Today was the official launch of the Batey Baseball League and Batey Aleman put on a great show for its many guests!
As I pulled up to Aleman, the boys were all in baseball uniforms, proudly displaying their new found status in the area.
This place, often discarded and forgotten, was forgotten no more. Local news stations filmed the event, a military band played in the parade into town, the girls were dressed in traditional Dominican costume bearing the red, white and blue of their flag and the boys were the pride of the village.
For the first time, I did not have to look for my sponsored child, Adrian. He was looking for me and found me in the town center and jumped into my arms. My, how things have changed in my last few visits. Adrian never left my side – I mean never.
Once the parade made its way to the baseball field, people took their places under tents behind home plate. At home plate was the emcee of the festivities, the mayor of the San Pedro area.
We watched as the Dominican flag was raised over the field and listened to the national anthem. I was surprised to see many very small kids singing word for word. The pastor gave a wonderful prayer and blessed the field.
Then I was asked to go up to the podium and say a few words…which I hadn’t prepared for.
But I made the best of it and really let God do the speaking as I held Adrian tightly. Yes, he went to the podium with me because I didn’t want the dignitaries and the folks from 60 Minutes to forget why we were all assembled.
This is about God, this is about what he is doing through the local church and through sponsors around the world who care deeply for these children and who partner with us in order to release the children from the evils of poverty.And so Adrian, without uttering a word, told a greater story than what I could have said if given a half hour.
Albert Pujols sat at our table and he was asked to speak also. Albert graciously thanked Compassion and the good people from Rawlings who donated most of the equipment the children used.
And as usual, Albert was not shy about giving glory to God.
The best part of the ceremony was when several children, dressed in traditional Dominican merengue outfits, showed all the visitors why merengue is the national dance!
They were about 7 years old, wearing white outfits with colorful sashes. These kids were dressed and they could move!
In fact, one little boy danced at home plate with maracas and he moved his feet as if this dance was as natural to him as walking. I have never seen anything like it.
The entire ceremony took about an hour and a half and then we were off with the crews to visit the homes and hear the individual stories of so many poor in the batey.
When we arrived at one home, we were shown a child who has encephalitis. His head has swollen and his skin hangs off of his bones. The mother was crying as she pulled out the x-rays of his head to show the large amount of water on his brain. The child will undergo surgery, but it was obvious mom is frightened.
So many people erroneously think that because the poor live such difficult lives, marred by illness, hunger, gangs and all other symptoms of poverty, that they are somehow used to death around them. I am here to tell you, a parent is a parent in all cultures and classes and that loving bond is not easily broken. Heartache may surround them, but just like us, they still don’t expect to be a casualty. It’s nothing they can ever get used to.
At the same time, if Compassion was not in the batey, this mother would not have any access to medical care and could never have shown us x-rays. If the local church partner had not intervened, there would be no scheduled surgery.
Some of the visitors who were with us found the batey lifestyle difficult to handle. Albert assured them, as did the rest of us, that, “This wasn’t bad. We’ve seen worse.”
As I sit here trying to mentally regroup from the chaos of events and shifting of emotional gears, I can tell you that what I witnessed today was God in the middle of this batey, holding their hands, clutching their children and saying, “I am well pleased.”
I walked away with thinking of something I wrote while watching the effects of Hurricane Tomas on the sea across the street from where I am staying:
“Here I am at the hotel, looking out at the expanse of ocean before me. The white tipped waves are crashing in, moving in different directions but in parallel lines. It’s obvious the ocean is tumultuous and the normally turquoise waters are brown – muddied by the churning ocean floor.
When I view something this intimidating and this fierce, I often think about the power of God. I think of Jesus calming the sea. I think of the sea creatures that will one day bow before Him.
The magnitude of the ocean brings me closer to the fear of God – the mystery of God – than anything on this earth. Maybe that’s why I am so at peace with it and comforted by it.
The first line of Genesis talked about the Trinity, the spirit of God hovering over the waters. I sense it when I look out at the endless sea. And the peace comes from knowing that there is not one area in this world in which God is not working and active. Which means that there is not one place in our lives that our loving God does not have total control and is working, sometimes against our wants and desires, to ensure that we grow in Him, draw nearer to Him, rely upon Him and ultimately submit fully to Him.”
The kids in Batey Aleman are my kids. The people in Batey Aleman are my people. Class, language, race, color are indistinguishable. Prejudice on any level does not exist here. We are family. We are the body. We are as our Creator sees us and I know He is pleased.
As I write this, I hold back tears. My heart is open and my focus on His work is intense. It is if I am already at work, with the faces of the kids etched on my heart.
I think of the hope they now have. It gives me that vision of being in a dark place, but for a small crack where light shines through. The darkness of that place is overcome by a sliver of light, while the light is unaffected by the darkness. That is Batey Aleman.
The children there are each flickers of light in what was once a dim, dark place, cloaked in oppressive poverty. Hope is renewed there. Hope is active there. Hope is a noun there. Hope dwells there. Hope is God.
And I found God there – in my own personal journey. Granted, we all know God is everywhere. But in certain places, at times when we are still, we are more open to receive Him.
Certainly, in the turbulence of life, we turn to God. God can often be a last resort for life’s pressing situations and wrenching decisions after coming to the realization that my way didn’t work and my plans, my strategies, my timing was in error.
In Batey Aleman, God revealed himself to me through the eyes of the people there.
Every time I drive up the desolate dirt road lined with potholes and litter, the children and adults run to welcome me with hugs, kisses, smiles and laughter – as if a homecoming.
They don’t welcome me because I have something to offer them or some way in which they can benefit. They welcome me because I showed up; because I did not discount them.
They welcome me because they see that I know their worth, even if they don’t. That’s not anything that I claim on my own behalf. I am human with a human heart. I am flawed.
Knowing the intrinsic value of every person, without regard for appearances, can only come from God. If left to my own devices, and my own understanding, I’m not sure I would be able to see clearly the sincerity of those in the village, or their value.
See, without God’s conviction, we humans are self-serving. Trust me, I can speak for myself on that point alone.
That’s when something called empathy enters. I have heard some label the tenets of empathy as co-dependence, rendering empathy as a negative value. This is not God’s intention.
God calls us to bear the burdens of others. When these people hurt, I hurt. When they cry, I cry. When they bleed, I bleed. When they fall, I carry them. And when they are threatened, I fight.
We are the body and when one area is not functioning properly, or is under attack, the rest of the body is weakened and vulnerable. Therefore, when we bear with others, we are strengthened as a whole, functioning efficiently and effectively – and few things are more positive and reinforcing.
Tomorrow, we’ll visit the batey again. Albert will teach his clinic to the boys and we will continue to make home visits and educate the people from 60 Minutes on the issues of poverty, from a more personal perspective.
See, at Compassion, we know the people we serve on a personal basis. We know their names, their personal circumstances and have walked with them on what can often be a perilous journey.
Then again, we know their Creator. We are all part of His body.