When you looked out of the left side of the bus you would see the stunning, blue Caribbean Ocean, lined by countless palm trees. A picture that would fit perfectly on any postcard you may send home to remind others, that while in Paradise, you thought of them. Then, on the right side of the bus, the side I happened to be sitting on, you'd look out the window and your heart broke. There were piles and piles of trash. I am not talking about the trash we occasionally see on the side of the road here, but literally piles of it.
Every time the bus stopped you would have kids--kids, run up to the windows begging to sell you something or just on the hope that you would be gracious enough to give them anything.
There we stray emaciated dogs everywhere you looked.
There were scooters all over the streets, because affording the $6 per gallon it would take to fill up a car would be impossible on the little income, if any, that they make. Every so often you would see an entire family riding on the scooters, the dad would be driving and the mom would be holding a child on one hip and an infant on the other as they zoomed in and out of traffic.
The sugar cane fields where massive and you would see hundreds of workers with only their machetes slaving away in the DR heat.
There would be groups of men, with what little tools they owned, waiting on many street corners hoping to be picked up for any kind of work that happened to drive by.
You would see "houses," if you could call them that, lined up, and outside in a metal bucket little children would be taking their baths.
It was a world that inside the resort you were completely hidden from.
Our tour guide was amazing, not only did He have an amazing spirit about him, but he was passionate about his country. He loved it and was heartbroken over its tribulations. We not only learned a lot of history, but we got his story, his enthusiasm and a very authentic look into the lives of those who call the DR their home. As we drove through another town in route to Santo Domingo, he shared that his apartment was just down the road. He jokingly said on the way back to Punta Cana, he would invite us all up for some cafe . . . and something tells me that he was only half way kidding, that if he could, he would.
If what you saw alone wasn't enough to knock the wind out of you, the numbers and statistics he shared, were sure to. You think teen pregnancy is a trend here, 40% of their population is 14 years old and younger. He jokingly blamed it on Mama Juana, a Dominican aphrodisiac, which consist of rum, honey, red wine and tree bark and herbs . . . quite yummy.
If you are looking at building a beach house to retire in and I haven't scared you away from the DR, you could build a massive house right on the beach, one with a pool for about $200,000 American dollars . . . .pocket change in terms of a beach house, right?
A 3 bedroom apartment would put you back about $300 American Dollars monthly. And for his apartment monthly it cost him $150.
We learned that bad storms and hurricanes are nothing new to that area, and if you had a home made of wood and a metal roof, it was likely the roof wouldn't make it through the hurricanes that pass through. Concrete was the way to go. Driving through the towns, you saw maybe a hand full of concrete homes, and countless homes with metal roofs.
Tourists are the number one income for the Dominican Republic. If you were lucky enough to work on one of the thousands of resorts that lined the shores, then your monthly income was considered lavish at a whopping $11,700 per month in Dominican Pesos (that's about 300 American Dollars).
As I sat there, and saw with my eyes the reality of poverty that he was sharing, I was speechless. I've been around "poverty." I've sat on the street corner with friends who have no home to lay their head. I have listen to stories of those who have lived on the streets, those who have struggled to make ends meet and to put food on the table . . . and yet, this world of poverty was all new to me . . . one that I knew existed, but couldn't wrap my mind around the reality of it until I saw it face to face.
Other people on the bus noticed their living conditions too: "Why don't they just pick up their trash?" "If we rode with a baby like that, it would be taken away from us in a heartbeat." "Gosh, every teenager is pregnant." "Can you imagine taking a bath in your front yard?" "Why do they continue to build buildings and start new roads, if they are just going to stop 1/2 because they ran out of money?"
It was on that bus, and in the streets of Santo Domingo that I was humbled. Not because it was easy to see how many blessings cover my life, how much I truly have, or how many privileges I have at my fingers tips that a majority of this world will never know of, but because God used this excursion to open the eyes of my heart.
So often we see only what the eyes in our head show us. We see the trash, we see the despair, we see the unimaginable living conditions, we see the corruption, we see the addictions, we see the handicaps, we see the diseases, we see the endless cycles . . . and with that limited vision, I think we . . .I think I miss out so often on what God is calling me to do.
I was reminded of Jesus' ministry as I sat trying to process everything. Jesus never looked at the piles of trash, the structure of a house or the unsanitary living conditions. He was able to look past the unimaginable situation and into the hearts of men. Every single time Jesus interacted with people, it didn't matter what they were wearing, how undone their hair was, what part of town they lived in, what language they spoke, what socially unacceptable habit they couldn't shake, or how different they appeared to be. He interacted with them based on their story.
Have you ever had a preconceived notion about someone? Judged someone based on an outward perception? I know I have. (More times than I would like to admit.) But then you have the opportunity to hear their story, and everything changes? Your heart softens, your attitude is kinder, and your understanding of where they are coming from and why they do what they do is greater? Every time Jesus interacted with someone, He interacted with their story in mind. And every time He interacted with them, He did so with love.
That's what I miss at times. I miss viewing the world and everyday life with the eyes of my heart. I miss out on the inner pages of the story because I can’t get past the outside cover. And I miss remembering to ask myself "what love is required of me here?" Too often, I think we want to package things into a box that fits our theology, our understanding, and what we hold as right and wrong. We forget about this indescribable grace and this unconditional love that Christ has poured out and meets us where we are and it can't be contained in some pretty wrapped package topped with a bow.
The rest of my vacation was radically different, my perspective was changed, and opportunities to hear stories of locals and tourist appeared everywhere. To meeting a Dominican Pastor who owned an orphanage, to the toxic couple from Connecticut, to the military dad from NY, to the special needs young adult who sat eating breakfast alone, to the Haitian refugee painter, to the Dominican musician who loved American baseball. The divine appointments where there, stories were waiting to be heard, and Christ's love was waiting to be poured out among them all.
The best part of my vacation wasn't staying in a beautiful resort. It wasn't the warmth of the sun, a cold "Henry" special by the pool, or the breathtaking sunrises and sunsets over a clear ocean lined with palm trees. It was riding among the scooters, passing by the sugar cane fields, walking the crowded streets of Santo Domingo and being able to see past the garbage, the poverty, the addictions and seeing men and women, teens and children, infants and unborn babies that God loves more than their wildest dreams, and hearing His small whisper to remind me to ask myself as I passed by each one “What love is required of me?"
John 13:35 …Christ's disciples will be known by our love….
WHAT LOVE IS REQUIRED?