Sunday, January 8, 2012

Bánica 1

As I wrote about in my last blog post from December 28th through January 4th I had the privilege of serving on a mission trip in Banica, Dominican Republic. The trip was an incredible experience that I will never forget. I hope to share in this post how the trip meant to me and the others that I was able to serve with.

The trip began in Miami, where our group met after traveling in from across the country. There were students and FOCUS staff from all over. The schools and places represented were: Benedictine College, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Nebraska-Omaha, Creighton University, Minnesota State University, University of Wisconsin, Seton Hall University, FOCUS National Headquarters, and a few guys that play for major league organizations.

We left for the Dominican on Wednesday December 28th and arrived in Santo Domingo around 3pm Atlantic time. I was expecting a 2 hour drive to our destination, but it was actually close to a 6 hour drive. Our destination, Banica, is along the Haitian border.

Welcome to Banica!
We arrived in Banica very late, I think it was close to 11. We settled into our home for the week, the San Francisco of Asis Parish Center. All 28 of us stayed under one roof and shared a room with 1-3 others. It was close quarters, but the only time we spent there was to sleep and to shower, the accommodations were perfect.

Our mission began the next morning. The first town that we got to work with the kids was about 15 minutes from Banica called Pedro Santana. Friday we were in Banica, Saturday we were in a small town that I don't know how to spell (sorry!!), and we ended camp on Monday in Sabana Cruz. Each day was split into two camp sessions, a morning session usually from 9-12 and an afternoon session from 2-4:30.

We were blessed to spend the time in between camps each day with a family that prepared lunch for us. Lunch time each day was very enjoyable for all of us although most of us spoke basically no Spanish. It was beautiful to see the generosity of the families and how hard they worked to prepare and serve us a meal with how little they appeared to have. Most of the women spent their entire mornings preparing lunch for us. We split into 5-6 groups and despite most of the groups having a few male student athletes there was always plenty of food left over after each meal. In addition to their generosity they were also very appreciative and so thankful that we were there to serve their children and grandchildren.

Going to camp each day we really didn't know what to expect. Last year the camp was at Banica for all four days and this year as I explained above we were in a different town each day. So although there were 5 guys on the trip that also attended last year, each day was somewhat of a surprise. The first 2 days we held camps at fields that were very nice. The last 3 days of camp were much different. The "baseball fields" were just fields, wide open mostly dirt fields that appeared to also be serving as pastures for various donkeys, horses, and cows. But the playing field did not keep us or the kids from having a great time.

The boys chalking the field
At those 2 other fields, I think what stood out most to me was the 1st on that we saw. We were all very surprised to arrive and learn that this open field with little grass and lots of "gifts" from the animals roaming around was the town's baseball field. After we took it in for awhile we again were surprised to see some of the older kids walk up with what appeared to be a bag of chalk. Sure enough the kids started to chalk foul lines and on deck circles. They took a string from home plate and pulled it tight to a tree in right field and another in left and poured the chalk on the string all the way out. It was really neat to see the pride they took in their field. The on deck circles were complete with half semi circles to create what looked like a baseball.

At our camp in Banica we were split into 3 groups, high school, middle school, and elementary. I was with the middle school kids and somehow ended up being the only coach in that group that could speak Spanish...and saying that I can speak Spanish is a stretch! But I was able to communicate with them well enough to organize a home run derby, it took me a few times to get across what I wanted to and the boys all laughed at me, but we eventually had a home run derby!

After the derby, our group got the baseball gloves. There were only a limited amount of gloves for camp and very few of the kids had their own. I could not believe how excited the kids were to play catch. They were so excited and so content to just play catch, it made their days to be using those gloves. Originally we planned to have the kids play catch for maybe 10 minutes, but since they enjoyed it so much we just let them keep playing.

There was one boy that day I don't think I will ever forge and I don't even know his name. He was about 15 or 16 and I believe he has downs syndrome. In the morning a lot of the kids were laughing at him and making fun of him when he couldn't do some of the stretches. When we played a game with our group it was his turn to bat. His teammates were complaining, but the boy grabbed the bat, made the sign of the cross, kissed his hand, and pointed to the sky, just like Sammy Sosa used to do after a home run. Sammy is Dominican by the way! The boy whiffed 4-5 times before I asked him if I could help him. We whiffed the first one, but the second was right up the middle into center field. The guy pitching told me that he wished he would have had a camera to take a picture of the boys face when he hit it. He was shocked he hit too because he froze, his teammates were yelling to run so he did. To first and then to second...even though his teammate was on the base. After second base he ran back to home plate where he again made the sign of the cross, kissed his hand, pointed to the sky and gave me a high five. The coolest part though was that all the kids were cheering and clapping for him, it was a really neat moment.

There are so many moments from the week that I will never forget. I was so impressed with the reverence that the children had during mass, especially the boys that were altar servers. Those boys did everything but celebrate mass!! They arrived early to set up, did everything at the right time during mass and often in unison, they stayed late to clean up and the priest almost never had to remind them to do something. I was even more impressed with their knowledge of the faith. During camp we would read scripture with the boys and give a brief version of our testimony to them with the help of a translator. One morning, our translator asked the kids a question. He asked them how to pray, how to express gratitude towards God and how to respect god. I wasn't expecting much from their answers, but their answers blew me away. The group that was asked was made up of 5-19 year old boys. Boys of all ages raised their hands to answer and shouted things out like: la Santa Misa, Eucharista, oracion, adoracion, and respetar otros. I was surprised to hear the younger kids say things like Eucharist and adoration mostly because I was mostly unfamiliar with those things into my 20's! And as confirmed at mass with their reverence, the kids were not merely just saying these things, but they understood what they said.

Christ was truly present in those that we served and those that served us and all of us from the States fell more deeply in love with our faith and our Savior.

There is still a lot more that I want to share about this trip, so I'll be writing another post soon!

Dios le bendiga!

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