March 14, 2010

Sabaneta Stories 1

Santo Santo Santo! 
En numeroso coro, santos escogidos Te adoran sin cesar ...

"Holy, holy, holy! All the saints endlessly adore your name ..."

There is something quite right about the fact that our week in Sabaneta begins with Lord´s Day worship.  Though most of us cannot share in the language here (even college Spanish is found wanting with the rapid pace of local dialogue), and even though our respective skin colors reveal no apparent commonality ... despite ourselves, we share a sturdy bond in Jesus. That is both grace and summons.  This bond is made all the more palpable by the arms-wide-open hospitality of the Dominican Chrisians--more hugs and kisses than before church than even your grandmother could muster.  Yes, worship is exactly the right way to begin this week. Sharing in book, bath, and meal. Singing and singing and more singing. Laughter. Silence. Prayer. This is what the baptized do, and it is our priveledge to do it alongside our font-family here. The four plaster walls of the modest Sabaneta sanctuary reverberate with drums, shakers, and the voices of God´s people: Santo Santo Santo! Holy, holy, holy!  

Indeed, holy is the Lord, and holy is the space where Jesus´people gather to sing and pray.

Saturday was a long day.  Many us skipped an entire night of sleep in order to make a 2am departure. Our flights were seamless and uneventful, but still it made for a tiresome 24 hours.  Saturday sleep, then, was a true gift.  Sunday morning brought breakfast behind Pastor Cancu´s house--a sturdy, covered, open-air eating place built years ago by previous teams. Over breakfast, we practiced two songs we would sing in worship and talked about the agenda for the rest of the day: worship, lunch, tours, more pill-counting, and a special concert out in a nearby village.

They speak here of "Domincan time." If worship begins at 9:30, everyone knows that means 9:30ish.  A typical American finds this either annoying/lazy or endearing/wise. Choose the latter, because our Domincan sisters and brothers could teach us a few things about worshipping well as a community of saints.  They take there time with this affair.  There is plenty of hugging and greeting before worship begins. Songs are sung well, and there is always time for one more.  Why not? What else would we be doing on ressurection day? Look in their eyes and you do not see the next thing on their agenda, another waiting box on a to-do list.  There are no Blackberrys to silence (well, maybe a few flip phones), no matters at work looming over their heads.  It is time to worship ... and so we did, from 9:30(ish) until noon(ish).

I suppose some matters are worth doing well, no matter how long it takes.  Santo santo santo.

Pastor Cancu led us in prayer, and various church leaders read scripture from both testaments.  Words of welcome were spoken to us, and our group of 30 gathered down front to introduce ourselves and add two more songs of our own to the worship.  The preacher for the day lifted up the tale of the disciples scared out of their minds in the stormy boat, from Matthew 14. He leaned heavily on Jesus´ blessed admonition not to be afraid, for he is near.

Indeed, there is some fear here: Will there be another earthquake on this island? Will our grandsons be corrupted by the hard-thumping Reggaeton music, so popular now among the youth of this island?  Will our granddaughters be swept up into local prostitution?  Will Cancu serve us for more years to come?  There is much to fear, many things are unknown. The preacher insisted that, nevertheless, when the Lord calls us to do great things in this world, we do not have to be afriad. God is faithful still.  Santo santo santo.  

After the sermon, a young boy was brought forward to be baptized.  His face was worrisome, but Cancu--normally fierce with focus, straight as an arrow--was gentle and kind.  They moved together like father and son toward a smallish silver bowl.  Eyes closed.  Water all over the head.  Quiet all around, save for the most beautiful Spanish I have ever heard.  New life.  All is well.  The lad returned to the pew with his mother, greeted with a gladsome unison "Amen" in Spanish.

Meal followed bath.  Generous loaves of Dominican bread held high for all to see, and based on the blessed looks on the faces of the Amercans, some moments do not need a translator.  Come. Eat.  Be grateful.  Jesus is here.  The Domincan bread has baked into it what seems to be the slight taste of liquorice, of all things.  Point is, it catches the palatte off gaurd.  And it should: This is the blessed body of the Lord, broken for us.  Beware already-holy-selves, and be blessed you sinners.

Like I said: two and a half hours.  But the thing is you don´t know it.  No air conditioning, no PowerPoint, no bulletins, and it moves along in its own blessed way. What´s the hurry, American friends?  Santo santo santo.

After worship, we gathered back at Cancu´s house for a traditional Domincan lunch: rice, beans, and what are essentially boiled bananas.  Excellent.  (Imagine feeding 30 hungry Americans three meals a day for seven days, all on your back stoop, with a few propane burners and an open-pit fire. As my father used to say: "God bless the cooks.")

The afternoon brought more pill-counting for many, in the continual effort to ready the pharmacy to supply meds for hundreds of patient encounters throughout this week.  Meanwhile, those here for the first time were treated to van-tours of the surrounding countryside and adjacent villages near Sabaneta.  Stops were made at the various chapels associated with the mother church in Sabaneta, most of which have been built over the years by previous teams.

One tour stopped in the home of the chapel pastor near Boca.  A school teacher by day, on nights and weekends she is preacher, pastor, and prophet.  Almost daily, she makes her way down to the road, where gambling and the sex-trade runs deep but not hidden. She preaches to anyone who will listen.  She is on the front lines of a broken world--a brokeness apparent in ramshackle sex-shacks and on young girl´s faces.  This place is not typical Domincan fare, thank goodness, but it is here nonetheless.  A rough place. So she preaches, and prays, and serves those who will be served.  "It is my priveledge," she says in rapid Spanish. "I look forward to retiring from teaching so I can serve the Lord in other ways."  What did I do today to shed a little Easter-light on a darkened world? I wonder. Santo santo santo.

Evening brought dinner and, for many, a concert by one of the church members in a nearby chapel. He sang, we sang, and we all sang some more.  We clapped and swayed, and at one point, the tallest and whitest among us were ushered forward for some clumsy dancing near the front.  Funny thing about Domincan hospitality: One never feels made fun of.  It appears we are okay with them.  There is freedom in love.  Santo.

Nighttime brought wind, rain, and electricity that did a dance of off and on all throughout the night.  The fan is working ... now the fan is not ... now the fan--This is the Sabaneta version of counting sheep.  It is hot and sticky here, even in March, even at night.  But stiill, we slept.  Well, some slept ... and snored.  Others did not sleep. Patience with one another: through the night, at meals, in hard labor.  All part and parcel of practiciting Jesus community.

This too, in its own way, Santo.