During 2013, clergy and lay people from the Diocese of Georgia took part in three mission trips and three other activities in the Dominican Republic. Summary reports and links to online photo albums from these 2013 events are available below.
Mission Trip Report – January 2013 (El Carreton)
On January 14-21, 2013, a team of 9 people from 3 churches in the Southeastern Convocation (St. Andrews/St. Cyprians Darien, Christ Church St. Marys, Our Savior at Honeycreek) participated in a second mission trip to the village of El Carreton to assist the parish of San Antonio de Padua continue work that began last year on the parish school. In January 2012, the team traveled to El Carreton to complete work on a community high school that had been started several years prior by other churches and left unfinished. The January 2013 trip was a continuation of the work started in 2012.
The importance of a school for the village of El Carreton is paramount. Public school in the Dominican Republic only goes through the 8th grade, and the village of El Carreton has no local options for education beyond 8th grade. Without the parish school from the Episcopal Church, only those residents whose parents can afford tuition and transportation to another town would be able to have an education above middle school. This disparity of education almost assures the continuance of poverty and social injustice.
The school in El Carreton opened for the 2012/2013 year with 39 students of various ages including 1 high school class. The mission trip for 2013 was to complete a minor construction project and make a solid plan for the ongoing work that would continue over the next 5 years. The adventurous crew completed both preparations for the installation of a kitchen and a large mural for an inside hallway in the school. The mural depicted scenes typical of the rural areas of the Dominican Republic with mountains, flowers, palm trees and brightly colored housing, and scenes typical of coastal Georgia with a large oak tree, and owl, marsh, sea turtles and wading birds. Connecting the two “islands” of land was a vast deep ocean complete with whales on both sides meeting in the middle.
The most significant accomplishment of the trip was likely the continuance of the deepening relationship and commitment that the community feels from the consistent support provided by a returning group of missionaries. In this visit in addition to sharing meals together and we learning Spanish from them, and they English from us, we made plans for a bigger, more long term relationship. Our work plan for next year was selected and plans are already underway for the construction of a library and computer lab for 2014. Missionaries interviewed children who are on a scholarship list and in need of financial support to continue their studies at the school so that the mission team can assist is getting scholarships funded for the children who need financial support. Plans were discussed to bring a physician to the village on the next trip in 2014 because the group was saddened to find upon arrival two of the children from the previous year’s visit were no longer there, having died likely due to lack of appropriate medical care and resources.
The ongoing relationship with the village of El Carreton is one that enriches the lives and spirits of all who attend from the United States and those that receive us in the Dominican Republic. We began as strangers unable to speak the same language, and we are now friends whose limited common words do not at all hinder the shared communication we feel when together through united common goals and hearts united in Christ.
Exploration Trip Report – February 2013
The Rev. Tar Drazdowski, along with her husband, Jim, and Julia and Julius Ariail, all from Christ Church Valdosta, were in the Dominican Republic from February 10-16, 2013, to attend a meeting of the board of the Dominican Development Group and to spend a few days at the Episcopal camp and conference center in El Pedregal to explore work options for the mission team to this location sponsored by Christ Church Valdosta from June 15-22, 2013.The board of the Dominican Development Group met in the office building of the Diocese of the Dominican Republic on the evening of February 10th and all day on February 11th. The members heard a report from the Rt. Rev. Julio Holguín, Bishop of the Diocese of the Dominican Republic, and also reports from the board officers and committee chairpersons. On February 12th, the Rev. Drazdowski and the others from Christ Church Valdosta traveled by public bus to Jarabacoa and then by taxi to the village of El Pedregal, the location of the camp and conference center of the Dominican diocese and the work site for the annual mission teams from Valdosta. While they were in El Pedregal, they visited several houses in various states of construction that might be the focus of the June 2013 mission team and also met with local knitters to determine the knitting projects for June 2013. Since their visit coincided with Ash Wednesday, the Rev. Drazdowski and Padre Carlos Santana, the vicar of the local Episcopal Church of the Mount of the Transfiguration, conducted two Ash Wednesday services, one for the children of the Episcopal school and the other for members of the local village community. They left by public bus on February 15th to return to Santo Domingo in preparation for their flight back to Orlando on February 16th.
Encounter in Mission Event Report – April 2013
The Rev. Tar Drazdowski, Chair of the Companion Diocese Commission of the Diocese of Georgia and assistant rector of Christ Church (Valdosta), recently represented the Rt. Rev. Scott Anson Benhase at the first Encounter in Mission, a celebration of ministry sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of the Dominican Republic and held in Santo Domingo from April 12-14, 2013. Julius Ariail, a member of Christ Church, also was there to photograph the event for the Dominican Development Group, a US-based organization that provides substantial financial support to the Dominican church. This event brought together representatives from the Companion Dioceses of the Dominican Republic, the Dominican Development Group, leaders of mission teams from the United States, and the clergy and lay leaders of the Dominican Episcopal church to celebrate 116 years of Anglican ministry in the Dominican Republic and 100 years of membership in the Episcopal Church.
The Encounter event began on April 12 with two days of meetings, presentations, and sharing time that featured such topics as “Building Construction,” “Mission Team Leadership,” “The Sprituality of the Dominican Church,” and “Vacation Bible School.” Most of the clergy of the Dominican Episcopal Church were present on both days, and so there were many opportunities for the mission team veterans to share their team experiences one-on-one with the leaders of the Dominican church. These meetings were held in the buildings and on the grounds of Epiphany Cathedral and the Center for Theological Education, the seminary of the Dominican Episcopal Church.
The closing service for the Encounter in Mission was held in the Olympic Volleyball Stadium in an athletic park in Santo Domingo. All of the Episcopal churches in the Dominican Republic were closed on that day, and church members came in busses to attend the event. Many school children enrolled in the Dominican Episcopal educational institutions also attended, often accompanied by their organization’s flag corps or marching band. The Rt. Rev. Julio C. Holguín, Bishop of the Diocese of the Dominican Republic, was the preacher and celebrant for the grand occasion.
Following the three days of the Encounter event, there were three additional days of opportunities for mission team veterans to visit churches and schools in several areas of the country. The team veterans had often seen only the particular church or school where their teams had worked, and so by participating in these tours they were able to familiarize themselves with other places that they had not previously experienced.
The event was such a success that plans are underway to hold another Encounter in 2015.
Mission Trip Report – June 2013 (El Pedregal)
June 2013 DR Mission Team Report
By Julia Ariail
Posted June 28, 2013
Welcoming smiles and greetings from friends in the village met us at the camp after a 4-hour bus ride from Santo Domingo on Saturday, June 15. The team spread out in three different housing spaces – the dorm, the motel units, and the small guest dorm. At the Saturday night dinner, Padre Carlos welcomed everyone and announced that he was being transferred to Barahona in August. His successor, Padre Alvaro, was present and also welcomed the team. Julius Ariail announced a gift to the school of the beaded bracelets he had commissioned to be made by a village resident in April. Michael Wood donated several packages of notecards made from paintings he did at the camp two years ago. On Sunday the team went to the church service, toured the work sites, and walked through the village with our Dominican friends. Most of us rode to the river park on two chartered busses in the afternoon. We walked on the trails and some swam.
Each day we began with Morning Prayer in the open-air dining hall to the accompaniment of roosters crowing, birds singing, and the Jimenoa river rushing past the camp. Each evening we ended the day with the Compline service. Each team member chose a day to be the officiant or reader. The Rev. Tar frequently reminded the team that mission work is about having servant hearts and open minds to what God is calling us to do. Every day we prayed for the two team members, Jim Ellis Fisher and Susan Henderson, who were unable to join us because of last minute health problems. That beginning and ending grounded us and was instrumental in forming us into a cohesive and cooperative team.
On Monday the construction crew of Jim Drazdowski, Fred Richter, Penny Spivey, Savannah Spivey, Paul Stevenson, John Welch, Casey Wesselman, and Michael Wood with the photographer Julius Ariail set out after breakfast to deconstruct a wooden house in preparation for a new concrete block structure for Moraima and her family. Next door, they also worked to finish the concrete walls and add a roof for Luce and Alphonso and their four children. Working with a Dominican foreman and several village volunteers, the team worked eight hours a day for four days mixing concrete, forming rebar columns, hauling supplies, building walls, painting and staining rafters and roofing tin, applying stucco to an exterior wall, and putting up a roof.
The knitting and crochet team members Julia Ariail, Carol Cowsar, the Rev. Dcn. Sue Gahagan, Julia Timmons, Helen Tucker, Liz Welch and translator Grady Lacy worked with 15 girls ages 8 to 12 in the mornings and 42 women and teens in the afternoons on several projects. The team brought 14 duffle bags of supplies – yarn, patterns, needles, crochet hooks, scissors, measuring tapes, backpacks for the girls, shopping bags for the women, and plastic pencil boxes to hold all the small parts. They created Colombian scarves, purses, knitted cable bracelets, crocheted bead necklaces and earrings, crocheted and knitted flowers. Penny and Savannah Spivey joined the group on Wednesday and Thursday in the afternoon to teach crocheted edging on baby blankets. On Thursday, the team gave each woman a bag of yarn and left two large bags of yarn to be distributed later. Tar+ worked with both the construction team and the knitting team at different times.
On Wednesday afternoon the camp staff set up a market for the sale of knitted and crocheted items as well as the beaded bracelets for the village women to sell. Several members of the team walked to the Jiminoa River below the camp to swim after the afternoon construction work was finished. After supper, we all attended a worship service at the church of the Monte de la Transfiguración and visited several families in the village. The fiesta for the children was the afternoon highlight on Thursday. More than one hundred fifty children came to enjoy a splash party with a swimming pool and several tarps for slip-n-slides. Our team provided popcorn, fruit juice and hot dogs for all. The front lawn of the camp was filled with running children, laughter, water, music, dancing, ball games and fun. The community leaders and owners of the houses we worked on brought food for a dinner Thursday evening. Our team bought 10 pizzas from a local pizza shop as our contribution. There was music and dancing and a performance of cultural dancing by the teenagers. Our team gave gifts to Padre Carlos, his family, to the teenagers who helped us during the week both at the construction site and the knitting classes, to the two families whose houses we worked on, and to the women who organized and helped with the knitting classes. We also announced a gift of 25 scholarships to the school for the next academic year and donated the public address system we brought to use in the knitting classes to the school plus some sports equipment to the camp.
The team rode the chartered bus to Santo Domingo on Friday arriving in the early afternoon. Several team members bought souvenirs, and all went to dinner together. The flight to Orlando arrived on time and team members said goodbye to each other as they left the airport. Our hearts and minds were full of the wonders we had seen in each other and in our Dominican friends.
“May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you, wherever He may send you.
May He guide you through the wilderness, protect you through the storm.
May He bring you home rejoicing at the wonders He has shown you.
May He bring you home rejoicing once again into our doors.”
— Blessing from the Morning Prayer service in the booklets we used during our trip
Mission Trip Report — June 2013 (Mao)
The group that became our Youth Programs mission team for this summer formed slowly over the course of fall 2012 and early spring 2013. The travelers were youth and adults who were willing to take time out of their daily schedules in order to try something unknown, to go where none of them had been before. The team flew from Jacksonville FL to the Dominican Republic on June 24, 2013, and returned to Jacksonville on July 1. While in the Dominican Republic, the team traveled into the mountains in the center of the island to the town of Mao. Once there they were hosted by Santa Maria Llena de Gracia, and we began to settle in to their new surroundings, the town, the hotel, the church itself.
For three days our group assisted with Vacation Bible School. Church members led the program, for some 100 children age 3 through age 16. Our team provided materials and guidance for crafts, diversion during down time, support for the teachers during lessons and more. But more importantly, the youth who traveled to Mao, and the children who welcomed them in Mao loved each other on sight. Many of the travelers from our group patiently submitted to having their hair braided and re-braided. Some allowed themselves to be drawn on with marker, and nearly everyone learned a new and much more involved way of playing “rock-paper-scissors.” They threw Frisbees and blew bubbles together in the mornings, and hugged young children and allowed pictures to be taken with older ones. It was very important to the teenagers who lived in Mao that they have photographs of themselves with the travelers, both one-on-one and in groups.
On Saturday, after VBS had ended, 9 members of the church accompanied the team to the beach near Puerto Plata. They were eager to show them parts of their country they had not yet seen, and so they all rode the “Teleferico,” the cable car ride to the top of the mountain overlooking the town, nearly 3000 feet up, and went to the Amber Museum, and visited the 117 year-old house owned by the Deacon leading the congregation in Mao. The day of rest and play was much needed, and renewed the team for the following day.
On Sunday they worshipped with the host congregation. They saw many of the children from VBS again, and also got to experience the whole community, many of whom they had not met during the week. The experience of worship was, despite the language barrier, truly joyful. Children who were present were given the crafts they had worked on during VBS and their pride in their accomplishments shone through their faces. Leaving Mao that day was hard for everyone, and new friends parted in tears and laughter.
The team traveled back to Santo Domingo, then woke early to go to the airport, to fly home. The traveling portion of the experience ended, but in another sense, the experience continus. Our youth were asked what their favorite part of the trip was, and almost invariably the response was “the kids” or “the children.” In only a few short days, relationships were formed between our youth and our hosts, both adults and children, and also between youth from across the Diocese of Georgia who might never have known each other well. All of those relationships have changed, and will continue to change, lives in ways we cannot begin to guess.
The theme our youth picked for their experience was One World, One Heart, One Song. And whether in the chaos of VBS, or on the beach at Puerto Plata, or gathered together for nightly worship and reflection time, they lived that theme. They grew to a deeper understanding of the truth that we are all One Body in Christ, including not only those who traveled and those who hosted in the Dominican Republic, but also those who stayed at home and supported and enabled their travel. Without the prayers and love of everyone in the Diocese of Georgia, this experience would never have happened, and would not continue to happen. May the grace of God be with us all, as we continue to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Photography Trip Report – September-October 2013
A Report from the Dominican Republic
By Julius Ariail
Posted October 11, 2013
A big “Thank You” to everyone who supported my recent trip to the Dominican Republic with prayers and messages of encouragement. I was there from September 28th until October 8th, and worked in five locations to photograph for the website and other publications of the Dominican Development Group and to visit our friends in El Pedregal, where our June 2013 mission team worked on two houses in addition to knitting/crocheting classes and other projects. In addition to visiting El Pedregal, another highlight was traveling with Ana Maria Quiroz, the medical clinic administrator in El Pedregal, from El Pedregal to the city of San Pedro de Macorís on the southern coast of the Dominican Republic to join up with a medical mission team from South Carolina to work in a small village, Angelina, that was very similar to our mission location of El Pedregal. Another highlight was accompanying the Rt. Rev. Julio C. Holguín, Bishop of the Diocese of the Dominican Republic, on his annual pastoral visitation to a congregation in the village of Las Carreras near the city of Azua. This congregation has been meeting for decades in a back yard or inside a member’s home since they do not have a permanent church building. Two congregations in the Diocese of Georgia, St. Patrick’s Albany and St. Anne’s Tifton, have adopted this project for their mission work, and are in the process of building a church in Las Carreras. After I photographed the Bishop’s visitation, I was able to photograph the current state of their construction site and record a message from Padre Jesús Mosquea, the vicar of this congregation, to send back to the Albany and Tifton congregations for use in planning their 2014 mission trips to this location.
I will report more in detail later about those other projects that I worked on during this trip. For now, I would like to post quickly some before-and-after photographs from the two houses that we worked on in June 2013. I was able to visit both families who live in these houses, and am pleased to be able to report that they are doing well and are extremely happy with their reconstructed houses and are so, so grateful for our work there. One of the family members wrote a message of thanks for me to bring back home, excerpted below:
I am very happy with my house. I mean my family too. Ever will I be grateful to you and the other Americans for helping me to make it my dream…. I hope that you visit here [again, so I can] be with you. I wish that everybody is well, with much love. [Note: original message in Spanish; English translation above is by a teenager, a member of this household]
Below is a sequence of before-and-after photographs of our two project houses. For the sake of convenience, I am going to refer to the two houses by the first names of the homemakers, Moriama and Luz:
When our team left El Pedregal on June 21, another 30-member mission team from Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Westport, Connecticut, arrived in a few days to continue these two projects and prepare the houses for occupancy by the two families. The photographs I have posted here reflect the results of the work of both teams. The Connecticut team also worked on three more houses in the community and conducted Vacation Bible School for the children.