By Rev. Leslie Lang
As part of my ordination service, Pastor Tim Reynolds read aloud a story that was taken from My Grandfather’s Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen. This story tells about a little girl who receives a small cup of dirt from her grandfather and is told, “if you promise to put some water in the cup every day, something may happen.” Every single day, this little girl watered that paper cup of dirt, at first with great anticipation of what would come of it. By the second week, she became discouraged, but continued to water the cup everyday anyways. By the third week, she would often forget about that cup completely until she was already in her bed, at which point she would drag herself out and water it in the dark. And then finally, one day there were two green leaves that appeared in that cup of dirt that had not been there before. She runs to tell her grandfather the news, at which point he explains to his granddaughter that life is everywhere, hidden in the most ordinary and unlikely places. “All it needs is water, Grandpa?” the little girl asked. “No,” he said. “All it needs is your faithfulness.”
This story plays in my mind as I reflect on the most recent mission trip that First Presbyterian Church Spartanburg took to the Dominican Republic last month. Other than our three year hiatus during Covid, our congregation has been making regular trips to the Dominican Republic since 1994. For almost three decades, our congregation has partnered with Solid Rock International to provide medical and dental care in the San Juan region. For almost thirty years, we have developed and maintained relationships with the people of Solid Rock and San Juan to do the work of Jesus Christ together.
Since our partnership with Solid Rock began in 1994, our groups have performed surgery at the Clínica Cristiana de Salud Integral (Christian Clinic for Integral Health), which is right next door to the Solid Rock Guesthouse. In 1998, Hurricane George swept through this region and completely flooded this entire area, including the clinic and guesthouse, which are located in a flood zone. After this event, they rebuilt and continued to serve people, but the need for a new clinic was evident. Supporters of Solid Rock caught the vision of what a new clinic could mean for the people of San Juan, and they broke ground for the new hospital in November 2014. This project took longer than originally planned and cost more money than originally budgeted (along with everything else in our world right now!), but now in 2023, the end is in sight. The brand-new hospital will be having their ribbon-cutting ceremony later this month, and representatives from First Presbyterian Church Spartanburg will be there to celebrate the occasion.
During my first trip to the DR in February 2020, I had the opportunity to walk through the new hospital, which still had dirt floors and bare-bones infrastructure. Three years later, our group took a tour of the almost completely finished, beautiful state-of-the-art hospital. When I call to mind the members of our congregation who were there from the very beginning when this was only a dream, I cannot help but be amazed at how God has been faithfully at work in this place. This reminder is clear across the top wall of the new hospital lobby, where the message “La Gloria Sea Para Dios (Glory be to God)” is written in large print for all to see.
When I think about the Dominican Republic, I do not think about just this one week that we spent there in February 2023; I think about the long history that First Presbyterian Church has had there long before I could even find the DR on map! And the word that comes to mind is faithfulness—day after day we add the water, year after year we keep returning, and when we look back, we see where God has made things grow.
Rev. Leslie Lang serves at the Associate Pastor for Young Adults and Missions at First Presbyterian in Spartanburg in April of 2019. She is originally from Hendersonville, Tennessee, and received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Texas Christian University and her Master of Divinity from Vanderbilt Divinity School.