Our Neigborhood

As I sit here, it is 6:57 p.m.—completely dark outside and the air is crisp.  Everything is open air here, as there is no air conditioning.  It’s not really necessary, as Jarabacoa, “City of Everlasting Spring,” doesn’t get extreme temperatures.  I hear the sound of an occasional chicken clucking in the backyard, the faint sound of a moto zooming by, and the neighbors loudly conversing in Spanish—none of which I understand.  There is a rocky dirt road that runs off the main Avenida.  On the corner, live our friends from back home, Phyllis and the Ostberg family.  Just past their apartment building on the left is another dirt road leading to our school, Jarabacoa Christian School.  Then a short walk past that on the right is a gravel alley leading to our apartment.  It is a modest Spanish-style two-story building that houses our family on the bottom level and the top is currently vacant.  The house to our left which heads back toward the road is a huge two-story home, maybe 3,000 sq ft., complete with stone siding, a fully covered veranda in the backyard, and grandiose columns that flank both sides of the front entryway—all still under construction. We share the alley with one other home on our right-hand side.  This one is different.  This one reminds us daily why we moved here.  It is a small run-down wooden abode no larger than an American two-stall garage.  There is no power and no running water, and a dirt floor.  As far as we can tell, there lives a mom, dad, three gorgeous and spunky girls, a little boy, and their grandmother.  Every morning at 7 a moto pulls up and Dad goes off to work somewhere.  Mom has not been around for several weeks, but she’s back now.  Abuela, Grandma, spends most of the day doing chores outdoors.  She does laundry by hand and cooking outdoors over a fire.  Sometimes the smoke penetrates our screened windows.  I don’t think she cares too much for us, but we have finally worked up to a return “hola” occasionally—which may be accounted in part to the gifts we sometimes send, mainly vegetation that we harvested from our backyard.  But we absolutely adore the girls and they adore us!  They’re the ones I can hear now.  Adahisa is 15, Yalissa is 14 and Melissa is 10.  Our friendship began with the 2 year-old little boy, Jose Ramon, who fearlessly wandered over to our place looking for new playmates.  What a hot mess, that boy!  He is a hoot.  The first day he came sauntering into our house, he tried to leave with two remote controls in his little chubby hands!  Sometimes he brings his lunch over to eat at our house.  Lunch is the biggest meal of the day for Dominicans and is pretty much the same every day: rice and beans or beans and rice.  The girls go to school in the afternoons, as some schools do that here for spacing issues.  Luke and Emily spend on the upwards of three to four hours a day playing with them.  There is a lot soccer played in the alley, fingernail painting, beauty shop, singing, dancing swinging and just general silliness.  Sometimes the girls come in and watch a movie.  They don’t care if it’s in English, but a lot of the Netflix movies down here have Spanish subtitles.   We share popsicles and Cokes, and we’ve even had them over for spaghetti.  Malissa politely took the tiniest bites before we bust out laughing and told her she didn’t have to eat it if she didn’t like it.  She promptly put her plate in the sink.  No offense was taken!  Adahisa and Yalissa came along with us to a party at a friends house where there were other teenagers and they fit right in.  They were singing karaoke with us like they had known us for years!  During the day, there is a little girl that comes to visit with her mother, named Marjorie.  She is five and is absolutely adorable.  Marjorie has become Emily’s best good little buddy and they spend the days playing dress up and baby dolls.  It is so neat to walk through town and hear a little Domincan girl shout out, “Emily!”  Emily turns to her and says, “Hola, Marjorie,” with a perfect accent.  They teach Luke and Emily Spanish and Luke and Emily teach them English.  Luke and Emily have for sure learned more words since we moved here than the adults have. 

 When we lived in the states, we had made plans to raise our kids and had parenting goals just like anyone else.  One of them, just our personal decision and no judgment to others, was that we were never going to bus our kids to a school outside our neighborhood because, for one of many reasons, we wanted them to have a sense of community with the kids of our neighborhood.  Although we moved before either of them got to go to Lake Alfred Elementary, their neighborhood buddies and classmates would have looked similar to the dark haired brown-skinned ones here now.  Our old neighborhood was heavily infiltrated with Hispanics and blacks.  We wanted them to learn independence, appropriate social behaviors and decision-making skills that can be so brilliantly developed through free play in the backyard or riding bikes through familiar streets with neighborhood pals.  Organized play dates and team sports are great for child development, but for us, allowing the children to learn through their own methods of communication and free play is something that we heavily value.  I listen to them play and I constantly monitor from the window, but they don’t know that.  I don’t hover.  In family vision-casting conversations, Trevor often shared with me his desire for a sense of community in our neighborhood.  We commented that it seems that other races and ethnic groups have this concept down so much better than us.  We tend to stay inside our cozy homes and shield our children from the so-called “dangers” of the world by keeping them inside the confines of our backyard fences.  In less than three months of living here, we have spent more time with our neighbors than any of the neighbors that we lived by for five years.  We hear that there have been a lot of thefts in our neighborhood lately, and I rest confidently knowing that we have Dominican neighbors that are always out that know who is supposed to be in our home, and who isn’t.  They care for us, and we care for them.  When we moved here, it wasn’t Trevor and Kathy: the missionaries.  It was the Plankenhorn family.  We all are the missionaries, and the kids are experiencing as much life change as us. They know what it is to have much, and they see every day what it is to have little.  They don’t see color and they don’t see status.  They are growing leaps and bounds.  And I don’t thank God enough. 

 It is… “interesting” that God has put these four girls in our lives and hearts.  We pray for them often.  God is up to big things and we are praying through the “idea” that God may have sent us here to rescue girls the same age as our precious neighbors from underage prostitution—which is rampant in this country and town.  Check out the O’s blog about this, if you haven’t already.  This has been in my heart since our first mission trip to Honduras when Trevor was approached by a young girl selling herself for ONE American dollar.  God spoke to me very loudly that day standing on top of the trash dump when I reached my hand into the bag of papusas (a Honduran empanada-type food) that we were handing out and the bag was empty.  I had nothing for her.  It broke my heart.  And God continued to break my heart for her and the millions of others around the world like her.  We are fervently praying for God’s guidance on our next step in this journey, as we didn’t move to another country to fulfill our own desires.  This is a huge undertaking, but we work for an awesome God! And He didn’t send us alone.  We are patiently waiting for direction on this, but in the meantime, God continues to strengthen our family and our relationships with our other RPC brothers and sisters.  It is pretty cool to see all that at work!  We appreciate all your prayers, and my hope is that these crazy blog posts give our peeps some specific insight about our prayer needs.  We love you all and miss you dearly.   

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Changes in Lattitude, Changes in Attitude

Today marks 7 weeks since we sold everything we owned and moved our family to the Dominican Republic. It was and still is a difficult change for our family of four here in the DR and also the family that we left back in the US. Some of the changes have been awesome. I get to see Kathy and the kids 7 days a week now. Kathy can get her blood work done for $4 without a prescription any time she wants. God’s beauty is all around us on this island and everywhere we go, we see new and amazing places that leave us speechless.

Some changes have been more difficult. Not speaking the language is one example of something that frustrates me daily. We are learning slowly, but I want some Matrix type of brain plug that can upload it instantly to me.

Some things just require a change in perspective. When we first arrived in the country, we had to go to Santiago and La Vega quite a few times to buy groceries and home goods that are not available in Jarabacoa. The driving in this country can be a bit hectic at times and even though some people consider them optional, you do find yourself stopped at a stoplight quite often when you are in the big cities. There’s easily a dozen people running from car to car selling phone chargers, limes, newspapers, cell phone cards and cases and even random things like garbage bags. There are also the window washers. They throw a sponge onto your windshield and even if you say no and shake your finger, they wash your windshield. They then await payment. I used to get so angry with them because I didn’t really need my windshield washed and it wasn’t like they gave me an option. Sometimes we drove away without making eye contact. Sometimes we tossed them a few pesos. The best was when our entire car full of people was laughing at me because of my reaction to the washers.

A few weeks ago, Luke Ostberg and I drove to Santiago to check out the progress of the foundations of the house that the team from RPC is going to build over Thanksgiving week. On that trip we came up with a plan, a change in perspective. We decided to embrace the washers. They really only expect 10 pesos to wash the windshield, which is like 25 cents. We made a game out of it that first day. How many times could we get it done? We were waving them over. Smiles all around. We joked that we needed to carry some mud with us to dirty the windshield up between stoplights. That day, we got our windshield washed 5 times. We laughed. It was awesome. It cost us less than $2.

Yesterday, we drove to Santiago to pick up a package and were disappointed that we only got one washing. After he got done with the squeegee and the light turned green, I reminded Luke of the second part of the deal. We are going to document all the faces we meet by snapping a pic with the phone. Faces that I used to avoid, I can now smile at and remember. With cars honking behind us, we got this pic. Amazing.

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Kathy will tell you she gets embarrassed at me in public situations sometimes because I can let little things set me off. I still have a long way to go in this, but I’m so thankful that all it takes sometimes is a change in attitude to reverse the script. I’m praying that God will show me new ways to look at every situation that I might find frustrating. I pray that I will see more smiles.