Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mission trip to the Dominican Republic builds faith, relationships.

Building relationships, heavenly singing, smiling children, and overdosing on chicken are a few of the memories that the 15 volunteers from Chiques Church of the Brethren in Manheim, Pa., will cherish from their June 21-28 mission trip to the Dominican Republic.

Led by Carolyn Fitzkee and Sally White, the group went to build relationships with members of the Church of the Brethren in the DR as they worked together to provide leadership in three Bible schools. In addition, the group worshiped in three congregations--Boca Chica, Carmona, and La Vid Verdadera (The True Vine)--singing in each service. Chiques minister Norm Yeater was called upon to preach at Carmona. He also led devotions and convened debriefing sessions daily.

Additional participants in the trip were Tina and Jennifer Brandt, Kristen and Stephanie Bruckhart, Michelle Ebersole, Carrie Fitzkee, Annie Hickernell, Kent Peters, Travis Pierce, Janice and Diana Shenk, and Rachel Yeater. Church of the Brethren mission coordinators Irvin and Nancy Heishman and daughter, Jenny, hosted the group and accompanied them throughout the week.

On the first Sunday morning in the DR, the group worshiped with the Boca Chica congregation and saw first-hand the new concrete church building that is being constructed there. "Worship was an unbelievable experience," said Fitzkee. "I felt surrounded by God’s love."

The group then co-led a two-day Bible school at Carmona, with members of the San Luis congregation. Fellowship with the San Luis Brethren was another highlight. A simple rural church in a batey northeast of Santo Domingo, Carmona serves mostly Haitian immigrants, who experience poverty and discrimination in the DR. "It was hard to see their poverty, but challenging to see their faith," said Fitzkee.

The Bible school attracted about 100 children. The San Luis Brethren provided Bible teaching, while the Chiques group led crafts and games and put on a puppet show. Extensive advance preparation before the trip helped things go smoothly. The group had met monthly to learn what to expect and prepare for the activities they would lead.

The puppet show was accompanied by a recorded Spanish soundtrack with voices and recording done by members of the Maranatha Multicultural Fellowship in Lancaster, Pa. Crafts included sheep puppets to go with the puppet show on the parable of the lost sheep, braiding bailer twine jump ropes, and coloring. Crayons were a novelty for many of the children, and were left behind for future use. The Brethren World Mission Fund gave a grant of more than $400 to purchase craft and game supplies for the trip.

The Chiques volunteers also helped lead Bible schools for two new church plants in Santo Domingo. One afternoon they led activities for about 50 children on a rented balcony, with members of the Bethel congregation. On the next afternoon, they worked with three busloads of kids (about 130) in an area park, where the La Vid Verdadera congregation held its Vacation Bible School.

"For a lot of our people," said Fitzkee, "the relationships with the children at the Bible schools will be forever in their minds."

Along the way, group members experienced some extreme heat and humidity, rough bus rides, a sea urchin sting, occasional unsettled stomachs, cold showers, and some encounters with "wildlife" in hotel rooms. But these indignities were a small price to pay for an enriching, faith-building experience.

While they came home with fond memories and new friendships, the group left behind items to assist the Dominican churches in their ministry, including puppets and the puppet show soundtrack, a parachute, Frisbees, crayons, and a gift for each of the hosting congregations including a tarp, and Spanish version DVDs of the "Journey in Jesus Way" curriculum. The group also brought along and handed out 433 stuffed sheep that had been donated in memory of a Chiques youth who died in November 2007 in a motorcycle accident.

--Donald Fitzkee is an ordained minister and member of Chiques Church of the Brethren.

Source: 8/13/2008 Newsline

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