This summer, I participated in a program called The Experience with Kingdom Building Ministries. I felt as though we played hopscotch all throughout the United States and the island of Hispaniola. We spent time in Denver, CO; Jarabocoa, Dominican Republic; Majaguita, DR; Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Petit-Goave, Haiti; Chicago, IL; Mishawaka, IN; Minneapolis, MN; and Franklin, NE. It was a type of hopscotch that I half enjoyed and half hated. I loved it because I greatly enjoy seeing places. I hated it because I felt as though I could spend much more time in each place. By nature, I take great interest in observation. The majority of my travels were spent in a continual observation of the ridiculous.
In Denver, I saw the flattest piece of land that I had ever laid eyes upon suddenly transform into the Rocky Mountains. Now, I completely understand the fear that early pioneers may have felt as they traveled to the West and came to those majestic peaks. In my secret thoughts as a child, I always imagined that I would travel to the West, fight Indians, and hunt bison. After viewing the Rockies, I am not so sure.
In Jarabocoa, I observed Americans speak fluent Spanish in an American accent. Admittedly, I envied their Spanish abilities. Yet, I found it incredibly difficult not to cringe when they opened their mouths especially when acquainted with the amount of time that they have made the DR home. It was much easier for me to observe ridiculousness in my own American culture since I am familiar with the culture of both the Dominican Republic and America. I find that I must be cautious with my level of scorn for my own culture when I travel away from the United States.
In Majaguita, laughter ensued when I watched my fellow Americans explore their lodging for two nights. “Oh, horrors! There are giant spiders and we are sleeping under mosquito nets with holes.” And I just smirked as I listened to their horror knowing that many Dominicans do not even have a toilet. We had that and a shower. When the toilets failed to flush, I laughed and walked away. Meanwhile, my fellow American girls would stand over the toilet in frustration trying to get the silly thing to flush. Dominican toilets are like Dominican people. They are all very laid back. How uptight we Americans are and how comical it is!
In Port-au-Prince, we experienced a sea of people that never disappeared. At night, candles twinkled and dimly lit the amount of people still sleeping on the streets. One day as we made our way through rush hour traffic, a white UN official leapt from his truck in frustration. He ran out into the middle of an intersection and began screaming directions at the top of his lungs. The audacity of his actions shocked me. Trying to change the traffic pattern within Haiti was like trying to change the very weave of the life-fabric of Haiti.
In Petit-Goave, there was a different type of sea – an actual sea. This ocean was littered with trash and an occasional pig would wade by. The Haitian people in this small town took care of their own personal cleanliness but the streets and their properties were similar to trash heaps. Tents were pitched in front of restored houses and we were told that many people chose to sleep in the tents regardless of the state of completion of their houses. The earthquake had traumatized their sense of security. Although the horizon was not the most sterile, the people carried themselves with a beautiful pride that emanated to their entire being.
In a tent city, we set up VBS in a church that lacked a roof and many of its walls. The crush of the children was nauseas. Their smiles were huge and their needs were larger. Haitian adults stood on the sidelines as their children interacted with the Americans. One man approached an American girl on our team and proceeded to woo her in Spanish. How ironic that a Haitian would woo an American in Spanish. Did I mention that I’m the only one on my team who could speak Spanish?
In Mishawaka at Bethel College, Kingdom Building Ministries organized Deep Camp, a camp focused on a deeper relationship with Jesus. In every aspect of our society, numbers are extremely important. At this camp, we had 16 students. It was unimportant that we had 16 students because they were seen as individuals desiring deeper relationships with Jesus. No one counted. Some others may have laughed at the small number and the fact that it was entitled ‘camp’. Practicality says that numbers should matter. Let’s throw practicality to the wind.
In Chicago, I lost my identity and became another with the aid of UrbanEx. I roamed the streets with no sense of direction and no help from any human being. Hanging over the railing of a bridge, I looked down to a sidewalk and saw magazines spread out in the most artful manner. It looked as though someone had dropped a pile of magazines over the railing. Yet, the magazines were perfectly spaced from each other. I picked one up. Hours later, I handed it off to another woman after a few minutes of conversation. How funny that I should offer comfort when I had been searching for that same thing.
In Minneapolis, we stormed the Mall of America. Inside, I watched as one of the girls in our group was completely enthralled by the amusement park within the mall. We rode a roller coaster. The three levels of mall were extensive and enthralling. After a bit, my friend and I took up residence in the middle of an aisle in Barnes & Noble with the same book in our separate laps. With the entire mall still left unexplored, we contentedly read children’s literature in the middle of the aisle where a guy from Starbucks brought us sample mochas.
In the middle of nowhere, Nebraska, we were left stranded at night in the middle of a square mile cow pasture with flashlights, water, shelter, a map, and baby food. We never did find The Cliff on our own. We got rescued and then left at The Cliff for a long cold night. A bull tried to trample us. On the bright side, I saw my first vibrant shooting star. On a creative note, we girls had to build a cardboard and duct tape boat that would sail across a river. We almost made it. Oh! If you ever have the option of fire and water in a similar game of ‘Survival’ or ‘Stranded’, always choose fire and water. Not only is fire warm, but it is also comforting.
A couple of images that have placed themselves in my mind demand to be shared. While in Haiti, our truck was rattling through the streets and my eyes lit upon a man who was gnawing upon a piece of sugar cane. Juice ran down his chin and his eyes smiled. Not far away, on top of a roof of a broken building was a boy that was dancing. I had to laugh at such a lovely yet tragic picture. Farther down the road, a woman and a child stood on top of a mound of trash that was accompanied by many other similar piles. Each is a picture of humanity with all of our anomalies and oddities. We are happy to be alive regardless of our circumstances. Life is full of ridiculous moments.