A group from First Congregational Church of Darien recently completed a mission trip to the Dominican Republic.
"I've never seen so many people work so hard and smile so much," John Lydecker said about his January trip with 10 other members of the church.
The trip was the church's first adult mission trip overseas and was led by the church's pastor, the Rev. Dale Rosenberger. Two non-church members from New Hampshire, Joan and Peter Schaeffer, joined the local group to build housing with Habitat for Humanity.
"People told me the trip would change my life," Wyn Lydecker said, "but it wasn't my life that changed. I realized that we had changed the lives of three Dominican families."
Morehouse was one of two recent college graduates on the trip who had grown up attending the First Congregational Church. The other young person was Emily Cortright, who is a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University. "I went to practice loving kindness, but experienced so much more," she said.
Habitat for Humanity screens local families for need and ability to pay back a small, interest-free loan as part of the selection process.
The group from Darien built a three-room concrete block home, including an indoor bathroom, on the outskirts of San Juan de la Maguana, a city in the agricultural center of the Dominican Republic, near the border with Haiti.
"We learned that one of the Dominican families had their own small business selling sandwiches and drinks in town to make enough money to put a down payment on the house we would build," said Lou Converse.
In addition to building a house from the ground up, the church group constructed sturdy concrete block bathrooms for two impoverished urban families who live in corrugated metal and wood shacks without any indoor plumbing.
"Since it was school vacation," said Wyn Lydecker, "the children joined us in digging the foundations for their new bathrooms. We all used pick axes and shovels to dig 5-foot foundations."
"The families were so excited to work with us. They were so grateful," said Diane Schlinkert.
Local Habitat masons and engineers worked with the Darien group and oversaw and directed the digging, mixing of mortar, laying of blocks and the bending and placing of rebar, among other jobs.
In discussing Rosenberger, Phil Meyer said, "Dale's leadership was incredible. I've been on several overseas mission trips with other organizations, but Dale was the best leader I've ever had. I was completely confident that everything would run smoothly and that we would be safe. I also appreciated the spiritual element he made sure was part of our trip, as we took time every day for reflection, discussion and Bible readings."
In addition to construction, the group spent one day at a factory where the members made concrete slabs that would be used to construct other Habitat homes.
"We completed 100 slabs in one day," Leo Schlinkert said. "After lunch, we really got a rhythm going and picked up our completion pace."