On January 31st, Dispatch Project sent a team of 8 (mostly-) strangers to the city of La Romana in the Dominican Republic. Working in conjunction with Christian Reformed World Missions and Iglesia Cristiana Reformada R.D., our team spent a week working alongside a church family in a Haitian community, finishing the construction of a new church building.
On our first day there—a Sunday morning—we visited and worshipped with the congregation in the rented building that served as their church. The building was small, accommodating only a fraction of their group even when there weren't guests visiting. Our gracious hosts desired that our team sit within the building during the worship service—which meant that a good number of the congregation was displaced and peering through windows to take part in the service.
The new building will provide them with adequate space for the current congregation, as well as room to grow. In addition, the building and the land that it's built on are owned by the church, protecting them from the sometimes-fickle whims of Dominican landlords.
The worship we shared with the congregation was an amazing experience. There's nothing quite like a Haitian worship service to convict a North American of his tendency toward methodical stuffiness in worshipping the Creator of the universe. After worship, we took a tour of the construction site and were surprised to find a good amount of work on the new building done already. The blockwork was nearly complete.
Our team's primary jobs for the week consisted of moving dirt, making rebar cages, building forms, pouring concrete, and building rafters. The tasks weren't difficult, or at least they weren't complicated—though they may have been a little more physical exertion than any of us were accustomed to. We weren't essential to any of the jobs that we did while there, but the more hands the better. Especially when it comes to passing buckets of concrete.
Though our presence there was helpful (when we weren't getting in the way), a message was reiterated multiple times throughout the week: we were not there just to work and sweat and get our hands dirty; we were there to be there. As one of the world's most affluent cultures, it can be a temptation for us to apply money to problems like we would put ointment on a burn. Poverty, disease, natural disaster; stuff some money in an envelope and send it to a relief organization. Problem solved. It would be foolish to ignore that financial resources are a necessary component of projects like this, but what we misunderstand when we reduce the equation to "obstacle + cash = problem solved" is that these situations are not only problems to be solved—these situations involve people. People who are enduring trials that are alien to our daily existence, but trials that are real and ongoing.
From a comfortable distance, from our comfortable envelope-stuffing chairs in our comfortable envelope-stuffing houses, we can hide the uncomfortable reality of the trials of others from view. Our being there denies us that luxury: this world contains real people in really difficult situations. And being there shows them that their concerns mean more to us than sacrificing a fraction of our far-too-expendable incomes. It is our hope that whatever encouragement we provided them by sharing in fellowship and working side by side will last far longer than the financial resources that we donated.
For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, "Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack." — 2 Corinthians 8:13-15 ESV
That encouragement flows both ways. On this project we saw that it wasn't just a group of benevolent first-worlders helping those less fortunate. I think I speak for everyone involved when I say that we left enriched with a perspective on life that we, in our luxury, miss. The joy that the Haitian's faith provides them endures and pervades every moment of their lives, even in situations that we would find hopeless and desperate. We hope that a small slice of our abundant material wealth may serve them, and leave knowing that their abundance of faithful joy has nourished us. We are all thankful to have been part of this project, and are appreciative to the Dispatch Project, Christian Reformed World Missions, and Iglesia Cristiana Reformada R.D. for the opportunity.