Friday, March 16, 2012
Yesterday I returned from the Dominican Republic. I was on a trip with Hill Country Christian School. Hill Country Christian School has a long-term relationship with Makarios International, an organization started by a woman named Sharla Megilligan, who also happens to go to my church. I've heard about Sharla for a long time through the foster care/adoption community at the Austin Stone. She is this beautiful brown-eyed brunette who is also the single mom of twin Haitian boys. Her boys are super cute and a little rambunctious- they're a trio whose hard to miss on Sunday mornings at Kidstuff.
I've heard the story of how Sharla adopted her boys, and I knew she was involved in starting Makarios, but I didn't really understand the work God's doing through Makarios until this week. Makarios is the Greek word for "blessed" and that meaning became abundantly clear during our school trip to Makarios this week.
I'm still not completely clear on how we- Hill Country Christian School- got intertwined with Makarios. But it doesn't really matter. I'm learning about the depths of connectedness within the Body of Christ. People say that the world is small- the community of believers is even smaller. Getting involved in the work God is doing inevitably brings us into contact with other people doing God's work- and we are all intimately connected- almost eerily so.
Here's an example of what I mean. At the Austin Stone, we drink Dominican Joe coffee on Sunday mornings. I've been drinking Dominican Joe for two years. Dominican Joe is an offshoot of Makarios- the proceeds of that coffee go to Makarios International. After a year of drinking that coffee, we got involved in the foster care/ adoption community- where I first heard about Sharla. Then I started working at Hill Country- and found out that they go to the DR every year. Then, to bring things full circle, when I got to Makarios, I met a staff member who was in the Austin Stone storytelling class with me last year, and the host family who lives at the Makarios house- where our group stayed- just moved to the DR from North Carolina, where they attended Colonial Baptist Church- which is where my aunt and uncle currently attend! We are a connected people, amen?
Anyway... getting back to the trip. I went on this trip because of two of my seniors. Even with all of the circumstantial connections to Makarios, I didn't really feel personally connected to the work because I'm a high school teacher and a BSF leader, and those tasks have been so consuming this year that I haven't really been able to think much beyond those two roles. But as a high school teacher, I do things for my students, even when I don't really understand why- and that's why I went to the DR. I have two students in my AP Bio class- I'll call them by their Spanish names in this blog- who really wanted me to go on the trip. Azi and Sierra were insistent that I go on the trip, and asked Senora Majcher, our Spanish 3 teacher, if I could go on the trip, even though I was way behind on the fund-raising and team-building process involved to make this trip happen. She said "yes" to their request and they came into class one day sometime before Thanksgiving and announced, "Mrs. Wermel, you're going to the DR with us." And that was that. God provided the money that I needed almost immediately by allowing Andy to sell his old truck, and by giving friends and family the desire to give financially so that I could go.
But honestly, I was consumed with work- as I have been all year- up until the time we got on the plane last Thursday. I've never had such a stressful school year, and the week before the DR was one of the most stressful and defeating weeks of all. I didn't really understand why I was going. Our students are the ones who are meant to connect with the kids at the Makarios school- and there were plenty of parent chaperones. I was just this random science teacher along for the ride.
But once we got to the DR, God made it pretty clear that my primary role was to tend to the physical and emotional needs of our students while they loved on and connected with the kids at Makarios. There are two words that describe this trip best- relational and emotional. Our school, with all its various strengths and weaknesses- is peculiarly good at relationships. Our students are incredibly relational- and they seek out connectedness with each other and the teachers on staff. It's hard to describe the connection I have with my students. We aren't exactly "friends" because I'm their authority figure, but we are really close, and God just brought us closer together on this trip.
It would take a long time to describe all that God did in the DR, way too long for one blog, so I'll break it down into two stories. One story involves how God used me to minister to one of our students and I'll tell that story here, and the other story is how God allowed me to connect with a precious Dominican little girl named Ruth- and Ruth gets her own blog.
So the story about how God used me to minister to the needs of our HCCSA students is about one of the students who was instrumental in getting me to the DR- Azi. Azi is, if nothing else, persistent. So persistent, in fact, that sometimes I want to throw things at him. I actually have a thin wooden stick- one of those wooden things that you stir paint with- that I keep handy in AP Bio so that I can pop Azi on the top of his head when he's driving me insane. Not hard, of course- the teachers out there will know what I'm talking about. Nonetheless, I love Azi, and he knows that- I'm pretty sure of it.
Azi loves sports- but soccer particularly- and since Texas is a football state and Hill Country is a football school we are the only real soccer players in our little community. So this is one thing that connects us. Azi loves to play soccer in the DR. This was his third trip, and in addition to getting to hang out with some kiddos at the Makarios school who are super important to him- Azi loves playing soccer in one of the Haitian villages that the Mak staff, and our group minister to while we are there.
But on the third day of the trip, Azi hurt his ankle really badly while playing football on the beach in Caberete. He ended up going to the ER when we got back to the Mak house, and the doc there wanted to cast it. He argued his way out of that- persistent, remember- but came home on crutches with his ankle wrapped up and instructions to stay off of it. Well, after about a day of that, persistent Azi went to work trying to talk his way out of staying off his ankle. And was so persistent, in fact, that one night after devotions, his persistency was completely exasperating Senora Majcher and Senorita Inks- our two gracious and amazing Spanish teachers who have both lived in the DR and manage this trip for us. I saw them talking and knew that I needed to step in. So I asked Senora and Senorita if I could talk to Azi alone.
Azi wanted to play, despite his injuries, despite what people were telling him was good for him- and this I completely understood because I am the same way. So I talked to him- not just student to teacher, but player to player, and told him that I knew how he felt. But the truth is, I don't know exactly how he felt. Azi has been through stuff in his life I've never experienced. His life is his own story and his heart is a unique canvas for God to do His work. But on a basic level- a level of wanting to play but needing to submit- I understood where he was coming from. We probably talked for 15 minutes- about Azi's plan for this trip versus God's plan for this trip, about submission, about obedience, about faith. I challenged Azi to stop arguing and submit for 24 hours- to agree to use the crutches, to not try to play injured and to see what God did. In 24 hours, if the ankle looked okay, I agreed to vouch for him to play on our last day in the DR. And Azi, for the most part, did that. He was still persistent, and still "played" the next 24 hours, but played what he called "handicapped soccer" - which was basically a shoot out with his good foot- on crutches. But, for all intents and purposes, Azi submitted- to the Lord, to his leaders. He didn't argue with us more, that I am aware of, and after another 24 hours, his ankle was no longer swollen, and on the last day, we gave him the okay to play.
That last afternoon, I was with him in Chichigua- the Haitian batteye (sugar cane village)- where Azi most loves to play. The "field" there is a bumpy stretch of trash, manure and a little bit of grass. The goals are tall sticks sticking up from the ground. But the players are incredible. They play without shoes on this field of rocks, trash and shreds of sugar cane. They play beautifully. And they beat the mess out of us- winning 15-3. We played for two hours, through the rain, slipping and sliding in the mud and manure and Azi and I both finished the game injured and dirty, but it was as it should have been. After two hours, I sat down on a piece of cinder block and watched Azi as he sat in the middle of the field and cried, his Haitian friend and opponent- Renald- at his side, his arm stretched around Azi. Renald is an amazing player- I'd say he's maybe in his late teens or early twenties and he's played with Azi these three years. It's amazing that, even though an ocean and a language and a socio-economic gap as wide as they get separate them- they are connected in that way that is so difficult to describe.
This morning, as I've unpacked and caught up on the business of life in Austin, I've seen that image of Azi and Renald over and over again in my mind. I read Psalm 113: 5-6 this morning and cannot think of a better description of that moment in time-
"Who can be compared with the Lord our God, who is enthroned on high? Far below him are the heavens and the earth. He stoops to look, and he lifts the poor from the dirt and the needy from the garbage dump. He sets them among princes, even the princes of his people."
We were in a Haitian village a couple of days ago in the DR, and God stooped down and looked. We were in garbage, but we were clean. We were crying, but we were healed. We were among the poor, but we were the ones who recognized our poverty. God lifted a Haitian soccer player up, and set him with one of his princes- Azi, persistent, broken Azi- who is learning, hurting, healing, growing.
When we got to the DR, I didn't really know how God was going to use me. I didn't really expect to see Him move. I was so tired, and wondered why I had committed to do something that would surely exhaust me more when I craved rest. But God refreshed me with His grace, with His far-reaching hand, with His persistent work in my persistent student. How blessed we are, how blessed I am to be a part of His work, a part of His people.
The pictures from this blog are from the Makarios International website. http://makariosinternational.org
The first image is not our team, but you get the idea. Below, Renald is the guy on the left. He makes rings from dominican pesos. I'm wearing one on my right hand as I type this.