Monday, July 2, 2012

Remembering Another Hot Summer...

It is HOT here in Carolina, as it is on most of the East coast. We are sweltering with the 90+ temperatures, 100+ some days, which have continued for more than a week. After a beautifully wet and verdant late May and early June, which had created a green and blooming world, the extreme temperatures are parching the land, in spite of occasional thunderstorms, and all around me, the natural world is taking on a yearning, thirsty look...including the human inhabitants.

But I remember another summer, years and miles away, when my family had gone to the Dominican Republic with a mission project called Project Serve. And I recall the heat and the hardship...the whole thing, as we- a crew composed mostly of teenagers from Alabama and south Florida, with adult support helpers (I was the team nurse), were constructing a small church on a mountainside outside Santiago. Everything had to be carried in each day...all work was done by hand...and the combination of altitude and sub-tropical heat often laid us low, taking a toll on even the energetic young people.

I wrote about our experiences for my Made for Living column and so I share one of them from the summer of 1982 with you.

Look to the Mountains
      The day was hot. Under the searing Dominican sun, I felt rivulets of sweat running down my chest and my back, coursing down the back of my neck. Beneath the yellow baseball cap, my sweat-dampened hair clung to my scalp and soaked the bandana tied around my forehead. All around me worked the members of our building team, young people and adults from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Birmingham, Alabama, and as I looked over the work site, I could see them wilting visibly, their bright yellow Project Serve T-shirts soaked with the results of the morning’s exertions.

      “It’s not even noon!” I said to myself. “This afternoon will be terrible! Not even a breath of air today. And so much work to be done.” And I began filling paper cups with precious water from our large galvanized water can, making trip after trip to hot, thirsty people who had become my “family”, seeing the fatigue and discouragement and discomfort written on face after face. The work was going slowly and the intense heat of a day in the tropics was beginning to take its toll.

       The break for lunch came none too soon and our band was remarkably quiet as we trudged across the field to our usual lunch spot under a gigantic mango tree. The wonderful breeze we had come to expect on this hillside failed to materialize and the oppressiveness of the heat seemed to squelch the usual joyful lunchtime banter. We ate our sandwiches and fruit in relative silence, the water jug being the most popular place as cup after cup of the cool, clear liquid eased parched lips and throats. Conversation was stilted and several minor disagreements broke out between friends whose endurance was being pushed to the limits. We were hot, tired, and discouraged- and five more hours of work in the hottest part of the day loomed ahead of us.

       Suddenly, Kent, our group leader, stood in front of us and said, to our surprise, “Let’s take a little extra break time today. This has been a tough morning and I know many of you are feeling discouraged; so find a comfortable, shady place and think about why you’re here, about what all this means, about why God has brought you to the Dominican Republic. Look up at those mountains in front of you and remember the words of our morning devotions…’I will lift my eyes to the mountains from where my help comes.’ I think we all need that.” His voice was gentle and his smile encouraging as he headed toward another shade tree on the hill.

       Almost as if in slow motion, the group under the giant mango began disbursing, some down the hill, others across the field, some toward the river bank below. Finding another shady mango, I sat alone, staring at the glorious mountains surrounding us and recalled the words of Psalm 121, the words to which Kent had referred:

          I will lift my eyes to the mountains;
              from where shall my help come?
          My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
          God will not allow your foot to slip;
               the One who keeps you will not slumber.
          Behold, the God who keeps the people will neither
               slumber nor sleep.
         The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade
               on your right hand.
           The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.
           The Lord will protect you from all evil and will keep your soul.
           The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in
              from this time forth and forever.

       For me, those words were a prayer, a cry for help, an acknowledgement of my own human weakness and discouragement. And as I repeated the first lines again and again, my cheeks wet with tears, I felt a comfort, a peace, an assurance that no matter what, we would complete our church-building task, for the strength behind and in and under and around us was not simply our own.

      A whistle shattered my reverie and a cry of, “Time to go back!” drew me to my feet. All over the hillside around me other team members were rising, too, and as we walked up the hill, our faces were fanned by a cool mountain breeze, the first of the day. Greetings were warm and faces were smiling as friends linked arms and hands for the return to the work site where our Dominican friends awaited us with water from the river to mix mortar, with more bricks hauled up from the river bank below.
        “Let’s go, folks,” Kent’s voice rang out. “It’s show time!” and the work began once again.

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