CQ…Clark Here

Thoughts and opinions. LOTS of opinions.

Archive for the category “Dominican Republic 2012”

I want to go diving!!!!!! (fini)

Being a scuba fanatic and a NAUI certified Training Assistant, I have worked with a few students, and I have talked with a number of new divers at diving club functions (Blue Dolphin Skin Divers of Erie, PA).  One of the things I often say is that as divers in the Erie, PA area, we are privileged to learn to dive here.  I then ask, “And do you know why?”  Always my answer is that we are privileged to learn to dive here because in Erie, the diving sucks!!  And I’m quite serious.  While I would not consider us diving experts, my wife and I are fairly good divers, and have dived in a number of miserable conditions; cold air, cold water, poor (or literally no) visibility, unexpected currents.  And we dive relatively frequently in similar conditions.

At the other end of the spectrum, I know several people who enjoy diving, but are “warm water divers,” many of whom give themselves this designation.  So this is not a slam, but an observation.  Warm water divers enjoy diving, and often plan vacations around diving.  But they do not dive much at home.  At home, the water is usually cold, the visibility poor, the comfort level less than optimal.  Critters aren’t as spectacular or as colorful as in warmer climates.  A thicker wetsuit or even a drysuit is mandatory.  True story: some time ago, a national magazine, as part of an article, sent a professional diver to Erie to take some photographs.  One of our Instructors went with him, and offered several times to dive with him if he desired a guide.  The professional answered rather bruskly, finally telling our Instructor that he was a professional, and could handle it alone, thank you very much.  Our buddy just waited on the boat, and within about five minutes, the professional fairly exploded to the surface, ripped his regulator from his mouth, and yelled, “You people dive in this $#it???”  Yep, that’s right, we do.  And we like it.

And that’s my point with my somewhat crude statement regarding why we are privileged to learn to dive in Erie.  I believe that diving in cold water and poor visibility conditions (such as our area) produces divers of the highest caliber.  When one can dive in poor conditions, dive well and enjoy it, that diver can dive well and enjoy their dives anywhere in the world.  I am not saying that warm water divers are by definition not as good as us “cold water divers.”  Many warm water divers are fantastic divers, and I am not worthy to tighten their fin straps.  But many are not nearly as good as they could be if they dived “cold.”

Our younger daughter dives, and has been certified for a few years now.  However she gets cold while diving in the Caribbean, let alone around here, and absolutely refuses to dive at home in central Pennsylvania.  Beth and I have a doctor friend that dives warm water only.  He’s a weight lifter, body builder, and is in amazing shape.  But Beth and I could dive circles around our daughter and our friend.  We are more comfortable and more confident in the water than either of them, and that is due not only to the number of dives we have in our log book, but very much because of the conditions in which we have dived.

I have written extensively about the one-week mission trip that Beth and I took to the Dominican Republic.  My posts included my difficulties, as well as how God worked on me through that entire experience.  What I did not write about is how that entire time affected my desire for diving.

This past November, Beth and I went to the Caribbean island of Bonaire, and it was perhaps the best vacation we have ever had.  Prior to the vacation, my Mother had recently passed away after a brief illness, and we had a number of other “life issues” we were dealing with at the same time.  For whatever reason, we really needed that vacation, and our time on Bonaire was absolutely fantastic.  We came home refreshed and healed.

But after we got home, the only thing on my mind was that “stupid mission trip” that I had committed to.  I was so focused on going to the D.R., I enjoyed little to nothing between returning from Bonaire and the start of the mission trip.   I didn’t think about diving, and had no desire to even participate in our annual New Year’s Day dive.   This lack of excitement was entirely out of character for me.  I am usually buzzing with anticipation for the next dive, wherever it may be, and I constantly think and read about diving.  Subscribing to three dive periodicals, I usually can’t wait until the next dive magazine comes to the house, at which point I devour the entire thing.  And through this period of time, I barely touched any of the magazines that did come.

And then the time of the mission trip came, Beth and I experienced it, and we came home.  It was an unbelievable trip and as I said, I have written extensively about it.  But my passion for diving didn’t return.  We went to club meetings, and talked with diving friends, but I didn’t feel the “burn” to get wet.

One of our Divemasters was going on a dive vacation to San Salvador in February, and asked me to cover for him with a Scuba Diver certification class while he was gone.  My role was to assist the Instructor, mostly in the pool, with the students.  The Instructor was Gene Krahe, who was also the Instructor that taught me in my first certification class.  So I guess that makes him my Scuba Dad.  Kind of fits, he is a lot older than me.  Ahem.

Anyhow, I wasn’t even looking forward to helping with the class.  And that worried me a bit.  As nutty as I had been about diving in the past, I couldn’t even work up excitement about getting in the pool.  As much as I have loved diving, I was worried that I wasn’t all that excited about it now.

Until I got in the pool.  It was so good to get wet again.  It was only a pool, but wow, it felt great!  I enjoyed working with the students, and Gene is easy to work with.  He gives great direction, and really connects with his students, so that was fun.  And the diving!  Feeling so fluid, my movements so easy, it was great!  I remembered how much I loved the sport, and the excitement returned.

And this is how the past few posts got started.  Scuba diving is a great sport, and I love sharing it with Beth.  I love being in the water, I love the joy and challenge that it brings.  We have a trip planned later this summer to Grand Cayman, but right now it is only March.  If  Beth and I want to dive before then, we will have to dive here in Erie, where the diving “sucks.”  We can look forward to typical Erie diving in cold water and low viz.  And I want to go diving!!!  Man, I can’t wait.

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Next spiritual adventure coming up…fast!!

Ok, that’s a bit corny, but I couldn’t stop myself.

Our church leaders have called for a week-long fast starting at 6:00 PM on March 1, 2012.  I have fasted in the past, usually for a day, consisting of water only, or water and Gatorade.  Beth and I have also done the “Daniel fast” for ten days during Lent.

The Daniel fast is based on the book of Daniel in the Bible, in which Daniel and his companions ate only vegetables for a time period.  The fast consists of fruits and vegetables only; no meat of any kind, no dairy.  No processed anything.  No processed flour (white or whole), no baked goods.  In my viewpoint, if it tastes good, you can’t have it.  No coffee, no tea, no soda pop, no milk, no juice.  Just water and veggies.  Basically, if it grows in the ground or on a tree it’s fair game.  Other than that, forget it.

Ok, I’m not a big veggie fan, I take multi-vitamins so I don’t have to eat veggies.  So a ten-day period of time in which that’s all I eat is not exactly something I’m going to jump up and down for.  The Daniel fast is basically a vegan diet, only more restrictive.  Joy, rapture.  How about instead of the fast, I just give myself a papercut and squirt some lemon juice on it?  It’d be kind of painful, and over more quickly.  No, I guess not.

This year the fast being planned is a bit different.  It’s only a week-long, so that’s a bit more palatable (pun intended).  However, it’s not precisely like the Daniel fast.  Here’s the schedule for this year’s fast: Day one is water only.  Day two and three is water and juice only, and the juices are 100% fruit juices only, no preservatives or additives of any kind.  Day three through seven are then Daniel fast oriented.

From a physiological perspective, I know that this will be good for me.  There are all kinds of physical benefits from a fast such as this.  Spiritually, I know this will be good for me as well.  Fasting is a spiritual sacrament that is assumed.  In other words, the Bible doesn’t say, “If you fast,” but it says “When you fast.”  It is assumed that we will fast.  Just as it is assumed that we will pray.  The fact is, I don’t fast enough.  Not that I’m looking for a regular schedule for it…

See, I’m not just fond of food, I love food.  I love the taste, the texture, the smell, the appearance, everything.  I’m certainly no gourmand.  I love all kinds of food, from hot dogs and beans to a nice roast and boiled potatoes to squab and asparagus.  If you need to get classified information from me, there’s no need for torture.  Just set me down in front of an “everything” pizza and I’ll tell you anything you want to know.

With that as background, I think it is easy to see that I am not looking forward to this fast.  I am really, really, not looking forward to it.  But.  I have committed.  And I know God is here.  And God uses situations that appear to be unsavory (another food reference, there) in huge ways.  As an example, I seem to remember reading something about a missions trip to the Dominican Republic.  This is going to be interesting.

(for more information on the Daniel fast, check it out at http://danielfast.wordpress.com/)

I am just not used to this (part two).

Sunday morning, I woke up mostly refreshed and ready to go.  Surprisingly, my cold was still present, but only a fraction of what it had been.  I have never had that dramatic a turnaround inside of a few hours before in my life!

We got ready and went to church.  Beth had already told our worship team leader I probably wouldn’t sing, but I felt fine.  I’m a tenor, and often tell people that “real men sing real high.”  I wasn’t confident in my ability to hit the high notes, but one of our singers gave me a few Fisherman’s Friend cough drops.  Between the miraculous health turnaround, and the cough drops, I sang better and “purer” than I have in a while.  Very cool!

Pastor Bob gave his message, dealing mostly with fasting as presented in the New Testimant.  Our Elders have called for a church-wide fast, starting on March 1, and continuing for a week.  I will post on that topic another time.

The message was timely and well done (no shocker there),  and I was called forward to give the presentation.  The report went very well, and I could feel God’s presence.  At the end, I was grateful for God’s blessing, and was told by a number of people that it was well done.

What surprised me was how I felt most of the rest of Sunday.  I have been in theater productions, singing, band, and other “performance” type things most of my life.  And normally afterwards I’m jazzed, elated, high as a kite.  Not this time.  I couldn’t really place it, but if anything I felt like I was unworthy.  I was uncomfortable with the kind words spoken to me after the talk.

T.H. White wrote a book, The Once and Future King, consisting of three stories of King Arthur and his knights.  I am relating the following from memory, but I have not read the book in several years.  Almost every legend of King Arthur contains an affair between Lancelot and Guinevere.  In White’s version, they are in anguish over their affair, as they both love Arthur, but seem compelled to continue the affair.

In the second “book,” a knight falls ill, and it is determined that the only thing that will save him is the touch of a knight that is “pure.”  Lancelot is considered to be the “purest of the pure,” but refuses to touch the sick knight, due to his affair with Guinevere.  The other knights try, but nothing works, and the ill knight is dying.  Lancelot, dreading the moment, steps forward to touch the knight.  He knows that when he does, the truth will out.  But he has no choice; he touches the knight.  And the knight is healed.  The kingdom rejoices, the knights celebrate, but Lancelot, kneeling on the ground, weeps with a broken heart.  He knows the truth, and God, in His graciousness, worked through Lancelot in spite of Lancelot’s deficiencies.

That’s how I felt yesterday.  Totally unworthy, and levelled by God’s grace.  Rather than being elated, I was troubled.  Unworthy.  Low.  Amazed that God can speak through someone like me.  “Oh, wreched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Romans 7:24.  I am just not used to God usingme!

I wasn’t exactly depressed, but I was other than happy.  And I was that way most of the day.

But it occurred to me that I couldn’t stay that way, and Beth encouraged me to not get stuck in that place.  I think that’s the trick.  I think it’s good that I reacted as I did, but if I stayed there it would turn into a blackness that would just drag me back where I was before.  That is the last thing I want at this point in my life.  So, praise God!  If I did well, if I did poorly, God loves me no less and no more, and wants relationship with me.  That is beyond cool.

I am just not used to this (part one).

When we returned from our short-term mission trip to the Dominican Republic, we talked about sharing our experiences at church, First Baptist Church in North East, PA.  I know this is pretty standard fare for people serving in this capacity.  One goes on a mission trip, comes back, and talks about the trip at church.  What isn’t standard is that I was “volunteered” to speak.  I kind of thought we would all speak for a couple of minutes, but was unanimously (minus one) voted down.  It was decided that I would speak for the group.  Lovely.

Our pastor, Bob Klecan, agreed that a presentation would be appropriate, and he figured ten minutes would be a good time for the report.  He scheduled me to speak yesterday, February 19.  I wasn’t too worried about it, I write fairly well, and I belong to Noon-Time Toastmasters in Erie, PA.  So I was comfortably confident I could turn out something coherent and present it in an acceptable fashion.  This isn’t to brag, I’m just saying that the basic skills required were not a huge concern.  I just wanted to honor God with what I did.

Through the week I worked on it, and as of Saturday I had about four minutes, thirty-eight seconds.  Wow!  Expanding this would not be difficult, I was happy to add stuff that I had been afraid would not fit.  Beth made a couple of suggestions which I incorporated, and I got the talk ready to go.  I made a few fine-tuning changes later on Saturday, and even Sunday morning until just before service started.  I prayed about it, Beth prayed about it, and we prayed about it together.  I was confident that I would at least present it ok, and not embarrass myself.  Good enough for me.

I have been fighting a cold for a week or so, but getting better.  I did not think that would be a factor.  However, on Saturday I sneezed for about five minutes straight.  When I was done sneezing, my nose became a faucet and my sinuses were completely clogged.  Beth and I serve on the worship team at church, with Beth being one of the guitarists, and I am one of the singers.  With the unbelievably nasty cold hitting like a blizzard (uh, flood?), I was doubtful I could sing, and was concerned about my ability to talk on Sunday

The cold hit me mid-morning Saturday, just before I started working on the talk.  So, I did what I would expect anyone in that position to do.  I took my laptop, got a cup of coffee, and headed out to our unattached, unheated garage to work on the missions report.  One might ask why in the world I would do that?  Well, the answer is that I had determined to smoke one of the Dominican cigars I brought back while working on the report.  And I’m not permitted to smoke my cigars in the house.  So, I was left with no choice but to work in the cold, cruel wastes of northwestern Pennsylvania, sheltered only by an unheated garage, and with a nasty cold no less!  See how cruel my wife can be?  (Kidding, honey!!)

In any event, I was fairly calm about the whole thing, cold and all.  We went to bed Saturday night, and I prayed (and we prayed) that God would take away the cold for Sunday morning.  Vitamin C, zinc, echinacea tea, NyQuil, and lights out.  Interestingly, Saturday night I wound up doing an all-nighter; I’m at the age where that means I don’t have to get up even once to use the bathroom.

Maybe I’m just easily amused.

On Sunday afternoon, they described the various jobs we could do.  I wound up working for the medical team, and volunteered for crowd control.  It fit in well with my background and experience, and I did pretty well with it, too.  I’m a pretty big guy (six-foot three, 240 lbs.), and John figured it wasn’t that I was talented, it’s just that I take up so much room in the doorway, no one could get around me even if they wanted to.  Real funny, John.

Anyhow, on Monday The Medical team set up in a small church, and we established the entrance and exit points.  I got myself set up, and was on my way to getting a rhythm going.  Debbie had written out a few phrases for me in Spanish that were quite useful, such as espera aqui (wait here).  She also taught me “basta,” (enough) which she laughingly called a magic word.

As Monday was running, an older guy came along and saw the crowd waiting to get in to see a doctor.  He started yelling at the crowd, and was pretty loud and angry.  This continued for a couple of minutes, and some in the crowd turned and looked at me and made a circle around their ear with their finger.  I guess that’s a kind of international motion for “nuts.”  This old guy saw them doing that, and in addition to yelling began using the same motion, and pointing in our direction.  I can’t be positive, but I’m pretty sure he was either saying that they were nuts for going in to see these foreign doctors, or else he was saying everyone inside were crazy and if you’re smart, you’ll stay away from them.  Either way, he kept at it for probably five minutes or so.  I finally got tired of listening to him, and caught his eye, and yelled at him, “BASTA!!”  Holy smoke, it is a magic word!  He shut up like someone flipped a switch.  He stood there a second, then turned and walked away, turning and yelling as he went.  Wow, that was kind of cool.

One of the things they wanted us to do at MGM was to go to a different local church almost every evening.  Very good experience, very interesting, uplifting, and educational.  Since she had first gone to the D.R., Beth had talked about one of the churches she attended, the “cowboy church.”  She was really looking forward to going back, and hoped that we would indeed go to the “cowboy church” when we were there.  Sure enough, one evening we were scheduled to do just that.  We dressed appropriately, got in the cattle trucks, and away we went.  It was about a half-hour, maybe a bit more one way on back roads and multiple turns.

About two-thirds of the way in, Beth leans over to me, and says, “Just so you’re aware, this is a pretty Pentecostal church.  Last time there were people whirling and dancing, and one woman kind of hysterically crying.”  Oh, be still my beating heart!  I believe in the worship gifts of the Holy Spirit, but I am much more comfortable worshiping in other ways.  And really, Beth, you couldn’t tell me this a half-hour ago?  I’m kind of stuck now, I’d never find my way back even if I did try to get home from here.  Great.

Once we got there and were unloading, I asked Beth, “So, what was it that you liked about the service here?”  Beth’s reply?  “Oh, I didn’t like the service at all.  I just liked the ride out.”  In all fairness, the ride was truly spectacular.  The scenery, the stars.  Unbelievable.  Orion was right overhead, and you could almost count the “seven sisters” in the Pleiades.  I truly loved the ride.  And I truly love my wife.  But at that particular moment…

I actually loved the truck rides.  That is one of the plethora of things I didn’t want to do before the trip, but even rides of an hour and twenty minutes were fine.  Just another pleasant surprise.

I remember on one ride, we went over a rather substantial river.  Not an uncommon occurrence, and often there was on either side of the bridge three or four crumbling remains of old bridges.  Apparently, when a bridge is destroyed by a hurricane, instead of rebuilding the old bridge, they just build a new one and re-route the road a hundred feet or so.  Not sure why, but there it is.

Anyhow, on this one trip, as we went over the river I leaned over to John and said that I wouldn’t mind scuba diving that river.  John said, “Um, from what I’ve heard, there are parasites in the rivers here that look for, uh, ‘crevices’ to live in and they do bad things.”  What??  I think I’ll re-think that position.  Nasty parasites.  Leave my crevices alone!

It was on another truck ride that I had my finest moment.  My sense of humor is considered by some to be, uh, “juvenile.”  I prefer to think of it as “finely tuned.”  Anyhow, potty humor and bodily functions are nearly always funny, and this trip was no exception.

We were on the way home from a fairly distant village, and I was in a good mood.  The temperature was warm and the wind as we stood in the back of the truck felt great.  I had a full water bottle, and realized that this was a great time for a prank.  I unscrewed the top, and let go with a huge fake sneeze while simultaneously snapping the water bottle up into the breeze.  John was covered in water, and having seen what I did, laughed and said what a shame that his water bottle was empty.  Unfortunately for me, the nurses behind John didn’t know it was a prank and thought I had sneezed all over everyone in the truck.  It wasn’t until the next day that I found out their mistaken impression, and had to explain myself.  I felt kind of bad, but is it wrong that I couldn’t stop laughing?  I also had to explain myself to one of the doctors that thought I snotted all over her, too.  She kind of saw the humor in the situation, but I guess the nurses and her don’t have as finely tuned a sense of humor as I do…

Not just solemn lessons learned.

This has been a very interesting journey.  On this blog  site, I have chronicled my frustrations, my reservations, my anger at going on a short-term missions trip to the Dominican Republic.  And I have posted that much to my surprise and gratitude, it was a fantastic trip.

But in reading my posts about the trip, it might seem like this was just a solemn, pious, boring trip.  And it was anything but that.  I haven’t laughed that hard or that often in a great while, and my wife Beth said the same thing.  Of course, some of the stuff wasn’t funny to me except in retrospect, and I was so cranky about the whole thing that the laughter didn’t start until at least Tuesday or Wednesday, but that’s ok, I’m a bit slow sometimes.

It started on Sunday.  Saturday night when we arrived, we were told some of the rules, with a full orientation to be given on Saturday at 3:00 PM.  One of the things we were told right up front is that the septic systems in the D.R. cannot handle toilet paper, and they have a strict rule about not putting used toilet tissue in the toilet and flushing it.  We had to put it in waste containers beside the toilet.  In fact, our friend Jen told the entire group that if you forget and put the tissue in the toilet, “Don’t flush.  Go fishing.”  Hardy-har.  Real funny.  Especially since I forgot (just once).  Any idea how gross it is to have to retrieve such an item and put it in the waste container?  *Sigh*

At the Sunday meeting, we were introduced to the various areas available for us to volunteer our time during the week.  I had no idea what I was going to do, but at least I would be with one of my teammates from our church.  I was not real comfortable being in that place with a bunch of people I didn’t know, and took comfort in knowing I would be around at least one of the other four from home.

I am not a handyman.  I’m not too bad at home projects big or small, but I don’t enjoy them.  And (speaking in my attitude at the beginning of the week) if I had to go on this stupid trip I’ll be hanged if I do anything that smacks of handy work.  So when they said they had light construction and painting, I was able to rule them out in about a nano second.  Beth, my lovely, supportive, wonderful wife, who I held tighter on that trip than Linus held his security blanket, pipes up in a chirpy, cheerful voice, “I’m gonna paint!”  Say what?  Great, just great.  One down, but I have three to go.  Out of the remaining three, I’m fairly sure I’ll be with someone from home on one of the groups.  Vacation Bible School (VBS) for the kids in the village?  Not likely, before the end of the week, I’ll likely wind up in a Dominican jail, and wouldn’t that be just lovely?  Steph decided that was for her.  Two down, two to go.

Then there’s the prayer team, which went into the villages with the medical, dental, and optical teams (and VBS).  Ok, I pray frequently, but walking around asking strangers to pray wouldn’t likely happen at home, let alone in a place that, as we all know, I was not real thrilled to be at in the first place.  Debbie, John’s wife, decided to go with the prayer team.  Three down.  Now I’m getting nervous.

I asked John what he thought he might do, and he said he was thinking about going with the medical team.  Whew!  That’s what I was thinking, so now I’m a bit relieved.  Wow, I was worried a bit there, God, thanks that John’s going medical with me.  John and I went and sat down, and listened to the presentation by the medical team leader.  After, oh, maybe five minutes, John leans over and says, “I’m gonna go see what the prayer team’s gonna do.”  Are you kidding me??!!?  Real good, God, way to maneuver me into a position of maximum discomfort.  Was that really necessary?  Well, yeah, I guess in retrospect it kind of was.  And I have posted on what God did with it.  I can kind of giggle about it now that I’m on this side of the situation, but I gotta tell you, I was less than happy at the time.

John often wound up riding on the same cattle truck that I did, since the prayer team travelled with the medical team.  So I did have the comfort of a friend nearby, at least for the ride out and back.  But after he left me sitting on the bench, I shoulda heaved him over the side.

…more to come…

Friends (part two).

When we got to the Dominican Republic on Saturday, January 28, we got our bags and went to the parking lot where they had a cattle truck waiting for our bags, and a school bus for us to ride to the Meeting God in Missions facilities.  I think Beth told me that the truck was one that we would likely be riding on that week.   Remember, at this point I was still very much unhappy with this whole concept.  So here I am in a country I don’t want to be in, waiting in a parking lot and loading my luggage in a truck that really don’t want to be riding in for an entire week, getting on a school bus that I don’t want to ride in to go to a place that I don’t want to have anything to do with.

The driver was a rather big guy that didn’t smile at all.  We sat in about the second or third seat, and I had a real good view of him in the mirror above his head.  It seemed like his eyes were at half-mast for most of the trip.  At this point in our adventure, I am not impressed.

Later on, I learned his name is Victor, and he drove for us quite a bit through the week.  He didn’t seem overly friendly, and as I loosened up, I just kind of figured he simply wasn’t real outgoing, and let it go at that.  Maybe around Wednesday, I saw him smiling and laughing at something, and remember being a bit surprised.

While travelling, I made a couple of jokes with him as he was driving, usually on a difficult stretch of road.  I asked Beth how to say “go faster” in Spanish, and would holler it out to him.  He looked back in the mirror kind of surprised, I guess, that someone would be talking to him, and when I told him to “go faster,” his eyes got real wide, and he kind of smiled and shook his head.  Well, well.  I got to where I liked Victor quite a bit.

At the end of the week, Beth and I sorted our clothes, which to take home, and which to leave (we had decided before leaving home to donate what we could before we left).  I’m a fairly big guy, and in talking with Brian, I realized that there aren’t very many Dominicans or Haitians that could possibly wear my clothes.  It’d be more likely that a family could get a couple of my shirts and make a tent.

In any event, one of the guys I thought of was Victor.  He’s a big guy, too.  I had an Edinboro t-shirt, so I gave it to him at the end of the week.  Makes a great photo.

Braulio was one of the drivers, and it seemed like he was one of the senior drivers there.  He drove when Beth was in the D.R. a couple of years ago, and she really enjoyed riding the trucks with him at the wheel.  He also is a big guy, easy-going, and has a good time with the people at MGM.  Just a lot of fun.

Tito is the brother of Meirka, a Dominican woman who Beth connected with last time.  Tito is really athletic and muscular; you should see him swing a ball bat.  He was kind of the door guard, making sure that unauthorized people didn’t get in, and that the gates were locked/unlocked at the appropriate times.  I had a chance to sit and talk (kind of) with him a couple of times, and really, really got to enjoy being around him.

I was honored to give a couple of shirts to Braulio.  Tito got my suitcase.

I know that it could look like the “rich” American giving cast-offs to the “little people.”  Yep, I am an American.  Yep, by D.R. standards I’m probably wealthy.  Yep, I gave from my surplus.  But in my case, I was honored to give good stuff to people who I considered to be my friends before I decided to give them anything.  I refuse to apologize for where I happened to be born, and I like to help my friends wherever I can.  And thanks to God’s mercy and grace, I was able to serve for a short time in the Dominican Republic.  I was surprised to become friends with a few of the Dominicans with which I came into contact, and I was pleased to give them items that they could find useful.  And I am the richer for all that.

Friends (part one).

We were fortunate that when we went down to the Dominican Republic, we were able to stay with some friends of ours that are full-timers with Meeting God in Missions from our Church.  Brian and Jen Heinrich have been with MGM for a year or so, and we haven’t had a chance to spend time with them for quite a while.  Actually, we didn’t have much of a chance to do that last week.  They were busy doing their jobs, and we were busy doing our stuff with MGM for the week.  But it was nice to grab a few minutes here or there to talk with them.  It was nice to get to know their kids a bit better, too.  Their oldest daughter, Jamie, is a really sweet kid, and it was pretty cool to get to see her moving in and out with the people down there, both DR nationals and visitors from the ‘States.  It was also neat to see their son Elliot running around, too.  He’s seven, and still a kid.  he has a bit of a hard time with the Dominican kids, and hung around with the visitors a lot.  I like him.

It was also very interesting to meet new friends, too.  There was one young man who went out with us every day and helped translate between the staff and the Haitians.  His English wasn’t great, but he worked hard at helping.

Through the week I had taken several of those packaged peanut butter/cracker  snacks to hand out to kids or to anyone I felt “led” to give them to.  I also took Kashi bars and peanuts for me to eat.  No lunch, so I would grab a handful of peanuts when I felt like I needed something.  I would usually eat one pack of the peanut butter crackers and a Kashi bar through the day, too.

On Monday, I had been handing out some of the peanut butter crackers, and I thought it time to open one for me.  I looked over, and Tommy was sitting kind of between helping.  I went over and gave him one of the peanut butter cracker packs to eat, and he seemed to appreciate it.  Through the week, we made a habit of this, when I ate one for me, I gave him one, too.  It only took a day to start to feel a bit of bonding with him.

I noticed a lot of the other young interpreters were wearing ball caps.  But not Tommy.   He was “capless,” with his hair just running wild.  I had taken a cap to wear if I needed it, but found I didn’t need a cap, so I just kept it in my backpack.  I considered giving it to Tommy at the end of the week, kind of a “grand going away” present.  But by Wednesday, I felt prompted so strongly (actually I felt like I was being squished, the feeling was so strong) to give Tommy the cap, that I did just that.  You would have thought I just handed him the keys to a new Lexus.  He put it on his head, but it was sized for me, so it kind of looked like a shopping bag would on me.  But the next day, he came in wearing the cap, and looking proud.  I was, too, a bit.  My new friend Tommy.

At the end of the week, he came into the dining area, and handed me a note.  I will type here what the contents were, and as they are in the note.

“Mr: Clark Peter

I hope God bless you greatly going to find a nice week here in Hato Mayor.  For me was a nice Pleasure to share with you During this week and Establish a Friendship much appreciate that.  You know someone special treat others will back here and I hope that we can see a lot more time.  For you and your wife blessings and other family blessings much… Thank you for the attention that you gave me during.  Not at work never forget you for the cap.  God fill you and your rich blessings, barns be filled.   God will save you and yours.  Te Quiero Amigo!!!”

I love you too, Tommy.  You touched my heart.

The enemy is alive and well on planet earth…

I am of the persuasion that once “saved,” always “saved.”  That is, once one comes to a real understanding and acceptance of God‘s plan for salvation through the finished work of Jesus Christ, one can not lose that salvation.  I believe that even if someone saved falls into a worldly lifestyle, when they die they will enter heaven, even if their clothes “smell like smoke.”  They have attained salvation, but just barely.

I am not looking for debate on this subject, nor will I entertain debate on this right now.  I am offering that as a backdrop to say the following.  I believe that Satan recognizes that he cannot claim someone saved by God’s grace.  So his efforts in our lives aren’t, I think,  intended to re-claim a soul; he cannot do that.  His desire is to make the Christian ineffective.  If I, as a Christian, am living a life that is not vibrant and Christ-centered, I am nearly useless for furthering God’s designs on those around me in my life.  And that is pleasing to Satan.

On Saturday, February 4, we came back from the Dominican Republic from a short-term missions trip.  The trip was unbelievably fantastic, and God reached me in several wonderful and unexpected ways.  We had been warned that Satan would attack when we returned to the ‘States, and I kind of already figured that out myself.  But it was good to be reminded.  Because Satan didn’t waste any time, he got right to it with me.

Beth and I live in a small town outside Erie, Pennsylvania.  To get to the D.R., we drove to Buffalo, NY, and flew to JFK in New York City, then to the D.R., and the reverse to get home.  The road to Buffalo from Erie is nearly a straight shot.  You just get on Interstate 90 and head east for a while.  Easy.  As is the reverse.  But not, apparently, for me.

I have been to Buffalo, NY, multiple times in the past few years, travelling into Canada, travelling to the Niagara River for a drift dive, whatever.  The route home is the same each time, and I know the route fairly well.  However, on Saturday we got back from the D.R., I got the truck, got back to the airport, and loaded up.  Beth and I were satisfied, content.  I was looking forward to the ride home, just being easy with Beth and talking about the past week.  And as we started for home, I somehow (I have no idea how) missed the turn to get on I90, and wound up in downtown Buffalo.  Anger!  Frustration!  Bad words!  And I hadn’t been back on American soil for more than, what, half an hour?  We quickly got back on track and things settled down, but thus it started (clarification: the route error was maybe Satan’s, the reaction mine).

Beth and I missed church on Sunday, and spent the day trying to catch up on rest.  I also took Monday off work for the same purpose.  Through much of Sunday and into Monday, I just felt useless; ineffective; a failure.  In short, I felt just as I had before we left.  And what really depressed me was that it all happened so quickly.  We just got back, for crying out loud!  Geez!  Couldn’t I even have one stinkin’ week feeling ok?

And then it hit me.  Oh, yeah, Satan is going to attack!  And he has.  If he can just get me to slide into the way I used to be, I will be as ineffective as I was.  Focused on the wrong things, depressed, and not living the abundant life that God promises.  Oh yeah, I forgot!  Well, we don’t want that to happen, do we?  No, we do not.

So what do I do?  I remembered the promises God had reminded me of the past week.  I spent time in God’s Word.  Prayed.  Reflected.  And I remembered, God doesn’t want my accomplishments, He wants me.  He wants me to have relationship with Him, not for me to be focused on success, even success as a Christian.  And how freeing that is.  I am basking in His love, resting in His grace.  I am learning this, and for me it is a huge paradigm shift, an entirely new mindset.  I figure I will have setbacks, and times that I forget.  But I’m working on it.  Working on letting go of me, and letting God do as He will in me.

Gal 2.20: I am crucified with Christ and I no longer life, but Christ lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Been to the mountain top? Yeah, me neither.

Jim McDonald is the founder and director of Meeting God in Missions.  I encourage you to check out the MGM website for more information on what it is, why it’s there, and what it’s goals are.

One thing that Jim does is that he has daily morning devotions for each group that goes to the Dominican Republic.  Generally speaking, each devotional is before breakfast, and comes out of a booklet provided by MGM.

Several things struck me while I was listening to the devotionals, and I wanted to share them here.  The first point that struck home came on Monday, and again on Tuesday.  And that is that God wants absolute surrender of me, of my thoughts, of my will.  Not just a part, or even most.  All.  Everything. The entire enchilada.  I wasn’t consciously holding back, but when I shifted to a “success” mindset, I lost sight of the relationship that God wants with me, and I held myself back from Him.  I was looking for success, and that was first in my mind, not just being with God.

The second thing that “wowed” me was on Thursday.  That’s when Jim made the point, “If success is important to you, you may be tempted to choose accomplishment over your relationship with God.”  I covered that in a previous post, but suffice it to say that this is when I realized that I had indeed chosen success over relationship.  That surprised me, because I thought that being a successful Christian was what it was all about.  I had been saying for years that it isn’t works, but grace that brings us to God.  But I never equated my quest for success with a works mindset.

Friday morning’s devotional brought a few points.  First, “In order to be fed and be fruitful, we have to cling to the source of power.”  Nothing really earth shattering, but I needed to be reminded to “cling to the source of power.”  Not me, not my abilities, but to God alone.

Next was from the booklet.  Each lesson had a “Key” at the end of the devotional, and the Key for this devotional was, “Fruit appears in your life when your motives are to bring Honor and Glory  to God.”  I have always wanted to bring honor and glory to God, but I think it was on my terms, using my abilities. Oops. there’s that darned “me” thing again…

Lastly from Friday’s devotional, I picked up the following from Jim: “Allow God to complete His work, and see how the fruit will come forth through you.”  He was speaking of Matthew 7.16, “By their fruit you will recognize them,” and Gal 5.22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  I pretty much have those verses memorized, but their application to “allowing God” escaped me.  I have worked so hard to be, I missed the forest for the trees.  I missed the idea that it is God in me and working through me, and not my anything.  Not my working hard, not my good intentions.  The only action required on my part is to let go of myself and “let God.”

Because we were leaving very early on Saturday morning, our Saturday devotions came late on Friday evening.  The final point God touched me with came from the booklet where I read, “Anyone that thinks he can simply begin meditating without praying for the desire and grace to do so will soon give up.”  This lesson was about meditating on the Scriptures, and that is something I have seldom, if ever, done.  I have had devotions for years, but meditate on what I read?  Not so much.  I think my devotions were more a duty, something I needed to do, and not as much something I did to hear God speak, and meditate on what it was He said.  I’m still not much of a meditator, but I am praying that God give me the desire to become one.

Pretty much since at least my early teens I have gone to church camps and retreats and such.  I have had “mountain top” experiences, wherein I have come back higher than a kite and totally jazzed to be what the Lord wanted me to be.  But always those moments slow down and leave as everyday life creeps in and reality replaces the circumstances and situational experiences of the latest “God Moments.”  This trip to the D.R. was not a mountaintop for me, and I don’t want it to have been such.  I don’t want to be jazzed, excited, emotional.  I want to be what God wants me to be.  That’s all.  I want to be in fellowship with Him, I want my relationship with Him to be my everything.  I want His fruit to be in me, and to be evident through me.  What I am excited about is this peace I have right now, just being His.  And how cool is that?

Housekeeping note:  I sense that a bit of a shift is coming for this blog site.  Thus far I have chronicled my difficulties with, and spiritual journey regarding, the Dominican Republic trip.  I probably have at least a couple D.R. posts left, but I think I will soon be moving more to just talking about my spiritual walk with God in general, with probably a few “non spiritual” posts thrown in “just because.”  I gotta tell you, I have been loving this.  It has been helpful for me to sit down and write my thoughts and impressions, and I am humbled and honored that anyone has been reading and commenting on what I have written.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart!   You have been fundamental to this process for me.  Be certain that God has used you in my life.  May God Bless you for this.  Vaya con Dios!!

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