Yesterday I wrote about stopping off at the maternal-fetal clinic — and learning that a baby had just died because they couldn’t find formula to feed him after his mother died of complications — on our way to El Centro.
After delivering the suitcase of formula to the nurses working at the clinic, we climbed back into the bus to finish the journey to the barrio we were going to be setting up a clinic in that day.
With a heavy heart, I leaned my head against the window, and took a deep breath.
The road lead through rolling hills with groves of lush green trees, brilliantly-colored flowers, banana plants and coconut trees. Then we bus began climbing up a steeper hill that led into the foothills of one of the DR’s highest mountains.
In half an hour, we arrived in a small village, where a school was allowing us to use their building to set up our clinic for the day. When we arrived, we found that the schoolhouse was located half-way up a steep, unpaved hill, and the bus couldn’t make the climb. So our driver parked it at the bottom of the hill, and tried to flag down a pick-up truck to hire to take up the supplies.
When he couldn’t find a pick-up truck (there were only a handful of mopeds passing by), the team decided we would carry the supplies up the hill ourselves.
There were three suitcases of supplies that weighed 60 pounds each. Then there was the large, square wooden box filled with medications that weighed at least 100 pounds.
The trailer also contained three doctors’ bags with gloves, stethoscopes, tongue depressors, etc., a cooler filled with sandwiches and bananas for lunch, and two water coolers.
Team members quickly picked up supplies — with two guys from our group plus our Dominican male translators each taking a corner of the heavy pharmacy box.
After a steep 1/2 km hike up the hillside, we arrived at the two-room schoolhouse made of concrete blocks and cement floors, with a small basketball court in the front of the building and an outhouse out back.
Our translators suggested we use the first room as the pharmacy. We put a few wooden desks together, and set the pharmacy box on the make-shift table. The box was a large rectangle folded in half. When unfolded, it contained 20 squares that each contained baggies of 30-day supplies of various medications — one square was blood pressure medicines, another was anti-parasitic meds, another was for ibuprofen and Tylenol, another was anti fungal cream. There were also squares for anti-nausea medicines, anti-diarrheal medicines, antibiotics and cough syrup.
In the second room, we set up two desks as triage areas, and two desks on the opposite side of the room where the doctors, both male Dominican Family Practice doctors in their 30’s, would see patients.
Outside, under the shade of a large tree, people who wanted to be seen that day had assembled in plastic chairs set up in a semi-circle.
As the clinic leader, a 50-something-year-old Dominican woman with a commanding presence, gave directions to the patients, our team leader Chris asked if I’d go with her and Pastor Enal to do home visits. Pastor Enal pastors a church in San Juan, and often travels into the barrios with teams to serve as a translator, and to share the Good News with people — that they are seen and loved by Jesus.
I loaded my backpack with gauze, alcohol swabs, gloves, a stethoscope, a blood pressure cuff, a thermometer and a glucose monitor that I could use to examine patients who were too elderly, ill or frail to make it to the clinic, and Pastor Enal, Chris and I headed back down the hill towards the homes below.
As we walked, I asked Chris a question that had been bothering me for a while, before we even got to the Dominican.
To put it bluntly, What was the point?
What was the point of Americans coming down for a week or two? What was the point of us going into the barrios and giving people a month’s worth of medications — most of whom would need refills when the 30 days were up?
Chris simply smiled. Because she knew very clearly what the point was.
She explained that Solid Rock International, the non-profit that operates the barrio clinics, the main medical center in San Juan, as well as a dozen schools, is what it’s all about. Solid Rock uses visiting teams like ours to go into the barrios as ambassadors. (There are hundreds of barrios, so they don’t have the staff to visit them all).
Yes, Chris acknowledged, we provide temporary treatment of chronic diseases, and we treat and cure mild infections. And while there’s value in that alone, the bigger point is to let people know that they are loved, and that Solid Rock is a constant presence here in their country that wants to have an ongoing relationship with them.
In a way, Solid Rock is practicing the Incarnation.
In the Old Testament, there was a phenomenon called a Theophany, the appearance of God in physical form, often called The Angel Of The Lord. The Angel often appeared for a short time, for a specific purpose, and then quickly disappeared.
But when Jesus arrived, Jesus didn’t come as a temporary appearance of God, a transient manifestation of Divine Love. Jesus came, took on physical form and became Immanuel, God With Us. The God who loves, the God who suffers, the God who stays.
With that idea in mind — that our team is simply an extension of a ministry that cares for, empowers and loves on the Dominican people — and has for the past 4 decades — I was excited to go into the barrios to remind people that there’s a non-profit on the ground created just for them, and run by people just like them — Dominicans who have been educated and trained to become leaders who run the majority of Solid Rock’s ministries.
As Pastor Enal knocked on the front gate of the first elderly patient he and Chris and I were visiting that day, I smiled at the reminder of the God who sees.
The God who loves.
The God who stays.