“You never go as far as you do when you have no idea where you are going.” These words of Christopher Columbus would eventually lead us to the first place he discovered, so that we could discover it for ourselves.
What drives a young couple with 4 children to travel to the other side of the world on a mission of solidarity?
A few months into our mission for L’Arche in the Dominican Republic, we still sometimes ask ourselves the same question. “Well”, you might say, “there’s the beach, the sun and the palm trees”, and you would be right, but not quite, because there is in fact no beach in Santo Domingo.
We have worked in L’Arche for over 7 years, but more recently we found that a desire to experience mission as a family was nagging away at us. After a year spent discerning and preparing, we suddenly found ourselves en route for the Dominican Republic, another world that would turn out to be very similar to home.
Here, everything is different, but within the L’Arche Santo Domingo community there are things that remind us of home and, for us, make this other world a familiar place.
There are all the things which are different: the language, or rather the languages, because, although we thought we already knew a little Spanish, certain core members have their own way of putting things; the climate, which makes you push all your jumpers to the back of the cupboard, and pull out two or three tshirts a day; the food – here, we eat a plate of rice every day instead of bread (it’s strange how much more quickly we tire of it than we ever did of our beloved French baguette); and then there are the culture, traditions, beliefs, and attitudes to disability, and all the things we need to understand and accept, or question in a way that is fraternal, humble and constructive.
There are the things which unite us: welcoming people with disabilities, who, the world over, have a gift for making people feel part of the family the moment they arrive; the enjoyment of connecting with others; the desire to share our gifts and our weaknesses, our faith, and our longing to tell the world that the possibilities are endless.
Then, after a few months in this other world which is now becoming familiar, we find that although there is not always a beach, there is always a place where we can share; although there are not always palm trees, there are often a few coconuts to rub smooth, cut up and make into items we can sell in our workshops; and we can always count on the sun to shine, especially if we know how to look into each other’s hearts – it may not always give us a tan, but most of the time it is enough to light up our faces.
Every journey and every mission involves an element of discovery which transforms us into Men enriched by encounters and emotions. In our case, we have come to the other side of the world to pick up the threads of a conversation with Maria Helena, Ruth, Heriberto, Juan Miguel, and Unilvia… a conversation we have already had with Pauline, Henri, Pascal, Gisele and Dimitri – the same, yet different.
So, what does make a young couple with 4 children set off for the other side of the world on a mission of solidarity? The beach, the sea and the coconut trees maybe, but also, and above all, the discovery and experience of what binds us all together, namely the fact that regardless of language, culture or national flag, there is something about welcoming people with disability which transforms Man into a vulnerable human being, incapable of living independently.
Here, in the Dominican Republic, if you look beyond the sand, the trees and the water, you will see a sign, an island-based oasis that is ready to welcome you and help you discover something else familiar. It is an island-based oasis, shaped like a boat “y que se llama el ARCA de Santo Domingo”.
Alix and Cyril
Discover their blog: http://lescastelou.wix.com/rep-dom