March 16, 2010

Sabaneta Stories 3

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. - Paul, in Philippians

The pillow provided for me in my bed is someone's smallish sofa cushion, stuffed into a pillow case.  This arrangment offers a comfort similar to a 5 pound bag of flour.  Still, when I stop to think about it (at 2:30 in the morning), it occurs to me that the Sabaneta congregation has worked hard before our arrival to secure for us 30 beds from their own homes for use during the entire week.  When was the last time I gave up my bed ... for anyone?  Perspective.

Incidentally, imagine securing 30 beds, 30 sets of sheets, and 30 pillows for a week of 30 guests in your neighborhood.  Imagine cooking from scratch 90 portions a day for a week's time.  Imagine the hassle of closing down your child's school for a week in order to house a team of workers.  It's no small feat.
You could make a case that our construction workers are not necessary.  The blocks they are moving, the dirt they are sifting, the buckets they are lifting, it is not neccesary (or even efficient) to fly a dozen gringos in from the States for such menial tasks. That's the objective truth of the matter. We could just write a check, drop it in the mail, and be done with it. But then again, if example and service are the goals: Sending money is one thing, sending bodies is another. A bunch of strangers forming a block brigade as long as a house surely signals something important to this neighborhood.  We are here neither to take over and control this gig nor to sit back and passively watch others do it all, only to pay the bill.  Pick up a shovel and sift a truckload of sand and you say, "We are here to support this congregation in what it is about in this community. We are for this.  We are for them, and they are for you."  So let our middle-managers and engineers haul up one more bucket of sand to the second floor. Let the boys move one more bucket of mud. When you see the big picture of what this block, this wall, this building is all about, it begines to feel more like an honor to take one's place in an otherwise menial role. This, plus: Moving block gives a man some time to think about things back home, about the value of some (occassional) sweat, and about the gift of stepping back from the house at 4:00pm to see something you helped accomplish.  This is good for a man, and maybe only men can understand this. Besides, the breaks for water and shade afford some good shoulder-to-shoulder conversation among each other, and that's never a bad thing in this life.  Efficient use of persons?  Probably not, from an Excel perseptive.  Faithful labor under the son -- er, sun?  All depends on your perspective.
Incidentally, the second floor of Cancu's home is really taking shape. One can now see the outline of 5 small guest rooms, with a small kitchen space and dos banos, two restrooms.  There is a main room down the middle of this second floor, suitable for dining, and by tomorrow the outlines of numerous windows will be visable. This space for guests, workers, and missionaries is all a part of the long-range vision of this continuing partnership. It is exciting to imagine how this will change the nature (and ferquency?) of our visits here.
Practicing even simple medicine here can be a reall challenge for our doctors and nurses.  Patients usually use the most general of terms to describe any number of conditions--terms they have heard on the street, or picked up from the crowd pressed in on the chapel entrance when our medical teams arrive. "La congestiĆ³n" many say ... which can cover a multitude of issues. The ambiguity is frequent and frustrating.  What's this person's story?  What is this family's living condition? Is this her mother, grandmother, aunt, neighbor? Is this problem acute, or are they here hoping to store up some meds for a chronic condition for use later in the year?  Is that a legitimate hoarding or not?  This is by no means an exact science. Still, our people do the best they can, and they seem glad to try.  For many who come, this is the only healthcare available to them and their children. Creams and vitamins and ibuprofen are simple markers toward a better future for even the smallist of children. (Today a woman brought in her 1 month old baby. Bonito!) Is all this really worthwhile?  Are these visits and diagnoses and ziplocs full of pills really contributing to the long-term health of the community?  Is it all making "a difference"?  Depends on your perspective, I suppose.  Surely the return of the same medical professionals for yet another year speaks for itself.
Incidentally, as of Tuesday evening, some 400 patients have been seen either here in Sabaneta or out in one of the travelling clinics, meeting in local chapels connected to the mother congregation. Our pharmicisit, here in the D.R. for the first time, has done a great job ... and many have pitched in on the nightly pill counting.  The entire process--from suitcases to sorting to counting to bagging to travelling to setup to disbursement--is a process of love to behold.
The electricity at the church/school complex stinks, and everyone knows it.  It will work fine for a day, then flicker on and off (mostly staying off) for hours on end.  There is an inverter system, yes, but with 30 guests running around in the evenings needing lights and charges and fans...the batteries have a hard time keeping up with our American comforts. What a pain.  Or is it?  A lack of lights has an interesting way of pushing people outside, and together.  A crisis of comfort can breed frustration, to be sure, but it can also birth an otherwise hidden creativity. When was the last time you sat around on a porch and laughed with friends about how silly we all are?  When was the last time a spontaneous card game broke out around you and you "wasted" an hour?  (Note to readers: Don't tell Cancu about the hearts games. No los juegos de azar.)  Who sits around anymore in our compressed and driven world and sings (and plays) for the sake of singing and laughing? Is it a bad thing or not that the wiring in the Christian school in Sabaneta looks like an explosion at a yarn factory? Depends on your perspective.

Sacrifice. Hospitality. Labor. Humble service. Compassion. Consistant care. Spontaneous fellowship. Singing for singing sake. Christian community. "Think on excellent, commendable, Christ-shaped things," urges the Apostle.  Think on these things. Fashion your perspective around your Easter faith.

When you lay down your head this night and think over a day now spent, has it all been run-of-the-mill and bereft of any meaning?  Has the time you have been given, has it been a burden or a blessing?  Is this mad world, and your corner it, a summons to truth and love or a draining depression?  Has there been today even one moment when just a bit of resurrection light has eeked its way into the troubled world around you?

Saint on the pillow, think on these things. Has this day been about death, or life?  It all depends.