Love, Rice and Beans
The nearly five-hour bus ride from Dominican Republic’s capital city Santo Domingo to the small coastal city of Barahona ended at the top of a steep, rocky dirt road, and Ann Hull stepped off the bus under a faint streetlight. More than a dozen local youth greeted her with warm hugs and smiles and helped with the mission team’s suitcases.
“It’s like going to a family reunion that lasts for 10 days,” said Ms. Hull, a member of United Methodist Women’s Sarah Circle at Westminster United Methodist Church in Westminster, Md. Love is one of many blessings from the international ministry Ms. Hull and her husband created to feed impoverished families in rural Dominican Republic.
The Least of These Ministries, based in Barahona, now provides a cup of rice and a half cup of beans each week to some 7,300 people living in eight bateyes, rural villages where families of plantation workers of Haitian descent live in wood huts or small cement-block homes, often with no reliable clean water source or money for food. Each January and June, the Hulls lead mission groups to work on a batey construction project, lead a Bible school and help distribute rice and beans. Mission team members bring suitcases full of mosquito nets, medical supplies, balls, clothing, spiral-bound notebooks and pencils to distribute.
“Before we go, the project always seems like the major thing, but it always turns out to be a minor thing,” Ms. Hull said. Connecting with people — the bus driver, the youth from Barahona, the women who cook in the mission center kitchen, the people within the bateyes, the Dominican ministry staff — is the most important part of the mission. “We are upfront about the fact that we’re there for them and love them,” Ms. Hull said.
Her first day there included lots of catch-ups with people’s lives. Ms. Hull was walking up the hill from the local church in Barahona when a young couple passing on a small motorbike slowed down. “Luiz!” she said while embracing him. After hearing about his job and life, which now included a wife, she commented, “God is working in your life.” Luiz agreed.
Another young man in his 20s, Lelin, was a child when the Hulls began their ministry. His mother died when he was young and his father left him to be raised by his grandmother. Lelin decides to postpone his upcoming wedding so that the Hulls can attend during their January mission trip.
Among the 15-member June team was Deborah Stewart, from Stockbridge First United Methodist Church in Stockbridge, Ga., who has served in United Methodist Women at the district level. Ms. Stewart said the Matthew 25 verse that inspired the ministry’s name has always spoken to her. “My heart is in fulfilling people’s basic needs,” she said. When she learned about the mission trip, she knew it was a perfect fit.
On the first work day of the mission trip, Ms. Stewart climbed into the back of the rice and beans truck and began to scoop rice with a small metal can. Long lines of people formed — including old and young women, and barefoot children.
Ms. Stewart also helped lay cement blocks at the batey worksite, where the group constructed a small building to enclose delicate pipes and water valves for a newly dug well. Nearby, women washed clothes and bathed in the well water pouring through a polyvinylchloride (PVC) pipe into a large puddle.
At Ms. Hull’s home church, Westminster United Methodist Women President Brenda Tracey said the local unit contributes to The Least of These Ministries at the end of the year and collects toys and other items for the program.
“Because our purpose is about women and children, this ministry fits with our mission,” Ms. Tracey said. “We love what they’re doing.”
Carrie Madren is a freelance writer in the Maryland-Washington, D.C., metro area. Her work has appeared in regional, national and international publications including UMConnection (Baltimore-Washington Conference), Interpreter magazine, Maryland Life magazine, E Magazine, Bay Journal News Service and The Ecologist.com.