Editor’s note: this report was presented to the 182nd Convention of the Diocese of Michigan on October 22, 2016, by the Very Rev. Dr. Lisa Tucker-Gray, who was in the Dominican Republic as a member of an exploration team in April 2015 and as a member of a mission team in July 2016.
The Episcopal Diocese of Michigan Diocesan Convention
October 22, 2016
The Very Rev. Dr. Lisa Tucker-Gray
Rector, St. John’s Episcopal Church
This is my second trip to this beautiful country and once again am deeply moved by the culture, the music, the food, the colors and the overwhelming sense of openness and generosity from the people. Located in the West Indies, the Dominican Republic occupies the eastern two-thirds of the island Hispaniola, which it shares with Haiti.
The overall size of the island is 18,700 square miles (the same as Vermont and New Hampshire combined), with a population over ten million. It is a country with many challenges, including lack of economic resources, easily evident in the overwhelming amount of poverty both in the cities and in the country. Unemployment is staggering, reaching 60-70% in the barrios and in the countryside, with only slightly lower rates in the city due to the work provided by the tourist industry.
Given the lack of clean drinking water, instability of reliable electricity, limited opportunities for employment, high rates of crime, prostitution, illiteracy and a lack of adequate healthcare, one would think that people here could be bitter, angry and closed off to others coming into to their communities – but from what I encounter, nothing could be further from the truth.
For the second year in a row I am astounded by the openness and true joy evident in everyone and every experience we have been afforded. I am here with four other adults and six youth, all from our diocese, as participants in the second week of the Diocesan Camp Compassion Mission Experience. The week is a wonderful combination of service work at local Episcopal churches and schools along with time to explore some of the beauty of this country and meet many wonderful people.
The Episcopal Diocese of the Dominican Republic has a strong presence here with 78 churches and 30 schools. This trip is being lead by Diocesan Youth Missioner Eric Travis and each night we gather as a group to pray and reflect on the day. We have been using the story of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 as a lens to filter our experiences and draw out meaning and purpose for why we are here and how we are called to pattern our lives after Christ. Yesterday we reflected on the passage “Go and see”- Jesus’ response to the disciples when they came to him wondering how could they feed so many with limited supplies. What I took away from our discussion, and our day, is indicative of what I have experienced every day I am here and it is simply this:
We are the ones who are being fed by those who, on the surface, seem to have such limited supplies.
We are the ones who are here to learn and grow and expand who we are as Followers of Christ.
We are the ones who receive infinitely more than we offer, and, in the end, we are the ones who are being invited to “go and see.”
The old and patronizing paradigm of mission work once defined as Christians going out to “convert non-believers” is blessedly being replaced with a new understanding of the call to build up the Body of Christ through building meaningful and mutual relationships.
The friendships being formed here in our group and in this beautiful place will continue to change us all forever. We are a wonderful combination of youth and adults bringing our own biases, assumptions and opinions along with a willingness to grow and learn, or maybe even unlearn some things all for the sake of growing in faith hope and love.
So now, standing here today at Convention, I just simply want to add my thanks to Eric and to the Diocese for continuing to offer these experiences for our youth and those of us who are privileged to travel alongside them.
I have finally been in this diocese long enough to see our children growing up into beautiful young adults. Nothing gives me more hope and joy than the promise and possibility that they embody. Rest assured, with God at their side the Church is in very good hands. Thank you.