Twenty-four people, representing four different LaGrange County area churches, recently returned from a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. The LaGrange County team was joined at the Miami, Fla., airport by four others from Wisconsin. The trip was organized by Solid Rock International, a Christian non-profit organization focused on “transforming the body, mind, and soul of the poor in the Dominican Republic.”
Dave Wenger of Shore Mennonite Church, located east of Shipshewana, became involved with Solid Rock International close to 15 years ago and in those 15 years has led many groups ministering to the people of the Dominican Republic through the agency in building schools and churches.
Jerry Yoder of Emma Mennonite Church, located north of Topeka, who joined Wenger's group in 2005, led this latest mission trip. Yoder oversaw the part of this group in construction efforts. They worked on a water filtration system plant and at an area school building as well as painting and making needed repairs at the “guesthouse” in San Juan where volunteers and SRI staff stayed, he said.
But unlike previous trips to the Dominican Republic that dealt strictly with construction of churches and schools, part of this trip was geared to medical teams which visited in small villages (barrios) setting up health clinics. "In the Dominican Republic, many people either live far from a health care facility or may not have the means to afford regular checkups and basic medicines,” Yoder said. “Volunteers travel to different rural locations each day, providing and assisting with outpatient medical care for those in need. Non-medical team members of this group were also useful with crowd control, entertaining the children, and assisting the on-site pastor."
Attending the mission group for the first time was Daryl Hershberger, M.D., of Redi-Care Inc., north of LaGrange, a member of Marion Mennonite Church located west of Howe. Hershberger and a doctor from the Wisconsin group were accompanied by about 15 other volunteers that assisted with the crowds, child care, etc. Several SRI translators also preached to the people as they waited in line at the clinics, conveying that the team cared for and loved them as Christ loved us because they took time to care for their physical needs.
According to Hershberger, over 500 patients of varying ages were seen in a four-day span. Days began at 8 a.m. with a hearty breakfast at the guesthouse, then it was on the road to outlying barrios. Crowds gathered for clinics at schools and churches, depending on the barrio, by 9 a.m. Sack lunch breaks were staggered, with the clinic closing usually by 4 p.m.
Several members of the ministry team brought their own supplies, coloring books for kids by team assistants and medical supplies and medical exam equipment with them on the trip. Some of the mission group also packed extra suitcases of clothing. SRI staff dispersed items of clothing to those that visited the clinic that day who were in need of shirts and shoes.
"Considering the number of people I saw, there was virtually no evidence of obesity, very little high blood pressure or diabetes. What surprised me was how healthy the people were for as poor as they are. How happy and well-adjusted for what little they have," Hershberger said. "People here have opportunities available that they don't have. They have no opportunity to get out of poverty," he said.
According to an internet website, although large cities such as San Juan appear prosperous and promote tourism, about one in five Dominicans was estimated to live in poverty and almost one in 10 in extreme poverty, which is more serious in the rural areas (barrios), as measured by the poverty gap index.
Livelihood in rural areas is derived mainly from agriculture. An estimated 13 percent of children under five years of age in Dominican rural areas and 8 percent in urban areas are chronically malnourished. Moreover, it is estimated that 27 percent of the population is malnourished. Even if pure/clean water is available, most of the population of the Dominican Republic does not have hot water.
Hershberger said that he planned to return to assist SRI in providing care for the poor people of the Dominican Republic. "Our group was just part of the ‘big impact’ that Solid Rock International has on the Dominican Republic. Shore Church has gone yearly and worked construction projects on schools and churches. Admission to their schools is highly sought after," he said and noted that in the most recent trip, construction projects included a water purification plant as well as additional school classrooms.
Also, according to Dr. Hershberger, SRI, in cooperation with the Christian Association for the Promotion of Integrated Health, has planned to construct a new non-profit hospital that will expand available services. The project is the vision of a Dominican doctor. American teams will assist Dominican doctors in specialized fields such as ear/nose/throat, obstetrics/gynecology, physical therapy, prosthetics, as well as specialized hand, orthopedic and plastic surgeries.
Along with Shore, Emma and Marion Mennonite churches, members of New Life Fellowship south of Shipshewana also participated in this mission trip.
Another SRI trip is being scheduled for July 20-27. For more information on this trip to the Dominican Republic, contact Jerry Yoder at 463-1891.