I’m sitting in a plastic chair on the front porch (which is practically the street) with my new friend Chulo. Chulo is the area director for Vida Joven (Young Life) in the town of La Vega, Dominican Republic. He oversees many clubs in the various barrios of La Vega, but Chulo lives and loves young people in his own barrio.
The Scene: Chulo (25) and his wife Katerin live in one section of a large concrete building.(Chulo, his 2 sisters and wife are the 4 in the middle of the picture above) The front porch is really a covered carport with piles of plastic chairs, which have been loved well by countless Dominican teenagers. This front area functions as a club room for meetings and has been painted in bright colors with a large map of the many clubs of La Vega including those barrios they are praying for ministry to eventually be birthed in the near future.
The street in front of Chulo’s house is about 15 feet wide and filled with potholes, dogs, countless motorcycles and kids playing baseball with a stick and the tops of water bottles. As I sit with Chulo, I am taken back by all the activity in front of me. Small cars with huge bullhorns rigged to the top pace the barrio playing loud recordings trying to sell anything from clothes to eggs. Music is often playing from multiple houses and cars at a level that would get the cops called for noise complaints in the states. On top of all this noise and activity, Dominicans stay up really late hanging out in the streets and the wake up early too!! The Barrio never stops.
Pico Escondido– The YL Camp of the D.R
After reading the prior paragraphs, you will see the importance of Pico Escondido in the following description. Vida Joven’s Pico Escondido is the only camp in the country and it is literally holy ground for many Dominicans, nestled in the hills outside of Jarabacoa. When teenagers come to camp ($48 US for a week), they are welcomed by a piece of property that creates something so powerful for these young people who just came from the noise of the barrio; silence. The only noise you hear at this camp is the laughter and discussions of people accompanied by the light buzz frogs and crickets. The excellence of Young Life camping carries overseas and plays such a huge role in the ability of teenagers to hear the voice of the Savior.
I’m not going all Thomas Merton on you, but we as Americans have become seduced by the same noises and activities. I am chief among sinners in this category. What amazed me about Chulo and the other Dominicans was that they had the ability to “be” in the midst of the chaos. They taught my students and me how to “be” for hours and hours. (It helped that my cell phone didn’t work and we had a very minimal schedule). I actually believe that this is a life and death issue for me, spiritually speaking. I am also convinced that this soul nourishing time can happen outside of camps, monasteries and retreats. I am on a new mission to create room to “be”, even at the sacrifice of productivity.