I haven’t blogged in a while. But today’s experience would have been too long as a fb post, but is also definitely a story worth sharing. If not for anything else, to help you pray for us and this country more specifically We have heard the many stories. The protests, the riots, or what they call here the “huelgas”. The word really means “a strike”. There are many days the kids here do not go to school because of them. Class is canceled and the teachers refuse to show up. They happen often and for various reasons. The people get together and protest in such a way as to send the government a message. I have seen the beginnings of one getting back from teaching at night in other towns. I have seen the aftermath of them. Tires and garbage burned in the street. Giant rocks and blocks thrown in the road to keep vehicles from passing through. But they aren’t as bad or as often in our town of Esperanza. At least not that I have seen yet.
But we have heard some pretty crazy stories. And I guess just because I know that many Dominicans tend to exaggerate just a little when telling stories, (and by that I mean a lot), I just wasn’t really sure if it was as bad as many people said it was. The next town over from us, just past a military post is called Navarette. This town has quite the reputation. It has been said to have the worst “huelgas” in the whole country. I have heard about the cars being blown up, the killings, the chaos, but I didn’t know how much of it was true…..until today.
Today we went to the city of Santiago to get some groceries and supplies. It is the biggest city around our part of the island and we can find what we need at a considerably cheaper price. The town of Navarette is between us and Santiago, so we have to drive right through it to get there. In the morning everything seemed normal as we passed through. Except for the fact that I remember seeing more armed guards out than usual and positioned on a certain corner with face masks. But at the time I just thought maybe they were about to do a drug bust or something. We made our way through the city getting the things we needed as usual, and in the late afternoon we began to make our way back home. That’s when it got crazy. I didn’t notice right away, but now looking back I realize that there is usually a lot more traffic and people out at that time. About halfway through the town I saw a group of maybe ten police officers together, but nothing was around them. Then, as we got a little further down the road we realized something was definitely wrong. In the distance we saw fire. As we got a little closer I realized it was a burning tire in the middle of the road. Just as we began to realize what was taking place, it happened…. BOOM! There was a sudden explosion (extremely loud), just about fifty feet in front of the vehicle we were in. I think it was enough to make all of our hearts drop. I know now, by a report I read, that it was a homemade bomb people there were making and detonating in the streets! We kept moving forward past the fire in the road, and just a little past that were many rocks in the road that were purposely thrown there to stop traffic, some of them were pretty large.
By this time we knew we were right in the middle of one of their huelgas. After the group of police we passed, there was hardly any people out for a few blocks. Now I know that what the cops were actually trying to do was to stay clear of the danger. There just aren’t enough of them here and they don’t make much so don’t really do much either. Then we saw a bunch of people in the street not too far in the distance. The crazy thing was that the police let us go right in there, but by this time there were some locals waving us down trying to warn us of the danger ahead. We were a little confused and went forward a bit more but it was clear that this was no little protest and that our lives were in danger. There was a large group of men walking towards us and just then we were turning around but not sure where to go or how to get out of here. When we finally got turned around I noticed a man in the street to my right, (by this time the group of people was much closer), who had a revolver in his hand and he did not seem very happy or afraid to use it by the way we was openly walking with it and by the way he was holding it. So quickly we darted down the closest street on our left to escape the danger. We asked some locals if they they knew a back way back to Esperanza. Some told us to go by the canal but we weren’t familiar with that way and asked again. Finally, a woman we asked had us pull up near a home and a man explained to us how to get back (kind of). So we set out towards the canal. We found the road we needed to be on (a rough and rocky dirt road), and found many others going and coming the same way to avoid the chaos on the main road. We noticed in the distance to our left some pretty big puffs of black smoke and it was pretty evident something fairly big was set on fire. We got to a confusing part of the road and weren’t sure if we were heading the right way, but thankfully some guys in another vehicle told us to follow them because they were heading the same way. We weren’t sure if we could trust them, but at this point we didn’t have much choice. Praise God they led us to where we needed to be and we came out on the other end of the town away from all the craziness. Looking back I know God was protecting us.I am not sure if the bomb was already in the road, or was thrown there right before it went off but it was very loud and right in front of us. The vehicle we were in runs on propane fuel with the tank mounted in the back. If it were just a couple of seconds later that bomb would have went off right beneath us or it would have landed right where the propane tank was and we probably would have went up in smoke!
When we got back to Esperanza and told some people what happened, they told us someone was killed yesterday in the huelga (it lasts for days at a time), and that after the person was buried the town was going to erupt because it was a 13 year old boy killed by gunfire, some say it was the police. Who knows the young man’s involvement in all of this. Someone told us three were killed but we only know of one for sure. Unfortunately, this town is notorious for this and the young people do what they learn from the adults and it’s complete madness. I have no doubt that the Lord was protecting us during this potentially life threatening situation. And who knows what could have happened if we would have continued on the main road. We are grateful to God that we made it home safely. Many people have died in the past years because of these huelgas. We thank all of you who pray for us on a regular basis and ask that you continue to join us in prayer for the people who God has called us to serve. That God would move, and that the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ would penetrate the darkness around us and would change lives. It must be a work of God for…. the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil (John 3:19). We must pray for God to move here, for God alone has the power to transform the hearts of men. Pray.