Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Banao Encampment: The Church's Gift to the Dominican Republic Saints

The Banao Encampment: The Church's Gift to the Dominican Republic Saints"
 Darrel L. Hammon

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is doing some incredible things around the world, trying to create opportunities for those who don’t have anything. Just like young people in Utah and Idaho, young men and women and their parents in other countries can engage in similar experiences, perhaps a bit different, than their counterparts. Such is the case with young people living in the Dominican Republic (DR).
A bit north of Santo Domingo, the capital of the DR, sits an encampment on 220 acres of lush Dominican countryside, full of green trees, rolling hills, and richly green undergrowth. We traveled as senior missionaries in a very nice, air-conditioned guagua (a bus) on Monday as Hurricane Irene threatened the Caribbean.
We jostled our way through traffic to the countryside called the campo here. The Dominican freeway passed through several towns before we rolled off to the left and onto a country road that split up several fields of rice. One of the DR couples who is serving a temple mission told us the fields were experimental fields, own and operated by the government. They grow several varieties and did testing to develop different types of rice. Plus, they pointed out orange groves and other groves of fruits along the way.
 Soon, we entered a small village and turned left at a little building that had the sign: “Banca Gringo.” This banca sells lottery tickets. We cautiously crossed a gently flowing creek and struggled our way down a narrow road. On each side of the road was a living fence. Tall, thick poles had been planted as fences with wire strung between them. The poles were truly saplings, and small, green limbs spouted out of them—thus a living fence.
Soon, we turned off the road and rolled through a magnificent rock entryway with an iron fence. We had arrived at the Banao Encampment the Church owns near Banao. Elder and Sister Riggs, two senior missionaries from Arizona, greeted us. He didn’t dress like typical missionaries. Rather, a cowboy hat hung just slightly to right of his head. He wore an open checked shirt, Levis, and comfortable work shoes. His mission was not to preach and teach, per se, although he did a lot of that with the volunteers and the youth. Rather, his mission was to convert 220 acres into an encampment for the Church in the heart of the campo, all with volunteers and a few hired locals.  
On the property was an old hacienda, formerly owned by a government attorney who also raised prized, registered sheep. He had previously built beautiful sheds for them. Elder and Sister Riggs had converted these sheds into dormitories for those who came to the property to enjoy and participate in Church activities.
While most were preparing the meal of hotdogs and hamburgers, some of us trundled off to an enclosed “Hurl a Whirl,” a very unique Maypole-looking thing that Elder Riggs had designed and built. It had four extended seats, equally spaced around a pole. Someone pushes the seats in a counter-clock-wise position, basically “winding you up.” Then, they let go, and the “Hurly Whirly” begins to unwind at an alarmingly rapid rate. Now, the dangerous part of the whole process happens to the person who does the pushing. He or she needs to get out of the enclosed arena as fast as they can so he or she won’t get hit. In this case, there isn’t much room between the seats and the enclosed fence. Fortunately, our pushers cleared uneventfully. It unwinds and then begins rewinding by itself. It continues this wind and unwind process until it has run out of winding. Elder Riggs said that the young people can play for hours on this contraption. He had to build a small fence around it to protect the cheering crowds.
We had lunch in one of the small pavilions on the property. Over 27 of us fit nicely on newly-built sturdy picnic tables. Lunch was great! We had hot dogs and hamburgers.
Then Elder Riggs began talking about their last 18 months at the Encampment and all the work that had gone into it. It was a great talk. They have worked extremely hard in accomplishing their many tasks. They had built two pavilions, one of them where we ate and another one just down the path. When we all walked down there after lunch and between rain showers, I was aghast at the size of the second pavilion. It was monstrous. As my dad would have said had he seen it, “You could park a lot of hay here.” Elder Snow, another senior missionary, said the same thing. It had a room full of chairs and tables and its own kitchen. Just before you arrived at the pavilion, there was set of several bathrooms and showers.
We also walked with Elder Riggs over to where they had converted the sheep pens into adequate living quarters. Most of them had two bunk beds, each sporting a foam mattress. At the end of one of the living quarters were bathrooms and showers that the local contractors had built. They had tile floors and sinks. Elder Riggs said that recently they had had over 500 youth there on an outing, plus another 120 Relief Society sisters who just showed up to participate in training.
Soon, it was time to leave. It was actually quite sad to leave the gorgeous countryside with its rolling and foliage-covered hills and enter the big city with its rolling waves of people, cars, guaguas, and pollution. The Church made a wise decision by purchasing those 220 acres outside Banao for an encampment so the members of the Church can escape the hustle and bustle, much like we do in Utah and Idaho and other states where the Church has built camps.
The Banao Encampment is truly a place where people can provide service, become intertwined with nature and God’s green earth, feeling secure on dedicated property, with a wonderfully built hacienda on one of the rolling hills, surround by lush greenery, hearing the early morning crows from nearby roosters and the braying of the Brahma-like cattle that roam the countryside, and feeling the spirit the Lord envelop them like the beauty that resides there.

For pictures, please see http://hammondrmission.blogspot.com/2011/08/banao-encampment-churchs-gift-to.html.


Colleen/Grandma/Mom said...

Wow! I had no idea anything like that existed. It kind of makes me tired thinking about all of the complexities the General Authorities handle all the time . . .

Darrel and Joanne Hammon said...

And there is even more! I will keep you posted of all things that go on. For example, this p.m., we have working with the distribution people here to send out emergency supplies to various wards and stakes who have been inundated with rivers flooding because of the floods. It appears that several families have lost their homes because they were along the river banks. It is amazing how the Church works.

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