Posted by: michaelandesther | July 28, 2012

À la pwochen… (until next time…)

After almost 3 years in the D.R. it’s time to head back to the States for awhile to recharge the savings account. This time we’ll be looking for part-time work so we can continue to pioneer together so it will take at least a year before we can consider heading back or looking to other options. While in the U.S. we will be attending the Seattle French congregation.

That means this time we needed to sell or give away all of our stuff since we only came back with 6 suitcases containing almost everything we own these days (and 1/2 of that is books).

But that means sad goodbyes as we leave our good friends in the D.R. for now so here are some pictures with fond memories.

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Here’s the little Haitian Creole group when we arrived in Bávaro. Attendance on Sundays was perhaps 15-25 and we met in a hot, dusty noisy elementary school room (and yes, the brother giving the talk had to put his notes and Bible on a 5 gallon bucket).  At the time there was no Kingdom Hall on the eastern tip of the island, the closest was about an hour drive away.

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Now we have a beautiful new Kingdom Hall!

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Pictures from the 2012 zone visit

The main program was in the capital, but we were able to connect to the audio and video links over the Internet. Our brothers worked hard to set everything up and we had the program in 4 languages! Spanish in the main hall, Russian in the smaller room inside and English and Creole in tents in the parking lot… though it got tricky when the rain started to pour!

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Assembly in Santo Domingo

We had a great assembly in Santo Domingo with many who were baptized (sorry, I forgot the exact count) but one was Gaby from our congregation who I shared the privilege of studying with. The picture on the bottom right shows three of our students, Vanessa, Widlyne and Moliere who sat with us during the program.

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Pictures from our last meeting in Creole-Bávaro

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Going away party

The congregation threw us a going away party and there was plenty of food, talking and even dancing. Lots of good memories!

So all in all, it has been amazing to be with this congregation which started so small yet is growing so quickly:

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We wish the best for the brothers that remain but we’re not ready to say goodbye yet, just à la pwochen (until next time)!

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Posted by: michaelandesther | July 27, 2012

Spain

MADRID

After our goodbye to the Dominican republic, we arrived in the States on June 7th. We dropped off our 6 suitcases and a week later we were on the plane to Madrid.

We arrived in Madrid on the 15th of June,a little confused by all the different time zones we had been in in one weeks time. Plus we had taken the redeye and skipped a night of sleep. The first part of our stay one in a studio apartment downtown Madrid just of Grand Via, the major shopping street, so cool!

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A view from our tiny rooftop window of the studio in downtown Madrid

The first few days we spend as tourist and saw a lot of Madrid. It is a beautiful city, very clean and very friendly. The architecture is amazing and there are beautiful parks everywhere, very special for such a big city.

Of course we visited and toured the Royal Palace and we went to the Prado museum with beautiful art dating back centuries.

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The Royal Palace in Madrid

In the late afternoons you could often find us in Retiro park with a book, relaxing and soaking up some sunshine. One of the other parks that is only open on Sundays is El Capricho, so beautiful and it gives you the feeling you’re in the woods.

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Retiro Park

The second week we moved apartments and rented a room in a house of a couple.The house was located around the corner of the Kingdom Hall, so it made meeting attendance and service so much easier.

Although we loved Madrid and all it’s sights, the best part was spend with the local brothers and sisters. The congregation is so warm and hospitable. The first time we made in it service however, there was a little misunderstanding and the brother conducting thought we were just there to verify where the Hall was. he didn’t understand we were there to preach. So he made arrangements for everyone but us. Afterwards we asked with whom we could go? Well, everyone had arrangements but he had a very special territory for us, a park around the corner where we could do street work. So here we went, just the two of us in Spanish service. But we did it and spoke to a few people in backward Spanish. Later we were able to go out on several occasions and work with different ones in the Hall. One couple, Eduardo and Ana, are appointed as special pioneers after they spend years working at bethel. But a lot of the work at the Madrid bethel has been transferred to England.

 

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In service with the local congregation in Madrid

Many invited us to their homes and shared delicious meals with us, Paella, Gazpacho, Spanish tortilla’s, all so good!

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Dinner at Eduardo(standing) and Ana’s (sitting on the left in blue

 

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Lunch at sister’s Sagrario.(in bleu, standing)

One day a very kind brother, Manuel, took us to Bethel. It’s not very big but everyone is so nice and friendly, just what you expect from Jehovah’s people. We had the privilege to stay for lunch and were seated at the table with David, who serves in the English congregation with his wife and started to try to recruit us. We also shared the table with a family from Barcelona, also from an English congregation, and who where there for the convention. They had with them to young children for Nigeria and specially the young boy was very focused on his food. We like this Bethel, they serve a nice Rioja with lunch!

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Bethel

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Lunch at Bethel in Madrid with Emanuel and David.

 

On one day we made a side trip to Toledo, south of Madrid. It’s a beautiful village with a Roman catholic influence. A lot of up hill walking was involved but it was a great excuse for a good lunch.

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Toledo

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One of the many tiny but pretty streets in Toledo

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Distant view of the Cathedral in Toledo

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Old Fort in Toledo

Madrid is definitely a city we would like to come back to, especially to visit the new friends we have made in the congregation!

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On the train to Barcelona

BARCELONA

The 29th of June we took the train from Madrid to Barcelona. I just love taking the train, such a relaxed way of traveling and since we are traveling only with carry on, it’s a piece of cake and stops me every time from wanting to buy more clothes because I really have no room for it.

Now here in Barcelona we have to deal with two languages, quite a bit of Spanish (Castellano) but a lot of Catalan. Oh no, not another language to add to our trying to learn Spanish and French. That is not going to happen. We are sticking with Spanish. Although when we went into a little neighborhood store and the young girl helping us is from China, even our Spanish is useless because after living here three years she only speaks a few words of Spanish, kind of funny.

We had a little bit of afternoon left after we arrived and since the apartment where we rented a room was close to’ la Sagrada Familia’, we went there first. It is an enormous church: unique, really spectacular, definitely impressive….but I’m not sure if it’s truly beautiful. It’s started being built around 1852 and it is not finished yet. A very famous architect here in Barcelona by the name of Gaudi became involved with this project in 1883. He combined Gothic style with Art Nouveau and his unique style. After his death and the Spanish civil war, the work was picked up again in the 1950’s. They hope it will be done by 2030. We just sat on a terrace with a great view of this church and had tapas and wine and debated whether we thought it beautiful or just impressive.

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La Segrada Familia (The sacred family)

The next day we moved to a different apartment that we shared with a young guy and his two sisters from the North of Spain. The apartments we have been staying at here in Europe are in itself amazing buildings, with huge ceilings and old world charm.

On Sunday we went to the meeting, also right around the corner. It was a very warm congregation and we sat next to a student from Nepal. She was so sweet.  She studies the Bible in English but goes to the meetings on Saturday in Hindi because she speaks that better then Spanish. She also goes to the Spanish meeting on Sunday to help her learn the language. Her family is not thrilled she is studying the bible since they are Buddhist or Hindu. But she persists with her Bible study and is full of questions. It was really encouraging to meet her.

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With a bible study from Nepal.

When in Barcelona you have to go to the Picasso museum and since it is free on Sundays, we found that many had the same idea. So we stood in line for about 40 minutes, but you have to do what cheap pioneers have to do. It was so worth it because it was mostly his early works, very beautiful.

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Standing in line for the Picasso Museum in the beautiful Gothic neighborhood.

Of course we walked ‘ Las Ramblas’ with all the tourist traps and a colorful covered market.

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Delicious and colorful fruit and peppers at the market just off ‘Las Ramblas’

At the end of an afternoon we sat on a terrace and spent way too much on a beer, but it was great people watching, I loved it!

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Cathedral in Barcelona

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One of the many tiny streets in Barcelona

Gaudi’s designs are very present in Barcelona and we walked passed a house he built and through a park he designed and thought we were in the world of ‘Alice in Wonderland’

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House designed by Gaudi.

 

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Beautiful Barcelona with ‘La Segrada Familia’ and ‘The Bullet’, the old and the new.

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Beautiful Gaudi park

The last museum we visited in Spain was the National Museum of Catalan Art, very large but so well organized. We walked through the history of art starting at around the 11th century. My favorite is still going to be the impressionist era.

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The National museum of Catalan Art

Sitges

The last few days in Spain were spend in this small coastal town, very picturesque.Here also we rented a room in a lovely apartment with a great terrace where we enjoyed morning coffee and early evening wine. We bonded with the two kitties, Bola and Koko who were fascinated by our luggage and sometimes even slept with us. We spend most days on the beach, relaxing, doing not much of anything. Sunday we went to the meeting and met many of the friends, one of them a Dutch sister, also tall and blond.

 

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Great terrace for morning coffee!

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Lovely Balcony with pretty flowers

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Beautiful street in Sitges with ocean view!

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                                         Koko and Bola

Spain was great and we hope to return one day and explore more!

Posted by: michaelandesther | July 5, 2012

Meetings in Bávaro / Punta Cana UPDATE

We now have meetings in Punta Cana / Bávaro in Spanish, Haitian Creole, English and Russian. The best way to get the latest meeting times is to check the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses: http://www.jw.org/index.html?option=FRNsPnPBrTZGT and search for country: Dominican Republic city: Bávaro. Note that the Russian group is attached to the English congregation so those brothers will have the latest information about Russian meeting and field service times.

The congregation information you find will also include links to a map of the Kingdom Hall which is now marked on Google maps. It’s better to switch to the satellite view though since the smaller streets are still not marked.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the address of the Kingdom Hall?

There is none. Yes, you read that correctly (this is the point in emails and phone conversations where friends repeat the same question several times thinking I misunderstood them). 

Larger cities in the D.R. do have street names and house numbers, but out here in Bávaro only the larger streets have names but no one really knows what they are or uses them.  There is some sort of postal system here, but it’s so inefficient as to be effectively useless. The best estimates I’ve read indicate that any mail sent to a D.R. location only has a 50% chance of ever arriving and, if it does arrive, it could take up to 6 months.

Even if the Kingdom Hall had an address, it wouldn’t do you any good since locals don’t use addresses or maps to get around, they just describe where the location is based on common landmarks.

To get to a meeting, tell your taxi driver it’s the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses (el salón del reino de los testigos de Jehová). Turn left (gire a la izquierda) just before the Verón intersection (antes de la cruce de Verón) across from the BHD bank (en frente del banco BHD). The Kingdom Hall will be the first building on your right a couple of blocks down.

How do I contact the local congregations?

Go to the lookup / meetings section on jw.org as described above and search for Dominican Republic / Bavaro. Currently both the Haitian Creole and English congregations have a contact phone number listed to get information on times for meeting for field service, etc…

Isn’t there any Kingdom Hall closer to my hotel?

Unfortunately, probably not. The Punta Cana / Bávaro area has really only had people living there for 25 years or so. Sometime in the 1980s developers realized that the miles of beaches on the essentially uninhabited eastern tip of the island were a gold mine and started developing massive hotels and resorts. People followed the money and started moving out here to find work.

The result is that Bávaro / Punta Cana is really more of a marketing term that a specific town or city. Bávaro is the name of the beach and Punta Cana is the name of the airport. There really isn’t any town center for the 100,000 or so people living in the area, just various neighborhoods, communities and smaller towns (Verón, Friusa, Cortesito, Cap Cana…) stretched along the roads behind the 100 or so hotels that line the coast which takes up to 1 1/2 hours to go from end to end.

If your hotel is one of the top 4 on this map, then it will take you at least an hour to get to or from the Kingdom Hall or the airport. Moon Palace is now called the Hard Rock Resort and is 30-40 minutes away. Los Corales is about 20 minutes away (by a different route than the other hotels). That should give you a ballpark idea of the distance for your hotel.

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If you go to Google maps, find the towns of La Otra Banda and Higuey since those are the closest other towns to have Kingdom Halls. You’ll see that they are likely further away than the Bávaro KH and they do not currently have any meetings in English or Russian.

Hopefully that information helps you on your trip to Bávaro!

Posted by: michaelandesther | March 19, 2011

We’re still here!

It’s been a long long time since we have posted a blog. So here we go to update everyone.

Many of you know that Jim and Rae (Michael’s parents) came to visit us last February. They were here for two weeks and those two weeks went way too fast. The first week were spent in service so that they could get a feel for the territory here. For the first 30 minutes to an hour they were a little in shock, seeing us talking to 5 or 10 people at the same time. But when they saw the positive responses  we receive in this territory they started to love it!

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Here we are at a study with Andres, her little baby boy John-Wesley and her husband. She has another son, David, who is 2 years old.

 

WEEK 2!

The second week were spend in an all inclusive hotel in Puerto Plata, on the North coast of this island. It was about a 6 hour drive but it gave us all an opportunity to see more of this island. When you drive past Santo Domingo going North, it becomes more hilly, green and lush.

To get a prime spot in the VIP section on the beach in this hotel, we had to stand in line. This task fell to Jim, the early riser of the bunch. The doors would open at 8am so you could find him there before 7am. I would meet him there 15 minutes before the doors opened with a cup of coffee. As soon as the door opened, it’s like participating in the running of the bulls. The first time that we were going for the prime spot, Jim took off and I mean he went for it. Why I was there…..no clue, because my father in law outran me so  instead of killing myself in trying to keep up I just cheered him in with a ‘Go Jim, Go!’ It was a nice relaxing week for us all.

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This is us relaxing and me feeding the hotel kitty under the table!

 

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Of course Jim gave a talk and Michael translated it in Creole, a nice father and son team!

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In this picture from left to right, Evelyn (from France) , Rae, me and Janine(she and her husband Levi are Dominican and serve as special pioneers)

MARCH

In the beginning of March we had to go to the capital to renew our residency. Sister Dean at bethel works with all the need greaters here so that they stay here legally. We arrived on Monday and Shirley Dean helped us fill out all the paper work and made copies of everything that we were going to need the next day. We had our own room at bethel and in the evening we attended family worship in Spanish. There someone told me that there was e Dutch missionary visiting from Ecuador. She was not hard to spot since we are the same height and tower over most other people here. She and her husband were so nice. They are visiting his parents in Puerto Rico but her visa expired so they were invited to bethel here in the DR so that she could return back on a new visa. They are now both learning a local language so they can preach in the little villages in the mountains in Ecuador. It was so encouraging to talk to them. After that we had a nice visit with an American couple, Shelly and Dan who are serving temporarily at bethel.

The next morning after morning worship and breakfast, we were picked up by Daniel, a brother who is a taxi driver. He works with bethel on Monday’s and Tuesdays to take the need greaters to all the government offices to get their paperwork in order. He is funny and drives like a maniac (but a safe maniac) if that is possible in this country. He thought that I would prefer to listen to English music so he got out the ballads from the ‘80’s, oh boy. At one point we went in a office to drop off some papers and were only in there for 5 minutes. But we noticed that he put ’the club’ on his steering wheel. We asked if that was really necessary for such s short period of time. His answer;” I know my country.” So that would mean a yes! He also has two different systems installed to disable the car if stolen. By the way his car was about 10 to 12 years old, what a country! He got us back before lunch and we had the privilege to eat with the bethel family. After we had a short meeting with Shirley to check all our paper work again and then we went home. Many encouraged us to stay another night, saying that Bethel is our home too and that we are always welcome. The warmth and the love that was shown to us was very encouraging and we appreciate the support from the branch so much!

 

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Our very own room at bethel. Not much cooking going on in this kitchen. Everything is so spotless, so let’s keep it that way!

 

THE REST

Otherwise we are keeping busy in service. One of our studies, Widlyne, asked if we are going to study another book after the Bible Teach book. Mind you, she is only in chapter 6. I explained that normally we do a second book but only if someone is making progress and is attending the meetings. She wanted to know how many meetings she had to attend before I would consider studying a second book with her. I told her that we are not keeping a record but the regular attendance is important. But why, she asked. Based on Hebr.10, we reasoned with her why Jehovah has given us meetings, to worship Him and show Him our appreciation, to strengthen our faith , and to give and receive encouragement. After that she said she understood the importance of coming to the meetings and that this was something she was going to work on. The next day, Sunday, she was there and gave two answers at the Watchtower study. Her nephew of 10 often sits in on the study. It is so heartwarming that when he sees me he literally jumps up in the air with the biggest smile on his face, I mean what a welcome. The children really do touch our hearts.

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Woutchely helping his little brother.       

                                       

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We also have the privilege to study with a mother and her three children. The father is studying separately with a brother for right now. The mother and the kids are coming to all the meetings and the kids want to answer all the questions on every paragraph.  The study is so cute but a little challenging since they are all so eager to share their comments. So we are trying to teach them to be quiet and to listen when someone else is speaking. But they’re sweet and so enthusiastic.

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When we leave Kenya, the oldest girl, walks me to my car with her arms wrapped around me. Again my heart melts. Children here don’t receive that much affection and it is amazing what a little kindness and attention does. Their smiles are beautiful despite the fact that they have nothing. It’s humbling to see that and it makes us appreciative that Jehovah is able to use us here in a small way which brings such a huge amount of joy.

We hope to see some of you back in the States soon, somewhere this summer. It looks like that we will have to come back to work for a few months in order for us to return to the DR.

As always, with lots of love,

Michael and Esther

Please see the UPDATED post herehttps://michaelandesther.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/meetings-in-bvaro-punta-cana-update/

We get a lot of comments on our blog asking for help attending meetings or field service in the Punta Cana / Bávaro area, so I thought I’d submit a post with some general information and directions.

There have only been meetings in this area (the Eastern tip of the Dominican Republic) for about 3 years. Before that, anyone living here had to travel about an hour’s drive to Higuey.

The closest English meetings are in La Romana, about 1 1/2 – 2 hour drive from here.

The branch is in Santo Domingo and is very beautiful and nice to tour, but it’s about a 4 hour drive from here and the roads and traffic can be dangerous if you’re not used to driving in the DR.

Then, 3 years ago, a Spanish congregation and a Haitian Creole group started at about the same time. Since they didn’t have a Kingdom Hall, meetings were held in a very small elementary school which was available for free.

When Esther and I moved here, just over a year ago, we were still using the elementary school and the speaker would use a small table and a 5 gallon bucket to hold his notes:

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Right after arriving, we found out that the branch office had approved building a Kingdom Hall in Veron, another town that makes up part of our territory. At this point, though, the Spanish meetings had outgrown the schoolroom, so we rented a space in a strip mall for the Spanish meetings during construction, though the Creole Sunday meeting remained in the school since the other location was quite far for many interested ones.

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Then, between January – March 2010, one of the two Jehovah’s Witnesses construction crews in this country, made up of full time volunteers, came to build a Kingdom Hall here with the help of the local congregation. We were all exhausted by the time it was over, but very happy to have a real place to hold our meetings:

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So now for times and locations. We currently have meetings for field service at the Kingdom Hall Tuesday – Saturday at 8:40 AM in both Creole and Spanish. On Sunday Creole meets at 8:00 AM and the Spanish meet at 8:40 AM.

Spanish meetings are Wednesday night at 7:30 PM and Saturday at 7:00 PM.

Creole meetings are Thursday at 7:00 PM and Sunday at 10:00 AM.

We’re very excited that the the Bávaro Creole group became a congregation last week on December 1, 2010 and this past Sunday we had 69 at our first meeting as a congregation (the photo was actually taken a few weeks earlier, but you get the idea):

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So, if you’re visiting the area, how can you get to the Kingdom Hall? First it’s important to find out where you’re staying. Here’s a tourist map with most of the hotels on it.

Keep in mind that the names “Punta Cana” and “Bávaro” are used very loosely by local hotels for marketing purposes so some almost an hour’s drive away use those names. Also, this is a third world country and in this area many streets don’t have names and most buildings don’t really don’t have addresses, so any “address” you get for your hotel will likely be pretty meaningless… usually the tourist map is the best bet for finding out where you’re staying.

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And here’s the 1000-foot view location of the Kingdom Hall and our territory:

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… and a slightly closer view with our congregation’s official borders:

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We would love to be able to pick visitors up at their hotels to help them come to the meetings, but the few publishers that have vehicles are often already full helping other brothers and interested ones attend. We’ve had as many as 10 people in our Honda CRV!

Fortunately it’s easy (though a bit expensive) to arrange for a taxi to bring you from your hotel to the meetings. If the driver doesn’t know where we’re at, you can tell them it’s the street just before the police station and the largest intersection (cruce in Spanish) in Veron. If you say “antes del cruce del Veron” most locals should know what you’re talking about.

There’s an office of the local power company called CEPM on the corner and it’s across the street from a large BHD bank. Enter that street and the Kingdom Hall is two blocks down on the right.

If you’re going to be visiting, please post a comment with your email address and we’ll contact you and be happy to go in service with you or help you with any other questions you might have.

If you plan on preaching while here, make sure you wear practical shoes since many of the roads are very rough and muddy. It’s also good to bring an umbrella, both for the rain and the sun. As you can see from a few photos, our territory is a bit different from neighborhoods you see in the States or Europe:

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Hope that helps. Again, please contact us if you’ll be visiting. We’d love to have you join us at the meetings and in the ministry.

Posted by: michaelandesther | October 28, 2010

Pioneer school

We’re way behind on posting to our blog, but today we’re rained in, so here are some pictures from the pioneer school I attended back in August. It was the third time a pioneer school was held in the DR in Creole.

The Bus

Since Esther needed the car in Bávaro I took the bus to Santo Domingo, about 4 hours away. My first trip down on Sunday afternoon didn’t start out so well. I had never taken the bus before and wasn’t sure how it all worked, but the express only goes a few times a day and I arrived at the station about 40 minutes early to make sure I didn’t miss it.

Other buses were coming and going constantly so there was a lot of activity and people going back and forth, but all of a sudden a guy poked his head in the waiting room and started shouting rapid fire Spanish about there only being one spot left. A couple of ladies who spoke English asked me if I was traveling alone and I told them yes and I was going to the capital… I asked three times to try and make sure it was the right bus, but everyone said yes, yes, go with him, so I rushed out and hopped on the bus as it was pulling away.

Lurching through the aisle as the bus took off I finally found a seat, but then started getting suspicious and asked a lady close by if this was the bus to the capital… and of course it wasn’t.

About that time a guy in the front of the bus started shouting an announcement of some sort (everything’s loud here) and, sure enough, they had realized I was on the wrong bus (I had asked three or four more times on the way in if this was the express to the capital).

So at this point the bus has gone perhaps 1/3 of a mile and they pull off to the side of the road (no sidewalk and not really any shoulder) and hand me my bag and tell me to wait here in the middle of nowhere and the Express will stop to pick me up…. riiiiiight. So here I am hiking back to the bus station in about 95F when all of a sudden a motorcycle zips past and accidentally hooks the carrying loop of my bag and starts dragging it down the road with me jogging behind hanging on to the other strap until finally one of them broke and motorcycle guy laughed and continued on his way.

So finally I arrive back into the bus station waiting room, soaked through with sweat, covered in dust, dragging a bag with a busted strap… just minutes before the real bus left.

Fortunately, the bus itself was air conditioned and comfortable and I was able to get some reading done… and able to negotiate the taxi in the capital down to only double the real price (in the DR we’re always paying the 1) gringo tax + 2) bad Spanish tax).

Settling in

I stayed with a very nice Haitian family. As I got there lots of people were arriving because every Sunday evening they practice songs from the new songbook. I got to sing along for awhile, but then turned in early to get a good night’s sleep.

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Jonathan and his family were very kind and let me have my own room even though it meant they had to crowd into the other rooms since they had relatives staying with them who had lost their homes in the earthquake.

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In the mornings I was able to study quietly in the living room:

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The Class

We had a great class with excellent instructors, Robert Jones and Joel Langlois. Both are missionaries and Robert is serving as a circuit overseer in Creole. They kept things lively with lots of interaction.

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And singing was a big part of the class too. One day Robert asked if anyone knew the new songs by heart and one Dominican brother stood up and sang a whole song in Creole from memory! Lunchtimes also involved singing too.

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Field Service

Of course, one of the highlights of any pioneer school is going out in the ministry and actually using what you’ve learned. Ours was no exception, we had a lot of fun and many good experiences. Jean Simon filled in several times as an instructor and I really enjoyed working with him as well.

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Switching Kingdom Halls

We had a heat wave of over 100F during the school and in the second week the branch was very kind and let us move to the Kingdom Hall next to Bethel and the Assembly Hall since it has air conditioning… that made it much easier to concentrate.

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One day Sharon Jones dropped by with a friend of theirs from Sierra Leone and they treated us to a spontaneous presentation in Sierra Leone Creole which is based on English, not French

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Food

Of course, another highlight of any pioneer school is the food!

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Final day

All too soon, the last day arrived. One nice arrangement here in the DR is that classes actually finish on Thursday and on Friday all of the students from all of the pioneer schools come to the branch and enjoy a talk from a member of the Branch Committee, a video about the history of the work in the DR and a special tour of Bethel which includes offices not typically included. 

We had a great time talking with Branch Committee members and other volunteers at Bethel. It was really interesting learning more about the work that goes on behind the scenes: organization, translation, etc…

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… but of course, our instructors were always serious and all business…

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All in all, an excellent experience!

Posted by: michaelandesther | August 18, 2010

Plan “B”

Sometimes, especially in the DR, you need to get creative. Back in May we found out that the elementary school where we held our Sunday meeting was unavailable… about 1/2 hour before the meeting was supposed to start.

So we scrambled around looking for an alternate location. Just down the road from the school is an area leading to the beach with a bunch of shops and businesses. A sister from the Spanish congregation has a flower shop so we decided to ask her if she knew where we could meet. Though the Spanish meeting was the evening before, she said she usually doesn’t work Sunday afternoons, but this particular time she happened to be there… and knew of a little room just across from her shop where we could meet!

Here’s the little shopping area with our brothers and sisters:

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And Dong and Gladys, missionaries from Higuey, cleaning chairs before the meeting (Dong gave our talk in Creole that day):

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Here’s the little room we used:

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Waiting for the meeting to start…

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And finally the talk! There wasn’t much ventilation so temperatures in the room quickly went well over 100F so we agreed that the brothers would handle their assignments without jackets.

We even had some people hear Creole being spoken as they walked past who came in and joined the meeting!  It just goes to show that, no matter what goes wrong, you never know how things will turn out.

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Posted by: michaelandesther | April 15, 2010

Adventures in Santo Domingo (scroll to the end for the exciting bits)

We’ve still been on a roller coaster down here, but hoping things will quiet down soon so we can get into a more normal routine, at least for a few weeks.

Residency

Last weekend we had our CA in the capital. We went down on Thursday since we had to finalize our ID card and residency card which have been waiting for us for about 3 months… we just haven’t had time to make the 4 hour drive down.

First it was off to Bethel where the brothers have been a great help, especially Sister Dean from the legal department. Fortunately we got there just before lunch and they had all our papers ready. Then it was off to battle traffic (snails passed us several times alternated by 32 different cars and motorcycles that tried to slam into us). After 3 or 4 tries we were able to find the unmarked building where we needed to get our ID cards. Fortunately that only took 2,400 pesos (about US$65) and 1/2 an hour. Then it was the long trek to the government office on the other side of town to get our residency cards. We actually made pretty good time, but found out that 2:30 was too late in the day to start the process so we’d have to come back the next day.

Then it was off to the apartment we were staying at. It’s the apartment of a British brother and sister which used to be an old Kingdom Hall. They don’t have meetings there anymore, but the rent is so low that they kept it for pioneer apartments and meetings for service. They were in Santiago for the weekend for the English assembly so it was just us and Evelyn Pichaut and her little daughter Esther in the apartment (Pierre André has been in Haiti rebuilding houses for disaster victims for the past two weeks).

Friday morning we left bright and early to stand in line at the government office… only to find out that someone had stolen our passenger side rear view mirror during the night. Ah well, there was nothing we could do at the time, so off we drove… only to find that driving without all your mirrors in Santo Domingo is not for the faint hearted… traffic there is more like the movie Top Gun than it is taking the I-5! 

But we survived and got in line for our residency. We did a pretty good job of line standing since only 2 or 3 people pushed in front of us (very common here). Of course, we got bounced around to several different lines and had to wait for each one and had to pay the 3,000 peso (US $85) VIP (a.k.a. ransom) fee to get our cards processed the same day. Then more waiting in a cramped hallway for everyone in our batch to get their pictures taken. Bit of a tense moment when we found out that we had the same number as a Haitian guy… the Dominican lady taking pictures chastised me for that (ummmm… for having taken the number I was given and following their instructions!?) but finally let us off the hook and took our picture. After another long wait we finally got our temporary (1 year) residence cards!  And to think, the whole process (3 minutes to pay the ransom… 5 minutes to take a photo… 5 minutes for the card to be spit out of the machine) only took 4 hours!

Pioneer Meeting

Fortunately we still had plenty of time to get ready for our CA pioneer meeting… my first one since 1996. The Assembly Hall is on the same grounds as Bethel (though separated by a wall) and next to it is a very nice Kingdom Hall we used for the pioneer meeting. We had a big crowd, 170-something, but right after the song I had a tap on my shoulder and a French missionary asked if I and the brother next to me felt comfortable reading Creole. We blankly stared at him and vaguely nodded to which he motioned us to follow him out into the lobby. It turns out that one of the speakers in the first symposium either was never assigned or just didn’t show up… never did find out for sure which… so he had the part and wanted to interview the two of us on how we’ve simplified our lives for the pioneer service. Fortunately all went well, the brother gave a great part and we survived the interviews.

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Circuit Assembly

The assembly was great, excellent parts. We had a peak attendance of 1250 with 16 baptized… 2 from our little group of 15 publishers.

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Dueling cameras with Raymond at the baptism:

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And Leo and Jocelyn, the two brothers that were baptized at our assembly:

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… and in the evening I got to watch the neighborhood chess matches while the girls shopped:

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Black market auto part hunting

After the assembly we needed to figure out what to do about our missing rear view mirror since driving without it was really dangerous. We finally decided to stay an extra night and go to the Honda dealership on Monday. Fortunately Neil and Beck weren’t coming back from Santiago until Monday and let us stay in their apartment an extra night.

After a long struggle through rush hour traffic and a long wait in line at the dealership we found out that they would only replace the entire assembly, not just the mirror thingy which was missing… and it wasn’t in stock so we’d have to order it… and it would take at least a month to get here… and we’d have to pay a big chunk of the cost up front… and they had no clue what the total bill would be.

Overwhelmed by the customer service 😦 we left there and headed to Price Smart (the local Costco) and Esther was in heaven for 1/2 an hour doing "normal" shopping.

Then we decided to call Joel, a missionary who had mentioned another option for the mirror. He told us about a neighborhood which has many garages and parts stores and most likely had the part we wanted… but he warned us it’s also a really bad neighborhood so we should be really careful. I talked on the phone with Dong, another missionary, and he also cautioned us that we shouldn’t really go there without a local brother to show us the way, but we really didn’t have time for that and we really needed the mirror… so off we went (me, Esther, Evelyn and little 8 year old Esther) to the Santo Domingo version of Harlem.

Once we finally fought through traffic to get there we found it as seedy as advertised. First we just drove slowly through some of the major streets to get a feel for the place. Sure enough, there were plenty of parts stores… I was tempted to ask if we could get the exact same part that was stolen from our car a couple of nights earlier!  Anyway, the missionary had given us the name of a large well-known garage which should be safe to visit… but we had to find it first. Finally we asked a few people and tried to follow their directions, but no go… and the neighborhoods just kept getting worse and worse with all sorts of scary looking people staring at our car as we drove past.

Finally we were about to give up and just go home without it, when we saw a large garage on a busy intersection that looked semi-respectable, so we stopped and I got out and asked. They were actually very friendly and said they didn’t have the part, but gave directions to a neighborhood about 3 blocks away where we should easily be able to find it. Not really knowing what we were looking for, off we went. Sure enough, once we got there a guy on a scooter zipped around our car, pointed at the missing mirror and shouted at us that he could fix it if we followed him. So, like dumb tourists, we did… he zipped around several blocks and we had to turn around a couple of times.

Finally he brought us to a quiet street corner where 5 or 6 apparently unemployed Dominican men immediately surrounded our car and started examining the problem.

At this point we were wondering whether they were there to fix it or pull some other parts off. They insisted, though, that they could fix it in 5 minutes for 1000…. no make that 2000 pesos (US $60) in 5 minutes. So we stayed on that street corner with the engine running, doors locked, windows only cracked a few inches while a kid ran off around the corner for the part. Once he got back, several of the guys got into a yelling match about how to put it on, but finally one guy with a little screwdriver got it on and, surprise, surprise, it actually worked… we were able to adjust the mirror from inside. With that we slid the US $60 out the window and got out of Dodge ASAP.

We probably paid at least double, if not quadruple of what a local could have negotiated, but ironically it was probably cheaper in the end than what Honda would have charged us and, most importantly, it worked!

Home sweet home

Then at our meeting last night Esther had a #2 talk in Creole and I had the Bible Highlights in Creole and a Service Meeting part in Spanish.

On Saturday Joel, the French missionary who gave us the tip on the auto parts neighborhood (and who gave the impromptu Pioneer meeting part on Friday) is coming with his wife to stay with us for the weekend and give our two special talks in Creole on Sunday.

Posted by: michaelandesther | April 2, 2010

Memorial in Bávaro

There was a lot to do to prepare for the Memorial this year here in Bávaro.  To give you a little perspective, here’s a (very rough) map of our territory:

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We cover the entire Eastern tip of the Dominican Republic which includes Punta Cana and Bávaro with a population of about 100,000 people, a large percentage of whom are Haitian.

Meetings have only been held here for about 2 1/2 years. Before that, anyone wanting to attend a meeting had to go all the way to Higuey, about an hour’s drive away. Now we have a Spanish congregation with a Haitian Creole group with a total of 72 publishers: 15 in Creole, 57 in Spanish.

Initially our meetings were held in a little 2 room elementary school (see this post for pictures). You can see the location on the map above.  Last fall we outgrew the school and rented a larger room on the other side of the territory (close to where you see the KH marked above) though the Creole Sunday meeting continued to be held in the old school in Cortesito.

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As you’ve seen from our other posts, we just finished building the first Kingdom Hall ever in this part of the country so we want to make good use of it… but much of our territory is quite a ways away… especially the Friusa neighborhood just above the school on the map.

Most people in our territory don’t have cars and public transportation can be very expensive for them. One married couple that’s studying the Bible has visited our Sunday meetings in Cortesito from time to time with one of their children, but it takes well over an hour and about a day’s wage for the Mom for them to come via at least 3 buses plus a lot of walking in between.

Moving forward we will all (Creole and Spanish) meet Wednesday evening for our meeting at 7PM, the Spanish will have their talk and Watchtower Saturday at 7 PM, and we will have two Creole meetings on Sunday: at the Kingdom Hall at 10 AM and at the school in Cortesito at 4 PM… hopefully we can convince visiting speakers to stay for both meetings!

So we decided that our 72 publishers would hold 4 Memorial celebrations this year: first Creole, then Spanish at the Kingdom Hall and first Spanish, then Creole at a school in Friusa (larger than the one we normally use).

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We worked hard with the invitations… handing them out to interested ones and taping them on the walls of local neighborhood stores called Colmados (with permission, of course).  Like normal preaching here, it’s not unusual to run across chickens, goats,donkeys or even… pigs in the territory:

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But more was needed to reach our huge territory.  So leave it to Dong, our good friend and a Missionary assigned to the Creole congregation in Higuey, to think outside the box. The brothers in Higuey recorded an announcement that we could use to try and get on the radio as well as to use in… sound cars! 

When Dong first suggested it, I wondered if I had been transported back to the 1920s, but then I realized it was a very good idea. Then some of our local brothers recorded a Spanish announcement to go with it.

So last Sunday I met a man with a rusted, falling apart, held-together-with-rope 1976 Datsun pickup with GIANT speakers in the back and we spent 5 hours going through the different parts of our territory. 

It’s funny that if we tried that in the US or Europe, people would call the police in about 3 seconds. But here it’s common for trucks selling water or vegetables to blast announcements through their speakers (though I’m proud to say our sound system blasted over any "competition" we met ).

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As we went through the neighborhoods if I saw someone close to the car that was listening I leaned out the window and handed them an invitation (conversation was next to impossible). I waved to Haitians that were farther away when their heads popped up as they heard the Creole announcement and most smiled, and waved back or gave me a thumbs-up.

Here is the Creole announcement and here is the Spanish announcement.

But the creativity wasn’t finished. Some of our local brothers worked with a print shop to create vinyl posters of the invitation which we posted in front of the Kingdom Hall and the school where we held the other Memorial:

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Then came the big day, cleaning and preparing both locations, making sure the wine was right…

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In the Kingdom Hall we were privileged to have Bethel speakers for both the Creole and Spanish talks:

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And, finally, the big night. The first Memorial was at 6:30 and the second at 8:00 and it’s about a 20-25 minute drive so those of us in Creole had to rush a bit to make the second one.  We were very happy that Esther’s study Rosna was able to attend.

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So, when all the meetings were done, with 57 Spanish and 15 Creole publishers, our attendances were:

Creole #1 70  
Creole #2 64  
subtotal   134
Spanish #1 64  
Spanish #2 186 250
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Grand total: 384

 

… over 4 times the number of publishers for Spanish and almost 9 times the number of publishers for Creole!

So we enjoyed this year’s Memorial very much and look forward to Jehovah’s blessings as we work towards next year.

Posted by: michaelandesther | April 2, 2010

Kingdom Hall Dedication

In our last post we were excited that construction was finished on our Kingdom Hall and we were just waiting on the dedication… little did we realize how much work was still ahead of us!

The structure was complete and the construction group had moved on to their next project in Higuey, but there were still a lot of tasks that we needed to take care of as a congregation… which means with a much smaller group, of course.

But we had a lot of fun… willing volunteers worked hard to do the landscaping, put up the year text and other signs (some of those plastic letters took hours to get on straight!), refinish all the arms of the chairs and many other little tasks.

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Fortunately we were able to rest up and eat outside of a sister’s house who lives right next to the Kingdom Hall:

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Finally, though, the evening before the Dedication everything including the final cleaning was done.

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Sunday morning people started arriving early (almost unheard of in this part of the world 😉

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… and our program:

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Yoshi conducted the Watchtower

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Then we had a nice part on the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses where Dong and Eric, two missionaries from Higuey who had a lot to do with preaching in this area before there was a congregation, were interviewed:

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Then Antonio from the construction group had a nice slide show of pictures during the construction (we had to get a little creative when it came to a slide screen):

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Then Greg Mata, one of our congregation elders, invited Rainer Thompson, the branch coordinator here in the DR, to give our dedication talk (sorry for the fuzzy picture!)

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After the meeting, Lizandro and Angela organized snacks for all 274 in attendance and Esther and I rushed home since lunch for the construction group volunteers, Bethel visitors and our elders and families was going to be at our house. Originally the estimate was about 25-30 people… then 40… as it turned out we ended up having over 60 visitors in our 2 bedroom apartment for lunch!  But everyone was able to squeeze in and had a good time.

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We didn’t have to worry about food. Esther had made what we thought was a big pot of chili and rice… but then Mercedes brought the biggest pot of soup I had ever seen and Dinora brought 20 pounds of rice to match! I think we could have fed over 100.

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Then after lunch some went to the beach and others just visited

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Little Esther, of course, couldn’t resist the pool

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And no Dominican lunch would be complete without an intense game of Dominoes (Octavio assured me he was teaching the rest how to play that day 😉 !

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So we had a great time and are so appreciative of all who worked so hard together to build a beautiful Kingdom Hall… now we need to work hard to fill it up!

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