We arrived in the Dominican Republic late last Thursday night. We were treated to a lovely dinner of chicken, yuca, boiled green bananas, rice, and El Presidente beer. Then off to our hotel for the night.
The next day, the first destination for our traveling troupe of gringos was a community up the mountains. Peralta, a place unlike anywhere I had seen before, was a good two hour trek for us. A trek through the country, the city, and a startling level of poverty and desolation. I am constantly curious about a man's perception of himself when he is so firmly ensconced in poverty. Does he see hope? Has he resigned himself to this life of scraping and scratching? Does he believe that he or his family is somehow responsible for their condition? Is there any pride or self-worth at all?
Peralta is a kingdom of rubble. Desolation left over from Hurricane George still has the town scarred and seemingly more than in a physical sense. The king, or rather the saint of Peralta, is a man named Francisco. Francisco is, to put it quite bluntly, the most amazing human being God ever made. I didn't realize it at first, but as I sat in his house and ate lunch prepared by his family, and drank the most heavenly coffee, and I listened to his story and the story of Peralta, I came to that obvious conclusion. Of course, his story and the story of Peralta are one and the same.
When Hurricane George hit the town, Francisco, already a fixture in the community, first led the prevention effort, helping people off of the mountain before the worst of the storm hit. But, when weather wants to destroy, it destroys. And when all of the bridges to your town are washed away and there is no hope of escape, it takes a man authentically anointed by God to become Christ in the flesh - a savior in the most literal sense. And listening to the story of how Francisco and his team walked down the mountain, across flooded rivers, and through thick bush to get help for his people, I was truly aware of those whose presence I was in. On one hand, there is no doubt that Almighty God is present of the side of that mountain. On the other hand, there is no doubt in my mind that the man who was sharing his living room with us was a hero. Not a "Johnny saved the kitten from the tree" type of hero, but the Oskar Schindler type of hero - a man who's sole purpose is the salvation (not just spiritually, but literally, physically) of his people.
Some six years after the Hurricane desolation, Francisco decided that God wanted him to provide healthcare to his community. So, after hitting a one in a million shot for an International World Fund grant, Francisco has instituted healthcare for all of his people, for essentially 65 cents a month per person (think about that the next time you drop $3.50 on a Starbucks coffee - healthcare for 5 people for a month). In the four years that the system has been in place, infant mortality has dropped from 35% to 0%. The same for maternal mortality. People are being treated for tuberculosis, HIV, diabetes, and hypertension.
Funding for the program runs out in two months. Please pray that the money shows up, somehow.
-- More stories from my trip to follow--