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A Dominican Republic Missionary Journal

The following posts have been sent to the staff and parents of PAA and were written by Spanish teacher and mission trip leader Rita Barrett. Mrs. Barrett and her students served at an International Children’s Care orphanage in the Dominican Republic. Continue reading for earlier entries.

April 2, 2015 


Although my students usually write “El Fin” on the end of their writings, it is actually just “Fin.” End. And this is it.

Mike and I always feel a special sense of relief when we safely leave a country with all our students in good health and good spirits. The only happier moment is when we pass them back, safe and sound, to their parents at the PDX luggage carousel. We´re about 30,000 feet above Florida right now and that feeling of sweet relief is beginning to grow.

This has been a truly wonderful trip. My students did a beautiful job of using their Spanish to build friendships and to meet their basic needs. From Ethan, whose only prior Spanish was in elementary school and Kelsey, whose last Spanish class was two years ago during her sophomore year to Charli Jo who amazed the Dominicans with her fluent speech, everyone used the language with eager confidence. We have a rule that each member of the team has to pray for our meal in Spanish at least twice during the trip and food is only passed around the table in response to requests in Spanish. Adult sponsors Mike and Rob kept the rule as well. We could definitely see growth in the complexity of prayers given during the second week.

The administrator of Las Palmas told me yesterday that another group was scheduled to come after us, but had cancelled their trip. Although Las Palmas staff had been unsure our little group of 12 would be able to accomplish the task they had for us, we not only did that, but finished most of what the second group was scheduled to do. We painted the exterior of the mechanic´s shop and the office building and the interior of the sewing room. The seamstress told me she was so happy, as she had to spend her day inside a room that had been so ugly, with peeling paint on the walls and ceiling, but now is beautiful in her favorite bright green color.

Our VBS, though short, reinforced God´s love for the lost, as we focused on Jesus´ parables of the lost sheep, lost coin and the prodigal son. Caleb planned games that were active and fun and the children participated with enthusiasm. Somewhere I should mention that our one couple on the trip, Caleb and Charli Jo, outdid themselves with their discretion. The standards for PDA at PAA will be a welcome freedom to them on Monday. ICC needs to maintain careful standards for dating at Las Palmas, as you can imagine the drama that could ensue with standard academy dating habits with people who live together as siblings and close neighbors. So my rule has been for my students to keep relationships out of sight.

Our dear Dominican friend Rosanna was a tremendous help once again. We met online through a mutual friend years ago and hit it off when we met in person during our trip to DR two years ago. She shares wise cultural advice, plans our tours, guides the chauffeur, provides historical background for the things we see and is a sweet, loving mentor to my students. I am so thankful she was willing to join us again this year (and grateful to her husband of just 15 months for sharing her with us). The school where she teaches English in Mexico is on vacation for another week, so now she will have a few well-earned days off to spend with her family in the Dominican Republic.

I feel happy with the training I was able to do with Rosanna and the Las Palmas English teachers. They are all eager to implement their new understanding of the philosophy of successful language acquisition and to use the TPRS method of teaching. We will stay in touch so I can continue to give them pointers and they can share their successes with me.

All in all, an amazing trip.


Rita Barrett Portland Adventist Academy Spanish

31 March 2015 


Last night I only heard the peaceful chirping of crickets outside my window. Usually we hear a cow who seems to be calling directly into our window. One night she was especially noisy. Apparently her calf had been taken from her for the night, but the next morning when he was brought back to her, she cheered right up.

We had been eagerly waiting for yesterday. Annie is helping with the violinists in a music workshop this week, where community kids are joining a few older students from Las Palmas, preparing for a concert (that we will miss) Thursday evening. The rest of the gang spent the morning scraping and painting the office/seamstress building and in the afternoon they planned their Vacation Bible School. To encourage them to take charge of the event (and to get some bookwork done), I gave them a few pointers and then left the room. I could overhear them as they became more focused and creative in their planning. From time to time I popped in with bits of advice, but I mostly left it to them.

And then… no children showed up. We went out to the houses on the Las Palmas campus to invite the kids and slowly, our numbers grew from three to seven to ten and finally 21 children.  After some songs, including their special request “Cuando allá se pase lista” (When the Roll is Called up Yonder) which we promised to learn for today, my students dramatized the parable of the lost sheep. We divided the kids up into groups of five, led by two PAA students. Carlota organized our crafts and the children enjoyed making little cotton ball sheep. Onica provided coloring sheets and we had a hard time getting kids to stop coloring once it was time to go.

But go we must, because we had company arriving for dinner. We invited the 15 members of the house next to ours—the older boys we have spent most of our time with—for big franks and what our cook Gertrudis called “tacos.” Any resemblance to actual Mexican food was a coincidence. When I suggested using beans to fill them, she just gave me a funny look. “They would never eat that,” she advised. So we had a chicken salad-like filling in the tortillas. Gertrudis assured us that our “Mexican” dinner was a real treat.

When the guys came over we went around the room with introductions (including relationship status) and the house father, a singing evangelist, sang a song for us in his nearly identical Steve Green voice. We sang a song we hope to sing as a Domericano choir in Spanish and English for the church service Wednesday night. After we ate, I taught the group a game and then the guys taught us a couple games and silly songs. We had a marvelous time laughing and playing with them. Tonight we have invited the older girls over for dinner and plan to repeat the menu.

Blessings to you all, especially to our fellow PAA folks in California, Bahamas, Fiji, and Peru.Thank you for your continued prayers that God will accomplish his plans for our time together with our Dominican family members.

Rita Barrett Portland Adventist Academy Spanish

29 March 2015 (photo credit: Latin Times)


We warned the students that we would leave promptly at 7:00 for our trip to Santo Domingo: “Anyone sleeping in will be carried straight from bed to bus!” No need for threats, everyone was ready and waiting for the bus promptly at seven, eager for our second sightseeing day. But… our driver did not arrive until 7:30. Then… half an hour down the road, the electrical system failed. He called for an electrician, but, seeing our one chance to tour the colonial center of the Dominican capital fading before my eyes, I started looking for another bus. Our driver assured us someone would come to change a fuse—it would only take 15 minutes!—but I would not be deterred. He had pulled over at a little roadside café and store where many buses pulled in. By the time I found someone else willing to take us, our chauffeur had contacted his company. “The teacher is really desperate,” I overheard him say. “Send another bus!” Although he assured us that the new bus would be here in “fifteen minutes,” it was an hour before we were underway again. It is a good thing I was so insistent—our original bus was still in the shop at the end of the day.

We decided we could postpone our tourist shopping until Thursday before our flight, and chose to concentrate on the important historical sites. We saw the obelisk commemorating the sacrifice of the Mirabal Sisters, who opposed Trujillo’s dictatorship; Diego Columbus’ palace (Christopher’s son); a museum in the home of the viceroy, build in the 1500’s; and a cave with underground lakes. The museum guide asked my students if they knew who Juan Luis Guerra was. Another score for la clase de español! We have sung JLG songs in class and presented one of them at PAA´s spring concert last year.

After enjoying some frozen yogurt, we caught a Palm Sunday procession leading up to the first cathedral built in the Americas. The laypeople waved their palm fronds or wove them into crosses as a drum and bugle band played and a priest waved his incense censor, with Roman centurions leading the way. A statue of Christ on a donkey was carried in the midst of the crowd, and a woman offered Caleb a palm frond as my students joined the procession.

Amazingly, we packed all this into our shortened day and still got back in time for the special celebration at Las Palmas, capping their two-week Family Olympics competition. There was a big dinner, presentations by each house and the long-awaited ranking of the six homes in the competition. As each house’s points were announced, there was more shouting and jumping and drum beating than you can probably imagine if you were not there. Dominicans really like to celebrate! My kids couldn’t understand everything, but they clapped and jumped along with the other kids.

Today we begin VBS, which will help us get to know the younger children. This past week, we have spent more time with the teen boys, whose house is next to ours. They have adopted Stuart as their doll, dressing him in their clothes and having him come over Sabbath morning to gel his hair. The Dominicans have commented that my students have my accent, but Stuart has definitely changed his this week, sounding more and more like his buddy Adonis. The boys are pretty sure they would have Stuart fluent in a month if they could have him stay. Adonis wants him to work on the farm with him, but another boy, Bryan, said Stuart won’t want to stay if they make him work and promised to be in charge of giving him a life of ease while he is here.

Everyone has been having a great time interacting with the kids here. I would tell you more, but my computer screen is covered with bugs seeking its light as I sit in the darkened kitchen Sunday night. It is time for me to go to bed. We have a busy day planned for tomorrow, but I will tell you about that later.

Blessings to you all,

Rita Barrett Portland Adventist Academy Spanish

27 March 2015

Before I forget, I need to let you know that I have to go to the administrator’s office to use the internet, which is on the other side of the campus, as there is no internet connection at our house. So… don’t be surprised if a day or two goes by without word from us. All is well, we are just busy.

Today we painted the sewing room. The walls and ceiling were in serious need of painting, and it looks beautiful with its cheery cucumber green paint. We also prepped the exterior of the building, which also houses some offices, and did the edge painting. We should have plenty of time to paint Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, leaving time for VBS prep in the afternoons.

My students were invited to participate in a hike up a mountain behind the campus on Tuesday, but it would have meant canceling a day of work and cutting our already short VBS from three to two days. The students unanimously voted to maintain their planned work schedule. “Profe, we have to think about why we came here,” Kelsey insisted. “Two days off is nice, but even that is almost too much.” I am very proud of the work ethic I see demonstrated every day. Not only do they stick to their tasks, but they seek to do quality work. For example, today they went back to re-edge the wall/ceiling juncture so that it would look very sharp.

Annie and Zac are practicing for special music tomorrow and we also have a couple songs that we will sing in Spanish during Sabbath school. We hope to have a little practice time before church tonight.

I think it is dinner time and my students are eager to hear a few more chapters of Alcyon Fleck’s book, Child of the Crossfire, about a boy from the ICC home in Guatemala. We read a bit on our way home from the beach last night and I found Kelsey hiding it inside her Bible after we returned, getting a sneak preview of the next chapter. So I need to get back to the house to make sure they haven’t found where I hid the book. I enjoy the family reading circle each evening and appreciate their enthusiasm. One evening several Dominican teens joined us and we gave quick summaries in Spanish to keep them plugged into the story.

I hope you are all well. We are remembering the other PAA groups who are in Peru, Fiji and the Bahamas and pray your trips are also going well.

Blessings to you all,

Rita Barrett Portland Adventist Academy Spanish


26 March 2015

“Profe! Balaguer!” My student Zac pointed excitedly to the sign for the Joaquin Balaguer highway. Spanish II and III studied the DominicanRepublic first semester and each student researched some aspect of Dominican history or culture. We had discussed Trujillo’s dictatorial rule from 1930 until 1961, when he was assassinated. Students presumed the removal of Trujillo brought democracy to the country, but  Zac shared his finding that Balaguer, the president who followed Trujillo, also ruled for 30 years, basically becoming a second dictator. Seeing his name on the highway connected the pre-trip preparation to real life.

Mike and I usually take our students for a couple touring days at the end of the trip, but the Las Palmas schedule this year made it more convenient for us to make today a free day, so we headed three hours north to Puerto Plata this morning. There were few people on the beach, as next week is the Semana Santa holiday when families will go on vacation. For people accustomed to the cold Pacific Ocean, jumping waves in the much warmer Atlantic was a treat.

En route to the beach, we took a detour to visit the Monument to the Restoration in Santiago, which commemorates the battle to regain independence from Spain, which had been allowed to regain control of the country in the 1860’s. Tour guides told us about that time in Dominican history and helped us form a timeline of important events in the country’s history. It was evident to all of us how much the pre-trip preparation, both in Spanish class and in our pre-trip meetings, has helped us to understand this country better.

Tomorrow we will be back on the job. Yesterday the administrator told me that they had been unsure if our little group of eight students and four adults would be able to finish painting the workshop in one week. They were very surprised that we finished in two days! We did some prep work at the end of the work day Wednesday and will probably begin painting tomorrow. Everyone is working hard and staying on task.

I have done some painting in the afternoons, but my mornings are spent working with the English teachers. I have been able to teach some of their classes and the teachers are excited about learning a new way to present a second language. I have often thought that my greatest contribution to ICC might be to help language teachers develop their teaching approach and I am excited to be working with these excellent teachers. The strongest argument for the method I use is the group of students I have with me. The people here are very impressed with their ability to communicate. I have also been proud of Ethan, who is the only student with us who has not taken Spanish. He is using every bit of Spanish he knows and daily picks up more bits of language.

So much more I could share with you, but it is past bedtime!

Blessings to you all,

Rita Barrett Portland Adventist Academy Spanish

March 24, 2015

¡Saludos (Greetings) de la República Dominicana!

The sign suspended between trees on the road leading to our home here says, “Bienvenidos jóvenes de Academia Portland” (Welcome young people from PAA). Many of the children here recognize us from our visit two years ago and the welcome has been warm indeed, both in temperature (90◦) and in affection.

We landed in Santo Domingo after midnight on Sunday. I´ve always wanted to be greeted at the airport by someone holding a sign with my name, and I guess we were, but since my policy is to take up the rear behind my students, by the time I got to the exit, the bus driver had tossed the sign. I did see it in the trash, which I guess counts for my bucket list.

We spent the night in a hotel in Santo Domingo and hoped to get to Las Palmas in time to put in a half day of work yesterday. But much of the afternoon was spent buying a local cell phone, changing money and renting a car.

The car rental experience could have been frustrating, but Mike and I decided to enjoy watching culture in action. Our bus driver assured us he could rent us a small car, which we need in case of emergency. The assurance ended up being a taste of Dominican “can do” attitude. After dropping our kids off at the Hogar, he took me and Mike into the town and began asking random people on the street if they knew where to find a “Rent Car.” We followed one of the ubiquitous motorcycles in town to a business, where, after giving the cyclist a tip for his help, our driver showed us several vehicles, only to find that it was just a parking lot, not a car rental place. Another motorcyclist finally did lead us to an agency where we rented a little Hyundai. The owner of the business told us as we left, “We didn´t know each other before, but now we do know each other. You are here doing good work. So if there is anything we can do to help you, if you have any need, just call us.” I believe Dominicans have a strong appreciation for relationships and the young man´s assurance was very sincere.

We couldn´t start work on Monday, so we spent the afternoon and evening renewing relationships (and my students made new friends). Two of my students, Stuart and Caleb, are following in their sisters´ footsteps and kids continually ask them about their sisters. I am very proud of all my students as they use their Spanish to connect with the local kids.

Today we painted the exterior of the workshop. We worked faster than they had expected, finishing three sides of the building. We will paint a second coat tomorrow, as well as the remaining side that has a lot of gates and other fixtures that will make painting difficult. I say “we,” although I was helping in the grade 1-4 and 12 English classes all morning and only helped with the painting in the afternoon.Tomorrow I will be with the high school classes and will give a mini-workshop on the TPRS method of teaching languages to three language teachers.

Despite putting in a full day of work, our kids are playing basketball with the local kids this evening or going for a run or walking around meeting people. We are enjoying the delicious Dominican food our cook prepares for us and my students are eagerly trying new things like arroz con gandules (a bean similar to a lentil) and chayote ( a green vegetable).

Thank you for your prayers and support.

Bendiciones (blessings),

Rita Barrett Portland Adventist Academy Spanish

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