An Innate Desire to Belong

IMG_6880As a third-culture parent, I acknowledge the rich cultural gains that our kids inherently receive living a life outside the borders of America, but I also recognize their needs as small human beings to feel accepted and normal. Their daddy is a sports guy. He can relate to any other person on this Earth within five minutes of meeting them, if, they too, share the same affinity for sports. Second after college football, is his love for baseball.  So it works out great for us that baseball is the sport of choice in the DR.  Our firstborn, Luke, joined little league baseball at a local field just down the street from our house.  And, boy, was he ever excited.  I’m talking, “HOT DOG!” excited. Since we found out about the league at the last minute, his dad scooped him up from school and surprised him with the news and took him straight to his first practice.  Upon arrival, Trevor and the coach, whose name happens to be Bienvenido (Welcome), exchanged cell phone numbers and he tells him what time to return.

The field is right on the main road near our house, and there is only one field, not like the multi-field complexes I have seen in the states.  Our family had actually been there to spectate a few night games last fall for the local minor-league.  The field is torn up, the bases are made of burlap, and the chain link fence behind home plate is mangled and has holes.  There are not actual bleachers, but old and dilapidated concrete steps for sitting.  At street level, is an open-air bar where old and young meet and drink Presidentes out of 7 oz plastic cups. When we pulled up to pick up Luke after practice, we couldn’t contain our smiles to see the sight of our little Lukie engaged in a game of Dominoes (very popular here) with a group of other kids and his coach– at the bar!  (No Presidentes were involved, for all of you who were wondering!) Thank goodness we had just played as a family last week so he knew the rules! They were just finishing up the game, and they all gave high fives.  It was one for the memory books, for sure.  When we asked him how it was, he exclaimed, “It was great! I love baseball.  But for next time, I need a hat and pants and shoes!”  Of. Course. He. Did. I know it was a last minute plan, but how could we have thought that he would ever feel like he belongs without the uniform?  It is inevitable he is always going to be “gringo” or “Americano” or “rubio (blondie),” but if he’s going to be a part of something and truly feels like he belongs, he needs to have the uniform!  He’s always going to look different and talk different, but when he can put on that hat and those funny little pants, he has instant comrades.  On his second day of practice, his teammates shouted his name when he arrived, and one put an arm around his shoulders to lead him to the team.  Talk about melt-a-mother’s-heart.
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In this country, there are many reasons why the education system is ranked 2nd to last in the world, but one problem is that they require every child wear a uniform and they cost money.  It doesn’t take much to connect the dots between lack of education and human trafficking, so as a ministry we emphasize the importance of all of our kids getting their cute little behinds in school.  One family with four kids from ages 7-19 have not been in school for a couple of years, and the youngest has never started.  Yesterday we got the privilege to bless them with uniform shopping and new backpacks. The excitement was contagious as they tried on their new blue button-up shirts and khaki pants.  I thought about the fact that the education they were to receive is going to be crappy and lacking in a lot ways.  I can’t fix that.  But standing there in their little outfits I realized that Little Mama, all of seven-years-old, was no longer going to be waiting on the street corner all day long with that dazed expression like we’ve seen her so many times.  She’s a part of something now.

I think that’s how we are created, to have an innate desire to belong or to be a part of something.  I think God wired us that way so that we want to keep searching for something to belong. The Bible says that with Jesus, we can all have a citizenship in heaven. In fact, it says that as followers, we are royal heirs.  I think sometimes when we’ve made so many mistakes or been told by someone enough, we start to believe we aren’t good enough to be a part of something that fantastic. But I remember one time when I was feeling this way, someone told me  the part of Ephesians in the Bible that says we have been raised up and seated in the (trumpets, please) heavenly realms with Christ. Not a few levels below Him, but seated “with” Him, as in the air-conditioned (hallelujah!) Club Level where the VIPs get the special wrist band and the all-you-can-eat buffet and drinks. And that’s a pretty fantastic and important club to be a part of. My prayer for my own kiddos is that when the day comes and they don’t make the team or just don’t seem to fit in because their skin is too light or their parents sound funny when they talk, that they are comfortable enough in their God-given identities that it just doesn’t affect them.
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Trevor and Kathy are independent missionaries in the Dominican Republic, and raise their own financial support for their family. If you’d like to be a part of the Plankenhorn family support team, click here to see where they are, and how you can help.

The Girl with the Brown Eyes

Like a pet owner holding open a bath towel trying to catch a wet dog darting around the room after a bath, I braced myself and studied her moves to determine which way was she going to go. She is wearing a dark pink t-shirt and jean shorts and her long gangly legs are barefooted.  A tactic, I am sure, to ensure speed and agility as she leaps and bounds escaping every adult through the crowded gymnasium at our ministry’s sports camp.  Nine years old, her skin is olive toned and her honey-colored hair pulled back in a low pony tail.   From my teaching days, I knew the look in her eyes, that says, “catch me if you can!”  She giggles the whole time, and when I finally “capture” her, I lock her in my arms and drag her back to her assigned group leader and say, “this one is a pistol!” And right on cue, she wraps her arms around me for a tight squeeze and runs off to join her group.

She is one of 120 kids on average at the sports camp, but her…”spirited” attitude made a lasting memory on us all.  Everyone knew Daniela’s name.  She was the one who snuck in every age groups’ line for a drink of water, and had to use the bathroom three times during every devotion time.  A Pippi Longstocking of sorts.  When all of the kids were supposed to be sitting on the bleachers taking a break and watching the adults play volleyball, there’s Daniela on the other side of the court as if she might join in the game!  (Yes, another high-pursuit chase broke out!)  But not just that, she had these eyes that would absolutely light up when she smiles.  And that’s not just something nice you say after something really bad happens to someone.  Because the thing that keeps me up at night, the thing that I can’t reconcile in my mind, is that the light in her eyes might be gone forever.
They say that Daniela and her three siblings are experiencing Acute Stress Disorder, and soon they will most definitely transition to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  That’s what they call it after you experience something like what these kids have gone through.  Tuesday morning of this week, the kids witnessed the gruesome murder of their mother by their father with a hammer in their home.  We’ve heard that the kids found hiding places as he threatened to kill them, too.  By the grace of God, their mother’s killer fled the place and the children survived.  Daniela was taken to the hospital and was sedated to cope with the pain.  But now she’s back at her grandmother’s house, which is next door to the home where the tragedy took place.  And all in one day, they have lost their mother and father and witnessed something no human being should ever have to see, let alone a child; and the worst part, for me, is that they don’t have their mother to hold them through all of this pain!
There is no DCF here, or no school psychologists.  No social worker will place her in the care of trained professionals.  For a girl like Daniela who grows up in the barrios of the Dominican Republic, there is no restitution.  She needs so much more now, and she needs it quickly, or the damage can be forever irreversible.  She needs her Heavenly Father more than ever.  I don’t know what we can do for them, but I pray that the seeds planted in her at church and at sports camp that week are enough for her to seek the comfort promised in the Bible.  I pray God will provide the children with a trained professional as they sort through their emotions.  I pray for continued safety and protection for this family and that they will be placed in the care of someone good.  I pray that God continues to break our hearts for what breaks His, for surely God is grieving for these kiddos now.  It is not a coincidence to me that Daniela captured all of our hearts just a week before.  Please lift these angels up, that they will one day find peace and comfort again.  That the twinkle in her eyes will one day be restored, and she will use this oh-so-painful process for the glory of God.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.  Psalm 34:18

15 Things We’ve Learned about Dominican Culture

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This week, we’ve hosted a team of 10 from our home church on a mission trip with our human trafficking organization. The team organized a sports camp for kids 8-18 years old and have had over 100 kids show up each day to be loved on and to hear the message of Christ, and the group of older kids are taught human trafficking awareness. We also launched our awareness campaign in the barrios (neighborhoods) of Jarabacoa handing out literature and just basically informing families of the potential dangers of traffickers. A lot of great stuff going on, but for me, this group has been especially fun because though they are a mission team, they are also our friends! So I have gotten several opportunities to tell them everything that I have picked up in my year of life here about Jarabacoa and the Dominican culture. And the cool thing is that it occurred to me that these things that are so foreign to us, are going to be second nature to our little third culture children, Luke and Emily. I reflected on the top 15 here:

1. Saying Adios. When you are walking on the street and you pass someone going the way you just came, instead of greeting them with “hola (hello),” it is more often “adios” which is Spanish for “good-bye.” This felt so strange when I would arrive to work at the school and the security guard would greet me every morning by saying, “adios,” or in my mind, “good-bye.” Until the day I considered the literal translation of the word “adios” is “to God” and it is more of an expression meaning “Go with God.”
2. Cheek kissing. Took some getting used to, but when I went back to the states to visit in June, it felt so “blah” greeting my friends that I love with your regular old hug.
3. Pointer lips. A common Dominican mannerism is when wanting to point at something, to purse your lips together and tilt your chin in the direction of “it.” It can be a response to a question, “where is the bathroom?” or it can mean, “look at that fill in the blank.” Bonus: Another common gesture that I just picked up on at sports camp this week, is when a kid was requesting a drink of water, in lieu of words they made a fist like a baby who sucks his thumb, and uses his thumb to point to his mouth. Strange, but true.
4. Respect “siesta.” The only thing you are going to do outside of restaurants and the grocery store between the hours of noon and 2 p.m. is nothing. Numerous times of banging fists on the steering wheel as we pull up to the hardware store, bank, cell phone store and basically any other business before we learned to respect the rules of siesta.
5. Anything goes on the road. Seven people on a motorcycle? Sure. Driving the wrong way on a one-way street? No worries. Headlights and turn signals? What are those? Need to haul lumber or another cumbersome item like a couch? Just drag it behind your moto. It’s alllll good.
6. No road rage. This one goes with the last one, but it’s truly been one of our favorite lessons. Just chill out. Going three-wide on a two-lane highway never stressed a Dominican out. There’s no preconceived notion of who has the right-of-way and if you, oops, cut someone off, no one is angry. Horns are used for notice, not to express anger. No harm, no foul.
7. Bathroom novelties. Don’t flush the TP. Toilet paper goes in the trashcan. It’s not fun, it’s not pretty, but it is a normalcy for us.
8. Drop the last sound. Forget everything you learned in Spanish class, because in this country, the last sound of every word is dropped. So “two eggs” is not pronounced “dos huevos” but “doe huevo.” Like-wise tons of vocabulary that you learned is very different here. Domincans are known to have their own version of Spanish.
9. The world is their dance floor. There is always music spilling into the streets from somewhere and Dominicans love to dance and sing loudly. It is not an uncommon sight to see someone stop to dance in the middle of the grocery store aisle.
10. Respond to “God bless you” with “Amen.” Dominicans are enamored by our two toe-headed kids and often gush over them and somewhere in between the “que lindos! (how cute!)” and the hair rubbing I hear them say, “God bless you,” and I’ve had to train my response to say, “Amen.”
11. “Si Dios quiere.” When speaking about the future, or if you were to say, “see you tomorrow,” a common response is “si Dios quiere,” or “if God wills it.”
12. Don’t bargain. This one I’m not sure about, but Dominicans either don’t bargain on prices, or they are just really that good at it. But they don’t budge on their prices, and if you try to speak to a landlord or a business person and “work out a deal,” they look at you like you have just seriously offended them. It makes no sense to us that they would rather leave a property vacant for 12 months or more, than to come down on their rent.
13. Always welcoming. As we went from house to house to invite kids to sports camp or talk about human trafficking, we were not once turned away or found someone pretending not be home, but instead were welcomed to come inside and sit down in many houses. There are zero “No Soliciting” signs around here.
14. Conveniences. Though we have surrendered many modern-day conveniences in the third world move like dishwashers and air conditioning, we have acquired a few that we never had. You can buy limes, trash bags or a cell phone charger at a stoplight or you can even have your windshield washed while you wait. There is only full-service option at the gas pump. One of our favorite options is the small convenience stores called Colmados that are literally sprinkled in every corner of the country. From just about ANYWHERE you are, you can walk a block or less and buy a Coke in a glass bottle, eggs or other various items.
15. “NO HAY LUZ!” And lastly, the biggest adjustment has been altering your life around the electricity issues this country has. Nearly daily, the power is turned off for an unspecified amount of time, usually lasting 4-6 hours in the middle of the day but can be much longer and can be in the middle of the night. Re: no fan, no internet, no laundry, no nothin. You learn to adapt. You wake up early on laundry day and send emails as soon as you think about it, IF you have power. But still, super frustrating. Cooking dinner with flashlights is always an adventure, or a good excuse to go out for pizza. And, hey, the pizza place has a generator with WiFi and air conditioning.