Dordt College News

AMOR team works in Dominican Republic

January 25, 2006

Twelve Dordt College students and a pair of staff members used a week of their semester break recently to serve in the Dominican Republic as mission workers on an AMOR (A Mission OutReach) team.

Traveling to the Dominican Republic were Erin Alsum, Alton, IA; Amanda Arkema, Pella, IA; Rebecca Franje, New Sharon, IA; Jennifer McCreery, New Sharon, IA; Brittany Rook, New Westminster, BC; Jessica Roorda, Kitchener, ON; Matthew Sieperda, Wauneta, NE; Sara Top, Maurice, IA; Abby Van Den Top, Doon, IA; Hannah Van Wyk, Sully, IA; Emily Wierenga, Alsip, IL; and Mark Wikkerink, Duncan, BC. Also serving on the team were “Uncle” Ron Rynders (director of career planning and placement) and wife, Karen (Dordt College music department secretary). Dominican Republic

While in the Dominican Republic, the group added a room to the school for use as a cafeteria, cemented a basketball court, put a cement roof on a building, removed a wall between two school buildings and constructed an outside boundary wall. They also cleaned trash from a school yard and played/ interacted with children and residents of the town. The students made a donation to the school, and were happy to accept a $140 cash donation from a couple on their plane, who offered to cover the tourist tax ($10 per person) for the mission group.

“During the first day of work, we started building the wall,” recalls Jessica Roorda. “Most of us had never done this before so we were very much beginners. I will always remember how the Dominicans working with us stopped, and starting laughing so hard at us. The wall was so not straight at all! It took us a while to get it a little straighter … but by the end of the week we had it down pat.”

The newly constructed wall now provides a safety barrier between traffic, pedestrians and the school children, while a wall the AMOR team removed allows children to walk between two school buildings without going into the street to get around it. The new cafeteria at the school makes the former kitchen available for use as a teacher’s work area, while the basketball court meets new government standards for schools. The AMOR volunteers first laid a brick outside border for the court, then filled in broken blocks for the base and finally topped off the basketball court with their hand-made cement.

“Some of these children would have no education, were it not for the work of World Wide Christian Schools and the many workers from Canada and the U.S.,” said Karen Rynders. There are now 5,000 children in 21 schools in the Dominican Republic, a country that is only the size of Rhode Island. At the school where they worked, one group of students attended from 8 a.m.-12 and a second group attended from 2-6 p.m., allowing the school to teach more students, and have a break during the hottest part of the day.

The final cement-laying job was the toughest of the three: the students formed a bucket brigade to tranfer cement mix to the top of a building and finish off a cement roof.

Of course, the trip wasn’t all work: the group had time to check out the beach and visit some historical sites, such as a house where Christopher Colombus's brother lived and a cathedral he attended.

“Our group got incredibly close so no matter what we did, we were always having fun,” said Brittany Rook. “Even if we were at work, we had fun slinging mud at each other, playing games at lunchtime, going for walks around the neighborhood, and eating new foods. We went sightseeing in Old Santa Domingo, shopping in the market and swimming at the beach.” Back at the compound in the evenings, memories of the week revolve around conversations, devotions, and even “little critters invading” their temporary home.

“I think the funniest thing we all remember were the mice that would visit us during the night,” said Amanda Arkema, though it didn’t seem funny at the time. Erin Alsum armed herself with a mop to rescue two roommates cowering on a top bunk bed, while “Uncle Ron” used duct tape on a door bottom to try to keep out the furry night visitors.

Cold showers (from a rainwater storage tank on the roof), bringing your own bucket of water to flush a toilet, and no running water were all were eye openers for Arkema, who had never been outside the country, on a plane, or seen the ocean before.

“The driving was another interesting feat,” remarked Arkema. “The streets are not very straight, and when they are supposed to have three lanes, it ends up being five because the cars squish in beside each other. The roads also contain many potholes, rough spots, and huge speed bumps.” She was most surprised by the many, many motorcycles that weave in and out of traffic, sometimes even going down the wrong side of the road.

“They use their horns just to tell the other people they are there,” recalls Jessica Roorda. “Then when you stop at a red stoplight, people come out to your vehicle to sell you things.

Abby Van Den Top noted that many of the houses that we saw were constructed from old rusty metal, or even old billboards nailed together. She recalls, “One day these little girls gave us some candy, and they were so proud to give us something even though they had so little.”

“I was really impacted by the people, especially the natives we worked with,” said Rebecca Franje. The trip really opened their eyes to the different cultures in the world and how different things are valued differently, said Mark Wikkerink. “We in North America have so much, and we put our emphasis on all the wrong things, such as our houses and our personal goods. All of that should pale in comparison to our real goal of glorifying God.”

The Dominicans’ simpler life style also impressed Brittany Rook, who added, “People weren’t worried about having their car scratched by someone trying to squeeze by. Kids didn’t beg for brand new toys, they found garbage on the side of the roads, and invented a way to make it fun. People were so willing to love and have a good time.”

“The main thing I noticed while in the D.R. was how happy the people there are. They are living in poverty with scarce material possessions, yet they are happy and they love their country. I wish Americans were more like that,” reflected Jen McCreery. McCreery also noted that nice houses were located next to shanties, most “windows” consisting only of bars, and all the buildings with brighter, bolder colors than here in the U.S.

Ron and Karen Rynders noted that the extremely crowded conditions in the city made for constant noise, both day and night. Unrelenting barking dogs, crowing roosters (raised in cages for cock fighting) and the booming bass notes of bouncy Latin rhythms played loudly throughout the entire night, recalls Karen, who was glad she took earphones along to block the noise.

Even on their day at the beach, the “Americanos” were bombarded by people. “They were pulling up chairs and tables for us, recalls McCreery. “Women were taking our ponytails out so they could braid our hair and men were trying to sell us jewelry, paintings, and everything else they carry around in their suitcases.”

Another thing that surprised Amanda Arkema were the open air roadside stands with roasted pigs, as well as freshly slaughtered pigs hung for sale in the markets. Despite that, she found the food to be “amazing,” with lots of rice and beans, fresh pineapple, honeydew, and cantaloupe and chicken.

Making the biggest impressions on the trip were the Dominican people that the AMOR team worked with. Communication with their leader, Yacque (pronounced Jacque) was a challenge at times, but it also made it fun. The group was invited to spend New Year’s Eve at Yacque’s home, with his wife and three children. “We got past the language barrier playing games like UNO, and became very close,” recalls Jen McCreery. “Often Yacque would start singing part of a praise and worship song that he knew in English and when we joined in he would smile his famous smile that reached up to his eyes. His family does not have a lot of money, but he was so happy and told us numerous times how much he loved his country. Yaque made a big impact in my life because he proved that money doesn’t buy happiness, that it’s the love of God that makes you happy.”

Levi was another Dominican that left a big impact. Each day he worked alongside the AMOR team, and when their day was over he returned home to do the job of a full-time pastor. “We all loved Levi and were inspired by him … he showed us what it truly means to be a godly man,” said Brittany Rook.

The Rynders also became acquainted with an eighth grader in the school with seven siblings. His father came over from Haiti to find work and got a job as a night guard at the compound. Each time the father returned to Haiti, he brought back one more of his children, and after eight months the entire family of 10 was moved to their small basement apartment. This man’s wife washed the clothes and bedding for the Dordt group while they were there.

In retrospect, each team member said the mission trip has greatly influenced their lives. “Before this trip, I didn’t have much of a desire to visit other countries and I had no desire whatsoever to live in a different country,” said Emily Wierenga. “I now have a strong desire to see other countries and experience other cultures and other parts of God’s creation … God can use even small actions to make a large impact: that brings great comfort when surrounded by a world in need.”

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