Missions Trip to Dominican Republic, March 2019

In March 2019, a fourteen-person team from Stone Hill Church went on a short-term missions trip to the Dominican Republic. We were originally planning to go to Haiti, as we had done for the past several years, but in February, the United States State Department issued a travel advisory, telling U.S. citizens not to travel to Haiti, so we had to change our plans. Fortunately for us, our partner organization, the Foundation For Peace (FFP), works in the Dominican Republic as well, and despite the incredibly short notice, was able to organize a successful trip for us to the Dominican Republic during the same week that we were planning to go to Haiti. In addition, several FFP staff members from Haiti traveled to the Dominican Republic to assist our team. We are deeply grateful to FFP for making this trip happen.

Pictured below is our team (plus some of the FFP staff) at the Santo Domingo airport just after we arrived.

FFP’s national director for the Dominican Republic is Kristin Hamner, who has been with FFP for about fourteen years. About five years ago, she inherited some money from her grandfather and felt strongly led by God to purchase a property in El Batey, a village near the town of Bonao in the center of the country. The price was incredibly low because the access road was in dire condition, but the property itself was beautiful, with many fine buildings suitable for hosting teams such as ours. Pictured below is our team sitting in the main room of Kristin's house.

Kristin had pledged to God to transform the community of El Batey for God’s glory. The economy there is not doing so well because it is based on agriculture, which is becoming increasingly less profitable. There are just a few big landowners; most are day laborers who live from hand to mouth.

One of the main projects for the week was to work on building a community center. Pictured below is what the site looked like at the beginning of the week.

The first step was to move the concrete cinder blocks from where they had been dumped from the truck into the worksite.

Mixing concrete and cement was an ongoing task throughout the week. One part of this task was to filter out large pebbles from the sand by shoveling it through a screen with a fine mesh, as you can see below. (In the background you can see a bar, which was run by one of the wealthier people in the community. During most of the week, they played music, which was intended for the patrons, but which we were able to enjoy as well.)

Next, guide strings were stretched across the wall, and cement was laid onto the previous layer of blocks. Below is a picture of the foreman showing us how to lay cement. Unfortunately he was around for only one or two days before he had to leave for the hospital for back surgery.

Positioning the blocks must be done carefully, using a hammer to tap it gently and a level to make sure it is perfectly aligned. To be honest, most of us were not very skilled, and unfortunately, some of the blocks had to be ripped off and re-done because they were not properly positioned the first time.

As the week progressed, the walls got higher, and we had to stand on platforms to reach the top of the growing wall. Wood is a scarce commodity, and the wood that we used was rented.

Another task was cutting rebar. This was a tedious job at first because the hacksaw was dull, but it was amazing how much easier it became after Kristin bought a new hacksaw blade.

Once the walls were high enough, it was time to pour concrete to form pillars between the wall sections. Wood was nailed into place to create a form for the pillars, and then we passed buckets of concrete to pour into the form. The concrete was left to dry overnight, and then the wood was removed. Below you can see two of the finished pillars.

During the week, several of us engaged in various activities with the kids at the village school, including teaching them to use laptop computers that we had brought with us as donations. Education is something that the more forward-thinking of the villagers regard as a key to economic improvement. The Dominican Republic government has various programs that do not seem to exist in Haiti; for example, if you provide a building and educational materials and a minimum number of students, the government will send salaried teachers to your community to teach. Such programs are a good fit for NGOs (non-governmental organizations) like FFP, who can often help with the building and some of the educational materials but have trouble providing teachers.

We also helped sand down and paint the walls of an auxiliary school building that will be used for various activities, including (I believe) serving lunch.

We did not have quite enough paint to finish the job during our visit, but we were still quite pleased with the look of the walls that we did manage to paint.

As mentioned before, road access to El Batey is a problem. Not long ago, they spent a lot of time, money, and effort to build a bridge, but to the villagers’ great dismay, the bridge was destroyed in a storm. It can still be crossed on foot and even by motorcycle, but not by car. The village is considering various plans for rebuilding the bridge, but unfortunately there was nothing we could do about it during the time we were there.

The other access road is by the edge of a stream and under constant threat of destruction due to flooding.

One of our projects was to plant bamboo between the stream and the road, with the hope that the bamboo will take root and stabilize the river bank.

One way in which this trip was busier than most of our previous trips to Haiti was that we had a lot of evening activities. In fact we may have overdone it because we barely had time for devotions and spiritual reflection during the week. We held computer classes as well as small business training. One evening, we met with several leaders in the community, and got to hear their fascinating life stories and the history of El Batey. Also, we worshiped at the local church not just on Sunday but on Friday night, when among other things there was a dedication service for two babies (one Dominican, one Haitian—the Haitian baby is shown below).

Our final day was a bit more relaxed than the others. We began by taking a short hike to a waterfall in a nearby park (Monumento Natural Saltos de Jima).

In the afternoon, we ran some VBS (vacation Bible school) activities for the kids, including handicrafts and a skit based on Shel Silverstein’s story, “The Giving Tree.”

Kristin has a beautiful pool on her property. VBS was rounded off with a pool party for the community. Various toys and games were available for the kids too.

As a parting shot—here is the view from the top of a hill that some of us got up early one morning to climb.

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