Sunday, January 27, 2013

Day 21: A Celebratory Farewell

We danced again tonight at a celebratory dinner honoring our final night in the Dominican Republic.

Ashton Brooks, Annie Pierpoint

The Very Rev. Ashton Brooks, the dean of the seminary who has been away on sick leave for two months, returned yesterday and celebrated the Eucharist this morning. He was there at the party to meet all of us and to thank us for being here.

I wrote this post on Facebook today:

This morning I met a man at church. Most of his family was killed in the Haitian earthquake three years ago. Nine months ago he came to the Dominican Republic looking for work so he can send money to his wife and son back home. He has not yet found a job.

Next I met a man who came to the D.R. from Haiti fifteen years ago. He has been looking all that time for a job and a place to live. He has found neither.

Both men spoke with palpable anger, frustration, and sadness. Both men insisted that they are discriminated against because they are Haitian. I don't doubt it. I imagine that many Dominicans would say, "We don't even have the resources to take care of our own people, let alone those who cross the border. Go home." All people need the same basic things. What happens when there are not enough of those things to go around?

It is truly a tragic situation, and I can't think of a single thing I can do about it. But today, I allowed two men to tell me their stories. I did my best to honor their stories, to withhold any naive advice that might come to mind, and to thank them for telling me about their lives. I can pray for them, and I don't know exactly what that will accomplish, but I will do it anyway because I can't imagine not doing so.

The needs are great, the solutions elusive.
Tonight at dinner a couple folks who had read my post pointed out to me that the church has been doing everything it can to help these two men. I do want to make sure that my telling of their stories doesn’t reflect badly on Epifanía: the church is not just standing by while people suffer.

In one big way, the situation here is exactly the same as the situation in the United States. Helping people is not as easy as giving someone a fish, or even teaching someone how to fish. Teaching someone to fish is not easy. It requires patience, forbearance, and even, sometimes, the ability to say, “I’ve done all I can do and this person still isn’t learning.” In these situations, we must continue to pray, and we must continue to look for opportunities to be of help to a person’s growth in creative ways. I believe that Christians are called to never, ever give up on anyone. This is some of the hardest work people can do.

The other reality, of course, is that of limited resources. Epifanía feeds fifty people a week. That’s not even a drop in the bucket. When there are no government agencies to provide public assistance, the churches’ work is even more important. As I wrote in yesterday’s post, you can help in the Dominican Republic, too. And, of course, there are many places in the world that need our help. We have more to give than we think we do. We can stretch farther than we believe we can.

Thank you so much for following our blog. In the morning we will pack and head to the airport. I probably won’t blog tomorrow because we’ll be en route. But who knows? There may be more blog posts still to come, chronicling our journey and its aftermath. All four of us are required to write a post-trip paper, and those of us who received funding from a certain source are required to write an additional paper that describes how we believe Virginia Theological Seminary will be changed as a result of our pilgrimage. We shall see. And I, for one, am excited to find out!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Day 20: Our final Saturday

What to say about our final Saturday? It was another slow one. Sarah and Annie left for their respective churches in the early afternoon. Kristin and I started gathering thoughts for our final papers. Tonight Kristin, Charlie, Karen and I went out to eat, and we had enough leftovers that lunch tomorrow is covered.

I’ve been working with Charlie Nakash to build a Facebook presence, in English, for the work of the Episcopal Church in the Dominican Republic. You can check it out and like it here. They could always use your donations and your personal involvement! For instance:

- By digging wells and installing filtration systems, we can help stop the spread of disease among the most vulnerable populations.

- By training young people to do construction work, we can equip the next generation to become expert workers.

- By providing sewing machines, we can enable the crafting of fine vestments and altar pieces that can be sold to churches in the United States for decent wages.

You and your church can participate in this important work. You can hold fundraisers, dedicate a portion of your mission budget, or even send teams of pilgrims. In recent years the Episcopal Church has hosted medical teams (there's one here right now), construction teams, and Vacation Bible School teams. Together we can make a difference in many people's lives, not only in the immediate moment, but for generations to come.

I hope this blog has helped raise awareness of this wonderful place and of the great things that are going on here. If you'd like to learn more or make a donation, contact Charlie at He also blogs at

We hear that the dean of the seminary, the Very Rev. Ashton Brooks, has returned from sick leave today and that we might get to meet him tomorrow. Here’s hoping. In the meantime, we're already beginning to pack and look forward to returning home on Monday evening!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Day 19: Good News! I Failed!

by Annie Pierpoint

I’m sure, dear readers, that you have been anxiously awaiting news of the potholes. I am pleased to report that I have been an epic failure at re-paving the roadways of the Dominican Republic. I will leave them just as I found them – ragged, dangerous, and full of trash.

The Annie from January 7th would react to this news with much weeping and gnashing of teeth. She would declare the whole trip a failure because she hadn’t achieved this ridiculous goal and many others. I have not fed all the children, rid the government of all its corruption, memorized every Spanish word, or started a sex-positive feminist revolution. Go figure.

There was no sex-positive revolution in this
Roman Catholic catechism textbook ...
So what have I been up to? What are the deep, poetic conclusions to tie up with a pretty bow and save for future sermons? I dunno. I mean, I’ve been talking to my boyfriend over Skype a lot, which to a perfectionist like me means I’ve been ignoring the Dominican people and not practicing my Spanish. But as Andrew sweetly and gently reminded me, our nightly check-ins afforded me an opportunity to process my experiences. He observed that I have “allowed real transformation” in myself, and ended with: “I don’t know how you would have been able to do anything more than what you have done.”

Be still, my little perfectionist overachiever heart – I think I’ll keep him.

But I digress. The deep, poetic conclusion I’ve reached (with the help of others) is that over the last three weeks I have taken a first step. It’s been more like a first date, actually. My initial interactions with the Dominican Republic were awkward, but we both approached the table with open hearts and we got to know each other a little bit. I would definitely go on a second date.

In other words, beloved Episcopop readers, my grand achievement is that I let in as much of the Dominican Republic as my little heart could handle. And—miracle of miracles—I set aside my own agenda for a little while and listened. As soon as I quit griping about potholes and my privilege, I met wonderful people. I started wondering how I could serve them.

I didn’t master every word of Spanish, resolve socio-economic inequality, start a revolution, or build a hospital. Rather, I have utterly failed to meet my own expectations. Thanks be to God!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Day 18: Bailamos!

Kristin is gaining strength each day from the bug that has really got her. She is markedly better today.

Sarah and I are down to our final Spanish lesson tomorrow. Our maestra Patrícia is trying to get through as much content as she can, but obviously it’ll be up to us to practice once we leave this place. I have been envious of the amount of Spanish my classmates have been able to speak. It has been a disadvantage for me not to have begun quite as far along, but it has still been a great experience and a great way to get over some of the early humps in the learning process. Now I’m struggling to sort through the various verb tenses and memorize my first few irregular verb conjugations.

Tonight Kristin and I made dinner: a chicken-veggie-ginger stir fry with rice. Sarah is working hard to translate into Spanish the sermon she will preach this Sunday. And we’re wrapping up loose ends in preparation to say goodbye on Monday.

Luis brought his laptop to dinner and put on music para bailar! Luis, Annie, Sarah, Juan Pastor, Tati and I traded partners around to the merengue and bachata. The dances are very simple but quite exhausting. We may dance more tomorrow night. Annie wants to teach them some country line dancing. That should be ... interesting!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Day 17: What I'll Miss

by Sarah Saxe

This morning I refilled my vitamin dispenser from the Tupperware container into which I had poured a mix of vitamins before my departure. I hadn’t wanted to pack the individual bottles. I felt excitement at the dwindling number of pills in the pile. It indicated that I would soon be returning home.

(photo by Kristin Saylor, mango-lover extraordinaire)
I haven’t been homesick like this since being an exchange student in Germany in 1977 – so, a long time. I breathed in deeply and imagined being with my family again. As I thought about hot baths, soft-boiled eggs, mashed potatoes and all the other things that I missed about my life in Alexandria, I heard it: the leaden thump of a mango falling to the ground from the 200-year-old mango tree in the courtyard outside our apartment.

Santo Domingo: a very noisy city
I’ll miss going outside in the morning to pick up my breakfast fruit from the ground. That led me to think about the milk. The milk, sold at room temperature, pasteurized and in cartons, is sooo delicious: exceptionally creamy and a little sweet. Then I started thinking about the rooster. In the middle of a congested city of millions, each morning, after I wake up I hear him in the distance. He is not loud enough to have awakened me. Indeed, all the sounds of the city compete with each other to form a kind of white noise that lulls me to sleep each night.

But back to the rooster, my gentle reminder each day that it is indeed time to put on my alb and go to Morning Prayer. I’ll miss the mangos, the milk, the rooster, not to mention the people. As soon as we complete a friendly greeting of ‘Salud’ or ‘Hola’ or ‘Como estas,’ we are friends and we hug. During the peace at church, everyone hugs. It can take half an hour. When you can’t reach someone for a hug, you embrace the other’s forearm with your hand. I’ll miss that.

I’ll also miss worshiping outside at Adolfo’s church in Boca Chica. I’ll miss the fact that inside isn’t really inside because there are no glass window panes. I’ll miss the rotating shutters on the open windows that keep out the sun far better than curtains woulf, but on the other hand they don’t keep out mosquitoes. All of these wonderings have made me realize that I’m not so much homesick for the U.S.A. as I am for my family and friends – my community. I wonder, what would it be like if they were here too?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Day 16: Sacred and Secular Dominican Culture

Vanel gave seconds to the first person who asked and was
suddenly besieged. Lazarus' Basket is a difficult ministry
to witness, let alone to sustain. There is so much need.

Well, this time Kristin is down for the count. She slept most of the day away. We hope she feels better soon!

I myself didn’t feel very well after getting sunburned at the beach yesterday. After Eucharist and the Lazarus’ Basket feeding ministry, I slept some of the morning and rested up.

After lunch and through the afternoon, I helped Charlie Nakash develop a flyer describing his mission work and a Facebook presence for the Episcopal Church in the Dominican Republic. Like it!

Those of us from VTS have opted to lead Evening Prayer all week. Sarah led it today, and I played guitar on a Spanish version of “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.”

Adolfo y Annie
After that our friend Adolfo (a Dominican VTS grad, now a priest here) took Annie and me out to this movie. It was a silly, predictable, slapstick flick, but it was wonderful for two big reasons: (1) it was 100% Dominican, and (2) being the kind of film it was, I didn’t need to understand much Spanish at all to have some idea of what was going on. It was sweet and charming as well, and I recommend it for Spanish learners (not that it’s at all available in the U.S., or even listed on IMDB).

The cinema was located in an opulent mall that included many American chain stores. Annie described it as “a good look at secular Dominican culture.” We ate in the food court before the film, and I finally got to satisfy my craving for Asian food.