We spent today on the mountain in Santa Elena. While I have loved every day here, this day blessed me beyond measure. Wonderful memories from this day doing God’s work!
Yesterday we went to the store to buy food for several families. I bought food to take to two widows. The two HMM trucks were loaded for a long journey up the mountain. Thankfully the government has been working on the road so the first half of the drive wasn’t as bad as I heard it would be. The scenery was absolutely beautiful. The lush vegetation consists of all types of fruits, vegetables, and seeds provided by God for the people there on the mountain. Everything is natural with plants growing everywhere, not like my garden at home with rows of thoughtfully planned out vegetables. I like their way of doing it much better!
We came to the first home. There lived a mama with her 5 children, including a 15 day old baby boy. The other 4 siblings huddled up together and were very quiet. All of the kids on the mountain were more reserved and shy around us Americanos. One of the little boys is sick with the flu and looked like he felt very bad.
After we set out the food for mama, we waited for the second truck to arrive with rice and meat. A good amount of time passed, and they still had not arrived. Michael sent someone down in our truck to find them. Fifteen minutes later our truck arrived with the team from the second truck. They had broken down, and the truck had an irreparable belt that was crucial to the operation of the vehicle! We continued up the mountain on foot while Michael went to get the truck to the mechanic. Although it was a semi-difficult hike up for this out of shape mama it was very nice to go slow and take it all in. There are things we would have missed along the way had we been in the truck, like the first place HMM held church. God is intentional even in situations that are an inconvenience and uncomfortable for us.
Santa Elena was once the largest provider of coffee beans in the country. They still produce coffee beans but not nearly as much because they have less workers. There are sections of the mountain that have rows and rows of coffee bean plants.
As we were walking up the mountain, a very kind woman invited us in to her back yard to see her flowers. It was a tropical paradise with so many beautiful plants and flowers. We even found a small crab. By that time Michael returned with the working truck. We stuffed 13 Americanos and Dominicans on that Ford Ranger and kept going. We received many laughs from the young children as we drove by.
At the top of the mountain is a two story building that overlooks the island. It is unoccupied so all HMM teams get to go to the second floor and sign their names with charcoal as evidence of their visit. After much effort, I was able to get my phone to cooperate and took a timed group photo of the entire team. The HMM team is incredible… Michael, the beautiful women who cooked for us three times a day, and our translators and protectors. God has called them to an amazing mission here in the DR and Haiti. I am so thankful for every one of them!
On our way back down the mountain we stopped at the rest of the homes to deliver food. When there were groups of children we stopped and had a mini-VBS with chenille cross crafts, coloring sheets, and cookies. I got to love on two precious babies at two of the VBS stops. I love these children… ok, I really just love all kinds of children that want me to hold them!
The first widow I had the privilege of delivering food to was Gladice. She was so thankful for the food, because she is in great need. I told her about my children, and she told me that I don’t look old enough to have 4 children. I thanked her for her kind words. I guess no makeup and your hair in a ponytail is the key to a youthful appearance! Gladice’s husband passed away 25 years ago. I told her about my son, Andrew, who passed away July 14, 2018 at 4.5 days old. We connected over the thought of both of our loved ones being in Heaven waiting for us.
Gladice has nine children with one son who lives with her. I am thankful she is not alone. We took pictures and prayed together. I gave her a salvation bracelet and shared the Gospel with her. I reminded her that this food God has provided is temporary and will not last forever but a relationship with the Lord will last for all eternity. We got ready to leave and hugged about 20 times. She hugged me so tightly, kissed me, and thanked me for being a blessing to her. We both cried as I left. It doesn’t take long for me to get emotionally attached to beautiful, humble people who love the Lord and trust Him with even their very basic needs.
Deuteronomy 15:11 reminded me “For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’”
We continued down the mountain delivering food and loving on children. We stopped at the HMM church for lunch. HMM built a well there at the church. It is 400 feet deep and provides water to all of the people on the mountain. They have no running water so they travel up or down the mountain to the church to fill their buckets with water. They also have these huge rooster fighting cages… oh and the boys here fight their beta fish. No movie theaters so they find other ways to occupy their time!
The last stop we made was to Odetta’s house, if you can call it a house. Yes, it is where she lives but is made from tree limbs, scrap metal, and maybe banana leaves. She was the second widow I got to visit today.
When we walked in she was laying on her bed and was not very responsive. I sat on the bed next to her and stroked her hand as Sanson and Michael asked her questions to gauge how she was doing. She has Parkinson’s so her hands and feet shook constantly. My grandfather, Rara, had Parkinson’s for 10 years before he passed away last year so I have seen first hand what this disease does. There is no coincidence that God led me to Odetta’s home. Her big, beautiful eyes looked at me the same way Rara used to when I sat by his side. It’s a very intense, but happy, stare because you are there with them. Rara had this look many times, especially when he had little to eat or drink.
I told Odetta I had brought food for her. After some time talking to her, Odetta asked when she could have some food and let us sit her up. We gave her cookies and a bottle of ice cold water, which she drank in its entirety before we left. It’s amazing the difference food and water can make. As she ate, she became more responsive. She even gave a little smile in the pictures.
A young woman, Tonita, walked in and began telling us what a blessing the food is. She does her best to care for Odetta along with her many kids, a bedridden father, and a blind uncle. During our conversation, Tonita told us Odetta’s husband died two years ago in Haiti. She told us that they never talk about him and never delivered the bad news to her. She told me that she gets up every morning and gives food to Odetta first. On the days she has very little, Tonita sends her children into the community so someone will give them food. I can imagine there are days she eats very little, because she provides for others before herself. Tonita kept saying over and over how God would reward me for what we were doing, and I kept telling her I am just obeying God by serving others just like she is doing for Odetta. Without Tonita’s sacrificial care, there is a good chance Odetta wouldn’t be alive. She is a beautiful woman with such a caring heart.
It took everything in me to get up from Odetta’s bed and leave the small house. We prayed, hugged, and cried together, and I walked out with a very heavy heart for these two women.
As we drove back and ever since we left Odetta, I have been trying to fight off the desire to ask God why and tell him how unfair this world is. But he already knows all of the needs of this world. That is why he tells Christians to care for widows and orphans, to feed those who are hungry, to love our neighbors as ourselves. There are so many places in the Bible where God gives us his instruction for caring for others.
So, I will continue to remind myself of Matthew 25. The verse says that when the Son of God returns he will sit on his throne and say ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me… Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
Our life on this earth is so short and temporary. It is a mere blip compared to all of eternity we will spend in Heaven. It is guaranteed that we will all experience difficulties in this life whether that is grief, hunger, pain, loss, illness, poverty, and so many other potential afflictions. But Romans 8:28 says “And we know that in ALL things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” He joins his children together in purposeful ways to serve and love each other, to be lights in a dark and fallen world, and to share the Good News with the lost.
I am so thankful God allowed my path to cross with Gladice, Odetta, and Tonita. I pray he will give me an opportunity to serve them again on this earth. God is so very good, and I praise his holy name for this experience in the Dominican Republic!
To learn more about Hispaniola Mountain Ministries (HMM), go to www.gohmm.org. It’s a wonderful organization and a great place to go on a mission trip!