An annual medical mission to a tiny Dominican Republic barrio has become a joyful reunion of old friends.
All Saints Episcopal Church coordinates a team from Boston and South Carolina. They leave May 18 for a week’s work in the parish of San Pedro y San Pablo Episcopal Church in La Barquita, outside the capital Santo Domingo.
“Every year I go, I see the glow in their eyes,” said team leader Dale Finn, a retired psychiatric nurse and Sun City resident. “They are proud people. The health has improved. They know where to get their medicine and how to take it. Every year I can’t wait to get back to see those who come all the time to see us and see how they are doing.”
Finn has gone on 10 mission trips to the Caribbean nation. Jane Lindsey, another psychiatric nurse who retired last year, will be making her fourth trip. She looks forward to the church services as well as seeing returning patients.
“Their service is amazing. It’s joyful, happy, everybody participates, sings. Their faith is so powerful,” Lindsey said. “And I always get more than I give. I just feel that we have so much that I have a responsibility to give back. The people that we serve have nothing.”
In addition to luggage, they haul several trunks of supplies. Volunteers see between 700 and 1,000 people at the clinic in the church.
“We give each patient a goody bag that contains things like washcloths, soap, toothbrushes, vitamins,” Finn said. “Almost everybody gets deworming medicine because the parasites are terrible there. We distribute lots of topical medications, like triple antibiotic ointment and eye drops.”
The prescription medicines dispensed by the team treat bacterial, viral and fungal infections, diabetes, high blood pressure, pain, intestinal and nutritional conditions and other disorders.
“I love seeing the people. When I’m bogged down with filling out papers and things, when I get there and they are so excited and their eyes are so bright, then I know why I go,” said Finn. “I called it an obsession, but Rick Lindsey says it is a calling.”
Rick Lindsey is Jane’s husband and the rector of All Saints. He has made trips to the Dominican Republic for 25 years, long before he became the All Saints parish priest in February 2003.
“I was the rector of a church in Florida and was scouting around for ideas to get our parish involved in something beyond our own activities,” he said. “There was an ad in Episcopal Life magazine that said ‘Come down and see what we can do together.'”
So he went, met the Bishop and knew what he had to do. “I got excited about connecting our Episcopal church with the one down there,” he said. “We’re primarily a go-between, a development group between the United States dioceses and the Dominican diocese. We are not the ‘Big Brothers’ who go down and tell them how to run their church.”
Though Lindsey has gone on the medical mission trips, he is more likely to be wielding a hammer with the construction team, which will build a kitchen for the school, a new government requirement for all schools to feed the children.
He also makes each summer trip with the Vacation Bible School team.
“We work with two Episcopal churches in Barahona, a bustling town about an hour away from the Haitian border,” said Rick Lindsey. “We’re assisting the Dominicans and, with the two churches, we see probably close to 500 children a day.”
Anyone who can help can go on the trips. Team members pay about $1,300 each. No experience is necessary, and the rewards are great. For details, call 843-681-8333 or email email@example.com.
“Generally speaking, anyone who goes down there comes back with more than the community gets from us,” the rector said, “because we come back with a renewed sense of joy and fulfillment and faith.”
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.