Last week, a few shouts quickly churned into a storm of angry voices outside our house. A mob had gathered, and several young men with make-shift wooden clubs searched urgently for another young man. He was enough like them to be their friend, but had suddenly become the clear enemy when he stole something that morning. From a rooftop they spotted him, and the growing crowd wrapped around the block to trap the culprit between our house and an abandoned building behind us. I could hear the man pleading for his life and crying his innocence as the mob circled around him.
This isn’t the first time that our neighbors have taken up roles as judges, police, and physical disciplinarians. We have seen this 3 other times, and there are worse scenes ending in near death or broken bones on the news. Fearing for the man’s life, I called the police this time, but they never came. Eventually, the crowd dispersed, tempers eased, and the regular sounds of chatter, motorcycles and dominoes returned. The neighbors understood that the police would do nothing when someone robbed them, submitting that many robbers are people sent by the police themselves to steal. They rationalize that it is up to them to protect their families and their stuff. The scenario makes even more sense given that police only make ~US $150/month, where the estimated basic needs of a Dominican family are US $560/month. Out-performing only Nicaragua, Dominican police salaries rank second to last among other Central American countries, with Costa Rica paying the highest at $584/month. From our perspective, we guess that low salaries may complicate strategies to counter all sorts of crime: A living wage is important.
Facilitating Church Reflection
One of our tasks over the last few months has been to help our church´s Santiago leadership reflect on the general health of our community and the state of the church and its responses to the people it serves. It is part of something called “Project Genesis,” where church youth from other Central American and Caribbean countries will be given the opportunity to serve in other churches within our region. Understanding the level of poverty, access to water, education, and the state of our theological training and compassionate ministries has helped to focus not only the leadership’s vision for the district, but provide specific roles and areas of service for the new volunteers, set to come to Santiago for 2 years starting in 2014.
Please pray for our church leadership, that we as well as they would grow personally during this process, so that we can better participate in the healing that our society needs. Pray for new insights, access, finances and progress to amplify theological training for our pastors, which has been identified as an area for growth. Pray for the new volunteers in their financial and education preparations. Though they come from poor countries, they will raise their own funds, which allows their home churches to feel empowered by serving others too, but is challenging!
We know that in church history, there are amazing stories of (however imperfect) Christians who clearly embodied God’s love- for example, William Wilberforce’s persistent and ultimately successful battle to end slavery in England. We also know that the church has impeded messages of love and justice at other times, participating actively or by its inaction in other evils like war or ostracizing the immigrant. Please pray that our church in the DR will continue to communicate God’s love and forgiveness in our specific context, and be bold enough to raise up leaders who could even turn the tides on the various social injustices that present themselves in the very real cry of the alleged robber who was condemned and punished in my back yard last week.
An invitation to teach
Nick and I will both take up teaching roles starting in late August, working with perhaps 12 physical therapy students each during their practical work at a public hospital. This is a next step towards implementation of the new curriculum resulting from 2 years of meetings and upgrades. Please pray for stress relief as we go through the learning curve of being first time professors in a clinical and educational environment that is not the one we grew up in, and that our Spanish would hold up well! (Along with excitement, we feel these feelings too!).
We miss you, and the everyday routines and familiar sports and hobbies that we are coming to realize were a real privilege of the US middle-class culture. We invite you to be aware of the immigrant friends around you when you think of us, as they may feel just as awkward or out of place as we feel at times, and in need of hospitality. Thank you very much for the multiple ways that you support us!
Love, Nick & Laurie