight of the level of interpersonal care in the community. “In spite of the poverty, in spite of the living conditions, in spite of the filth you’d see on the side of the road, the children playing in their bare feet are clean,” she said. “Their hair is well taken care of. Their clothes are clean – they aren’t the best clothes in the world, but they are clean. They are clean, despite not having running water.” The realization was striking for her due to her work at a school in Maine, where she has seen children with layers of grime ground in to their feet from neglect. The care put into the children was similarly put into the homes. “Inside their homes, they were as beautiful as they could make them.”

While each of the returning Baptists recognized the joy in seeing God worshiped in another language and another country, their faith was further affected in seeing the similarities that existed between their home and the Dominican Republic. “Every time we met someone and asked if we could pray for them, if they said yes, we would ask what they wanted us to pray for,” Kathy said. “They would always respond with the same thing that I would respond if I were asked: My family, my unsaved loved ones, the safety of my children, the health of my family. It wasn’t for anything material.”

There were some significant contrasts between life in the Dominican Republic and life in the United States, something that was immediately noticeable to Kathy when they returned. “America’s pace is too fast. We don’t have time for relationships because we’re so busy with life here in the United States. It’s very fast.” In the Dominican Republic, electricity would be shut off every evening not long after sundown, prompting Kathy and her husband to share in enjoyable conversations together.

The structure of Colegio Moriah, which was founded in 1998 by Pastor Tanis Derolus and his wife Esther, enables donations from the United States to be requested and distributed by the local church, which Rachel said is an important piece of the equation. “I felt very blessed by their presence. That way, we weren’t American Santa Clauses coming in saying ‘We can solve your problems, we know what you need, we know what’s right.’” Kathy shared a quote that Pastor Tanis spoke to her: “We think about what we need, and we pray. And God sends you.”

Anyone is able to join the group on their mission. “If you have a heart for humanity, and a love in your heart, you should go,” Kathy said. “You don’t need a special talent or to be able to pray out loud. You don’t even have to speak the language.”

If you would like to make a donation to Colegio Moriah to enable children to continue to attend school there or any of its other goals, or to find out about joining a future trip, contact Kathy at 454-7684 or Rachel at 454-3333.