Special to the Catholic East Texas by Dr. Danny Jackman
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception parish and many generous benefactors sponsored a team of nineteen missionaries on a spirit-filled journey to the Dominican Republic during the first week of February.
Organized by Kelly and Danny Jackman and Mariluz and Tony Carvajal, the Mission of Love outreach from the Cathedral parish builds upon the model developed over a decade of experience in Saltillo, Mexico and upon the experience of two previous mission trips to the Dominican Republic. At the heart of the effort is the desire to grow the faith of the missionaries and those we encounter by working together in the provision of medical care, the construction of homes, and catechesis with children.
Though most of the participants are members of the Cathedral parish, many are members of several diocesan parishes including St. Mary Magdalene in Flint, St. Matthew in Longview, Prince of Peace in Whitehouse, St. Joseph in Marshall, Our Lady of Guadalupe and Sacred Heart in Nacogdoches.
After departing from the Chapel of Sts. Peter and Paul in the early morning hours of January 31 for the DFW airport, we arrived in Puerto Plata late that evening in the midst of a torrential downpour which led to about an hour of circling in the plane. We had brought 12 boxes and 6 suitcases of medicines, eyeglasses, catechesis materials, school supplies, construction equipment, crocheted crosses and rosaries. We were met at the airport by our colleagues from Mision Joven, a Catholic youth ministry founded over 20 years ago which has some 120 members around the Dominican Republic. After customs inspected each and every box for about 30 minutes, we took off in the downpour for a 45 minute drive to the Bishop’s Retreat House in Cabarete which would be our home for the coming week.
We were concerned about the forecast for rain the following day during which we were all scheduled to participate in home construction, but were relieved when Father Nelson, the director of Mision Joven, assured us that his prayer for better weather would be answered… And it was. Preparations and some of the initial work had been accomplished before our arrival by over 40 volunteers from Mision Joven. We worked side by side with our brothers and sisters there—sawing and nailing lumber, cutting aluminum roof sheets, moving materials, and building fellowship along with the houses together. After everyone took part that day, a team of five or six participated in the construction and completion of 6 homes for those in need. One of the homes was at the top of a very steep hill, up which the lumber and materials had to be carried by hand. Our construction team leader, Jose Becerril Zepeda from St. Matthew’s, mentioned during our evening reflection that, while he was carrying the heavy lumber uphill in the heat, he thought of Jesus suffering for us as He carried the cross. Most of the team had to admit that they were able to think of Jesus only after they had struggled to complete this challenging task. Jose was joined by fellow parishioner Cindy Juarez, Matthew Baum from the Cathedral, Jose Bueno from St Joseph, and Antonia Garcia from Our Lady and Sacred Heart. Thanks to the generosity of many donors, we were able to purchase a used generator, rebar saw, circular saw, water pump, paint and other building materials, as well as 5 beds while we were there.
Jackie Carvajal Mendez of the Cathedral parish led the catechesis team. For the next 4 days the team travelled to different schools to work with the children on craft projects, songs and games centered on themes such as the Good Shepherd and He’s got the whole world in His hands. The Mision Joven volunteers again worked side by side with us, leading songs and dances, entertaining the children, and dispensing treats and toothbrushes along with the school supplies. Francine Eikner, Debbie Lane Fredenberg and Anna Reyland of the Cathedral concentrated on the catechesis work, though everyone had the opportunity to participate at some point.
The medical team was led by Dr. Danny Jackman and Dr. Yvonne Baum from the Cathedral, and Dr. Anne Zeorlin from St. Mary Magdalene, also travelling to 4 different locations to provide much-needed medical care. Each of us was greatly blessed by the expert translating skills of Mariluz and Tony Carvajal, Father Jorge Dingui Acosta, and Patricia Fitzgibbon from the Cathedral. After we noticed on the first clinic day that the wrist blood pressure cuffs were giving false results, Judy Carr volunteered to oversee taking blood pressures manually. Kelly Jackman and Annalisa Stenklyft may have had the most challenging job—organizing the portable pharmacy that included all the medicines we brought, along with several giant bags of all sorts of medicines provided by Father Nelson’s efforts. Most of our team helped sort the medicines and place vitamins, ibuprofen and acetaminophen in plastic bags for distribution. Again we worked side by side with Mision Joven volunteers who chose the sites, coordinated the intake of patients, and helped in all kinds of ways. The Red Cross provided many workers who helped with the pharmacy. Several local physicians volunteered for one or more days. In all we served more than 1,000 patients over the course of 4 very busy days.
Each day began with Mass. Father Nelson led the Mass our first several days, and Father Jorge did so after his arrival. Our Mision Joven brothers and sisters led the music and song. East Texas missionaries and Mision Joven members served together as readers and Eucharistic ministers. Father Jorge gave the homily in English then in Spanish. We were all very moved by the Holy Spirit during these enthusiastic Masses. Each day we had breakfast and dinner at the retreat house with several Mision Joven members. Though we brought a sandwich and fruit lunch to our worksites each day, hot meals were prepared by the members of the community who joined us in a home or under a shade tree.
How did we form this spiritual bond? A series of events that could only have been guided by the Holy Spirit led to an encounter in an Arkansas hospital between a priest from Michigan visiting his ill sister and Sister Dorothy Calhoun, R.S.M. who was her chaplain. Sr. Dorothy, my aunt and godmother, learned that Father Joachim Lally had been to the Dominican Republic on over 40 mission trips, and as it turned out began Mision Joven. A few days before the first exploration of a possible mission outreach for the cathedral in the DR, contact was made with Father Lally. A meeting in the Santo Domingo with Mision Joven then led to a 12 hour roundtrip across the island to Puerto Plata and Caberete in 2013. It was overwhelmingly evident that we would be working together.
It is difficult to convey in a few sentences just how moving a mission experience can be. In a small rural community, many people had stayed up late the night before a clinic/catechesis day; they wanted to prepare food and juice for the missionaries as well as people who would wait most of the day to be seen. In a small enclave in the hills near Altamira, we were informed by a 104 year-old woman and her family that we were the first Americans ever to visit. In an especially moving encounter, we visited a frail 112 year-old woman in her home. She had very poor memory, but wanted us to stay and pray the rosary. Though time did not permit an entire rosary, and though she remembered little else, she shared that she spoke to God often and then prayed along with us the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be to the Father.
During the two Cathedral Mission of Love trips in 2014 and 2015, several thousand people have experienced God’s love in a very tangible way: shared Masses, medical care, new homes, catechesis, and fellowship. We thank Father Jorge for his presence and his spiritual leadership…and his extraordinary work effort. He gave special comfort by blessing many receiving medical care. His Masses are always very moving whether in Tyler or in the Dominican Republic. And he helped us carry a mattress up the aforementioned steep hill in heat approaching 100 degrees!
We are most grateful to the very generous benefactors from the Cathedral and Saints Peter and Paul who contributed to build a home, helped purchase medicines and supplies, supported the bake sales, contributed peaches and made peach preserves, and prepared baked goods and meals for the bake sales. Father Tim Kelly of St. Mary Magdalene and the parishioners of Sacred Heart in Nacogdoches donated funds for the support of this mission, and parishioners of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Tyler donated school supplies. May God continue to bless everyone who generously gave of their time and talent and treasure on behalf of our brothers and sisters in the Dominican Republic.
If you would like more information about the mission experience or you would like to make a contribution, you may contact Kelly Jackman at firstname.lastname@example.org or Mariluz Carvajal at email@example.com.