Disaster Response Work
A trip to the Dominican Republic
January 11 - February 8, 1999
In January, Israel Rosas traveled to the Dominican Republic to serve on a Church of the Brethren Disaster Response Team. The project of this group was to build several homes in the San Juan area, working together with their Dominican brothers and sisters. Fluent in Spanish, "Izzy" (as he is affectionately known in his home church) also served as translator. San Juan is located about 3½ hours west of the capital, Santo Domingo. The local Iglesia de los Hermanos (Church of the Brethren - COB) has been active in serving their community hard hit by flooding following the previous summer's hurricane Georges. There is still much to be done.
Izzy enjoyed the work so much he extended his time from two weeks to four. It seems he
has been bitten by the disaster response "bug," and anticipates further such
work in the future. He also dreams of forming a sister relationship between the San Juan
church and the Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren,
located in suburban Baltimore, Maryland, where he is a member. The following is a log
of his trip (which meanders between a first person and second hand account).
1/11 Mon. Flew into Santo Domingo. When we landed, people in the plane cheered and crossed themselves (interesting!). Made it through customs, got our visas, and waited for our luggage. Unfortunately, our toolbox arrived a week later, after much behind the scenes work on the part of Guillermo Encarnacion.
We took a bus to San Juan, a town of 20,000 - 30,000 people. Many bridges were out, due to the hurricane. Arrived after dark. Along the way, we almost hit animals on a road (just left to graze on their own). Our accommodations for the stay were quite nice - a Convent where each had their own small room (cost - $8/day for room and 2 meals).
1/12 Tues. We went through
Orientation with Jan Thompson, who emphasized such things as traveling in groups for
safety, and not drinking the water. Then we went to the first building site. "El
barrio" (the neighborhood) was something else! Located between two rivers, this
barrio had been hit hard by the flood, which came in the middle of the night
(the poor live in the flood plain). We dug footers for two houses, one lot apart. The
local people were eager to help.
1/13 Wed. Poured concrete floor on first home. Mixed it right in the dirt in front of house. We had been told there was electricity ... well, not quite accurate. One line goes through, patched into by many. When Izzy plugged an electric saw in, it blew out the power for the whole barrio - hand sawing after that. Electricity always problematic. Never knew when it would come on or go off.
A mother whose son was going to school to become a doctor wanted to give him a stethoscope as a present. This was something very simple to come by back home, yet here it takes on more importance. Izzy arranged that one might be ordered for her through the Mennonite hospital in town.
1/14 Thu. Put up
poles/rafters on the second house. Had to carry leftover material back to the church each
night (theft problem). It was hard work carrying supplies to worksite every day.
There was no advance warning when the flood came during the hurricane. A dam upstream had
been in danger of busting. Officials decided to open in middle of night to relieve the
pressure. As communication was a problem (both in terms of technology, and the government
telling the people anything), no one knew what was coming. The "official" count
was 70-80 dead. The people say the number was more like 700-800.
1/15 Fri. Finished block work on first house and roof on second. Rachel (16 yrs. old) loves to sing. She spent time with us. After school, she heads to a beautician school, preparing for the future.
1/16 Sat. While working, 15 children came to sing. Izzy taught them "Jesus loves me" and "Jesus loves the little children".
1/17 Sun. Went by public transport to Azua, where we visited the Iglesia de los hermanos, attending Sunday School. All Dominican churches have Sunday School in the morning, with worship in evening. Went nearby to Arroyo Salado, where a new church facility is being built with help from the Southern Pennsylvania District. Work nearly done.
On the way home, someone got on the bus with two goats. Another hung his (live) chickens on the mirror. That night we worshiped with the San Juan Brethren. Our team sang "Jesus loves me" in Spanish (newly learned) for them.
1/18 Mon. Eric from Detroit arrived and joined the team (Izzy and he formed a close bond). The first two houses almost done - little jobs to do now on them. Some in the group this week went to the local High School to work on cleaning it up (on 2 different days). The school had not been in session since the hurricane because of flood damage. 5,000 refugees were living in it. Scrubbed walls, after which a local fire engine came and sprayed. The stench in the bathrooms was unreal. The school finally reopened the last week Izzy was there. The San Juan Brethren pastor, Miguel, is an English teacher there. His command of English is not very good, but apparently enough.
1/19 Tues. No Work - the people in San Juan went on strike to protest that the government had done nothing to help them in the six month since the storm. The National Guard was called out. A bit tense... In the afternoon, the team went to another location in town near the church to lay footers for next project, a duplex.
1/20 Wed. Had to redo yesterday's work on the duplex. The owner had been too anxious to get started, and the previous evening went ahead and dug what he thought was the foundation, pulling out all the markers etc. that had been already carefully laid.
1/21 Thu. Poured cement footers on the duplex. There was no water in the field. Izzy's job was to carry it to the site for the concrete, using two 5-gal. buckets (these two were the only ones available). Water was 4-5 blocks away, through a ditch. Izzy lost 10 lbs. over these four weeks. Eric got his chance to ride a "wild" horse in the field today.
1/22 Fri. Dedicated the two homes built earlier. 40-50 people there for the service.
1/23 Sat. Day off. Some of the team decided to go to the beach near Azua (1¼ hr. away). Bartered for a bus to take 6-7 people (no station wagon taxi available). Ended up taking 40 locals. The parents had never been to ocean before. They ran ahead of their kids to play in the water (something they'd never done), while their children and the team looked on.
1/24 Sun. The first team left for the states, those remaining (Izzy, Jan & Roma Thompson, Eric, and Ingrid Rogers) went to a little mission point of San Juan COB in the hills, place called Shalona. They met under a tree for Sunday School. The mission was a project of the San Juan Pastor's wife (actually, she is considered a co-pastor). It hasn't been easy getting people from San Juan to go every weekend. The people in Shalona are even poorer than in San Juan (if that's possible). Izzy recalls one old man who knew "church" was happening. He just went to the tree on his own, as if called.
1/25 Mon. A Legal holiday. Took a day trip to the Haiti/Dominican Republic border (1 hr. away). The dividing line is just a stretched rope across the road. On one side they speak French, on the other, Spanish. Saw a Haitian fit three bales of clothing from a relief truck on the back of his motorcycle and head up a steep hill home. Spent time in the market there.
The next work group arrived in San Juan late today, but they came with a generator and a pickup truck!!!! (from the McPherson, KS group in Santo Domingo).
1/26 Tue. They took money which arrived with the new team to the bank to pay bills, and later laid blocks on the duplex in the field. Attended some of the Orientation of new group. As part of it, Guillermo Encarnacion gave a brief history of the Dominican Republic. He also shared his own story. When he was younger, he spent 2 years in prison for protesting the government. A Mennonite there gave him a Bible. Imprisoned on "Shark island," one by one the inmates were fed to sharks. Guillermon received word he was next on the list. He prayed ("if you let me out, Lord, I'll serve you"), and was miraculously then released. >From there, he became pastor, serving in the Dominican Republic, as well as among the Brethren in Puerto Rico, Falfurias TX, and Lancaster, PA. He seems to know everybody. Izzy thought of him as like a Dominican "Godfather" for the Lord.
1/27 Wed. Laid block on duplex. That night, Izzy stayed with Eric after work to play basketball with the locals. Coming home, they got ride in an old, wobbly Datsun for 6 pesos (16 pesos=$1). Along the way, the driver stopped to pick up others (every vehicle becomes taxi), one a nicely dressed woman. Izzy and Eric offered to walk, instead of getting her dirty, but the driver insisted and there she ended in their laps.
1/28 Thu. Continued work. Miguel (the San Juan pastor) came with papers/plans for more houses to rebuild/repair. The team had to move from the convent to another home (which was very nice!!) for 2 days because the facility was needed for a conference.
1/29 Fri. Continued work. Viewed a government movie about the hurricane (not very well done). It showed a lot of dead people and debris. As said before, the government has not done much to help the people. Much corruption! An example in San Juan is the highway bypass built around town. Along it are many newly constructed row houses, all empty. Why? They will be given out as patronage in the fall with the upcoming elections.
1/30 Sat. Went to visit orphanage. The place made a real impact on Izzy. There were only six full time workers caring for 70 children. He attended a baptism in the river, giving a "football" bedsheet to one of the boys baptized, whom he had befriended (they had played basketball together). Ingrid Rogers, the other translator in the group, left.
1/31 Sun. Izzy went to the mountainside church again (Shalona). Arrived home after others had gone to church. Jan left him the car keys. Izzy drove through town (his first experience behind the wheel in the D.R.) and went to get supper. The Vardamans arrived (new leaders).
2/1 Mon. Cleared "Richard's" lot. Unfortunately, it was the wrong lot. When they started digging the next day, someone came and pointed out the mistake. Then they found what they thought was the right lot. Cleared it, dug & laid foundation. Started laying block. Izzy later found out that this was not the right lot either. Points out the need for survey work.
2/3 Wed. Finished work on the duplex. Couldn't go further without lumber for the upper part. If the promised lumber didn't arrive, they might have to complete the house with block. The result would be a sturdier home, and cheaper - block is less expensive than lumber, just heavier and more work. As it turned out, this is what ended up happening after Izzy left.
2/4 Thu. Miguel (San Juan pastor) & Luis (Azua pastor who had been helping Izzy's group) left to do advance work for the next week's district conference. Another mainland brethren group was coming to build a new church and they also needed to go prepare for that work elsewhere. Louis didn't want Izzy to leave, and playfully locked him in the bathroom, only he forgot about Izzy when he received a phone call. Roma heard Izzy pounding and let him out.
2/5 Fri. Izzy's last day of work. Went in the truck with a big tub (for water, no more buckets!) and finished the footers for Richard's house. Sabastian (pastor of the new church in Arroya Salado) came to say goodbye, and also tell Izzy he didn't want him to go.
2/6 Sat. Went to the beach at Barahona
Izzy left San Juan, taking the bus to Santo Domingo. There he met and went to church with
Jerry & Rebecca Baille Crouse & their family. The Crouses are new permanent
denominational church workers in the Dominican Republic. Previous to this, they had
co-pastored the Antioch Church of the Brethren in Virginia.
2/8 Mon He left the Dominican Republic. His flight was two hours late due to an ice storm in the northeast. Arrived at JFK airport in New York, managing to get a connecting flight to BWI, but had to go outside to another terminal in a snowstorm without a coat (had given it away). It just so happened that Chuck Tipton (another Long Green Valley member) was arriving at BWI from Arizona near the same time and had arranged for him and Izzy to meet and come home together. They saw each other across the terminal. "Izzy!" ... "Chuck!" Welcome home!
Our beloved brother and friend,
passed away in 2012
"Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints." (Psalm 116:15)
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