March 17, 2010

Sabaneta Stories 4

No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. -- the gospel of John


Come here just once, and unless you choose to stay disconnected through iPods, cheap paperbacks, or hiding out in your room each evening, before you know it you are giving fist-bumps to new Domincan friends and over lunch asking more about interesting Sabaneta congregational politics.  By Wednesday, you have forgetton about bills to pay back home, annoying in-laws, and the inbox that is probably growing exponentially with each day away.  By Hump Day, you are saying to yourself: "I am involved here now. In some small way at least, I feel a part of this place. I think I want to know how all this--this church, this neighorhood, this world--I want to know how all this turns out in the end."

On Monday evening, Pastor Cancu and his wife Altagracia spoke with us after dinner. He talked first, about his life story, his faith in Jesus, and his vision for this community.  But the real fun began when we asked him (them) how they had met some 30+ years ago on the other side of the island.  He told the story in his typical straight-up, no-nonsense style. It was all very nice. Then she protested, through our interpreter, "No, no, no!  Now let me tell you the realstory!" We howled in laughter like a pack of dogs. (If Cancu is in style a Walter Cronkite, then she is a Kathy Griffin ... without the bad language, of course. Those of us who are spouses laughed in the relief that marital tugs and twists are aparently a universal phenominon, transcultural.  Nice to know!)

When people tell their story, it is difficult to resist being pulled into their lives. And when that story is interwoven with the threads of providence, grace, and calling, it is difficult not to feel the baptismal bonds growing stronger--even across of gulf of culture, language, and blue-green agua.  Lives are shaped by stories. Stories are named with words. And words become a precious gift, especially when each one requires a careful exchange across linquistic barriers.

So if we share a Word-bond with our Dominican friends, a Jesus-connection across these many miles, this shared story is surely cared for by the lips of our interpreters.  That this trip each year would not be possible without them is obvious as soon as the plane's door opens in Puerto Plata and one needs to find a bathroom. But more subtle and sacred is the fact that their words, and sentences, and paragraphs, and hours and hours of verbal translation--these are the bones and muscles and ligaments that allow the Word to become flesh among us in this place, in this bond.  We can walk alongside Cancu and his kirk in a meaningful way, and they can teach us more and more about ministry in our own world, mostly because walking with us are those who can steward this living conversation, those who can speak the language.

The rest of us become all the more grateful as we realize throughout the week that translation is not a mere mechanical act, not a simple this-word-for-that, but rather a sagacious service cradled in understanding and respect.  The task is not merely to match one word for another: bathroom for bano, cepillo de dientes for toothbrush, or "el pastor tiene una nariz grande" ... meaning, of course, "the pastor has a large nose." (This ian an oft-needed phrase among these rowdy and disrespectful Presbyterians.)  Google Translate can match one word with another, but it takes an interpreter to steward a living bond. 

One must fall in love with the place, and the people, and the purpose of this work. And out of that love an interpreter labors to make the right connections, to listen well and so to fashion the best words, so that both parties are on the same page and everyone is growing in fidelity.  It is not just knowing the vocabulary, it is knowing why words matter at all.  Because with them, sentences are formed and stories are told and lives are shared and work is accomplished ... all "a la gloria de Dios y en servicio del Hijo," to the glory of God and in service to the Son, whose Sunday-new-life is the best word spoken anywhere. Resurrección.

Our heartfelt thanks to Sonia, Marite, Joel, and Elizabeth (and others) for practicing their interpetive craft for us all this week long.  Muchas gracias.



The Clen-More Presbyterians recently cooked up a pile of spaghetti in New Castle and sold it to those who came to buy it, in order to raise some money to purchase a new wheelchair for a young woman who lives just down the street and around the big corner from the Sabaneta church.  Here name is Jessica, and if that nomenclature rings a bell back home, it is likely because you remember seeing her stand on her new braces in the doorway of her home, our Sandy by her side.  Not that you've been to her home, likely, but you have probably seen the picture of that grand moment passed around our various churches. 

Jessica is a alive with playful energy.  It spills out of her smile and rolls out of her flamboyant gestures.  Even so, she is unable to direct enough of that energy downward so that her legs might move her to and fro. In her 20s now, she remains either bed- or wheelchair-bound ...except for the 40 or so minutes a day when she stands in the braces made for her two years ago by friends in our partnership. Mobility remains hard.  Last year this time, a used wheelchair was procured for her by our group. But the rough pavement around her family's modest morter home takes its toll on wheeled equipment, and that chair gave way.  Hence, spaghetti in New Castle.

That being said, the Clen-More Presbyterians are in danger of fashioning for Jessica something of an ego.  "300 people came to the dinner," their pastor reported. "We had a big picture of you for all to see."  Dominican daughter and mother respond with faces agape and sighs of glad unbelief.  In a word: Wow. "I am a movie star now, yes?!" Jessica asks in her broken English. We all laugh. Her legs may not work, but her impish sense of humor surely does.  Then a little more innocant ego surfaces for us to see: "Tell me again ... how many people were there?" She knows the answer, the little devil.  Mom shakes her head in light-hearted dissapproval, as any mother would. "O Jessica, Jessica."

But let the young lady bask in this moment. in the news of her grand ball.  First of all, there is something rather gospel-kingdom-like about an otherwise unknown young lady from the poor side of town with a broken-down body and a brave family through a twist of fate and a growing friendship becoming something of a celebrity in a strange town and and in unknown church far, far away. Maybe the last will be the first, after all. "A movie star!" she says from her chair with new wheels, primping her brushed hair and tossing her hand back like Marilyn Monroe. (Hang around her just a while and you realize that she is no dummy.  She gets the joke. And so we all laugh along, at her invitation.)

But what's more, let's be her paparazzi.  She's earned it. So she's stuck in a wheelchair with limp legs, on the poor side of town (most sides are).  Does that stop her from hosting 40 students in her home 4 days a week?  Yes, she gathers up the kids and adults and even a senior citizen on the block, all those who never finished school, and she gives them lessons, and lunch, and--dare I say it--life.  Stacked under their ramshackle tin carport (the car has not moved in a good while) are 8 sets of long Laura Ingalls school desks, waiting for the next session of class under her roof, in the dirt. And did I mention that she and her mother (who has the biggest, whitest, widest smile you will ever see) also cook a rice-and-beans lunch four times each week for 60 or more people along the block? 

So, sure, look around their home at the pocked walls and the aging furniture and the fading American posters probably picked up for song.  Watch your step outside, lest you trip over old water lines or frayed electric cords, or that cat whose ribs you can count. Smell the hard smells, shake your head, and see the girl in the chair.  It could all be taken one way, sure, if you did not know it was really the other. 

She is New Castle's latest Marilyn Monroe, the belle of her ball, with skin the color of rich chocolate and a smile that lights up a room and a sense of humor that will serve her well down the bumpy road still before her. O yes, and did I mention: She has a daily ministry of Christian outreach to her neighbors that would put most of our able-bodied congregations to shame.

Wheelchair delivered.  Say, Marilyn ... enjoy the ride.