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Photo by Erik Tryggestad

Angels get the burned rice

NEYBA, Dominican Republic — Burned rice is a delicacy here. 

Or not. I’m still a little foggy on the stuff they call concon. It’s the rice at the bottom of the pot that gets overcooked and has to be vigorously scraped out. Guests get the soft rice; cooks and hosts eat the leftover concon.  

But Dominicans — guests and hosts alike — crave concon. I tried it with sancocho, which is broth, chicken and vegetables. It adds texture to the stew. 

But I think there’s more to it than taste. Eating concon means you’re not just a guest here. You’re family.

Samuel Aquino translates for his mother, Ondina, in the family's kitchen — a hub of spiritual life in the town of Neyba, Dominican Republic.

Samuel Aquino translates for his mother, Ondina, in the family’s kitchen — a hub of spiritual life in the town of Neyba, Dominican Republic.

That’s how I feel in Ondina Aquino’s kitchen. It’s a community hub for this Latin American city, even in a time of pandemic. Here, she and her husband, Manuel, laid the foundation for Churches of Christ they’ve planted throughout the region. From here, Ondina has fed and nurtured countless children sponsored through Christian Relief Fund.

Related: Water and life

I’m here to report on CRF’s 50th anniversary. It’s my first international trip since the pandemic began, and I’m thankful to Bobby Moore, the ministry’s vice president, for setting it up. Traveling along with us are Mike Biggers, president of New Life Behavior International (which works alongside CRF in many countries); Djounio Dorvil, who coordinates a CRF water program in neighboring Haiti; and Dorvil’s wife, Telus Jycelene. 

“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” — Hebrews 13:2, King James Version

Bobby requested the concon before he sat down at the table and smiled big when he heard the “scrape, scrape, scrape” of spoon on rice pot. After lunch, we drank strong Dominican coffee from tiny cups. Every time we entered the house, they had coffee for us. These are my people.

During coffee, Ondina shared her story. One of her sons, Samuel, translated. 

Ondina once was a guest here, too. She grew up in Honduras and worshiped with Catholic and then evangelical churches. 

Her mother struggled with alcoholism, and Ondina, at age 20, had asked leaders of her church to visit and encourage her. But no one came. Ondina fasted and prayed, “Please send someone to help my mother.”

One Sunday, as she prayed, two people showed up, Bibles in hand. “Are you Doña Angélica Milla?” they asked. 

They knew her mother’s name. 

“We are looking for you because someone told us you were here.”

One Sunday, as she prayed, two people showed up, Bibles in hand.

The visitors were from an Iglesia de Cristo (Church of Christ), which Ondina had never heard of. She rushed to get chairs and, when the visitors opened their Bibles and started teaching, she frantically took notes. Soon she had a list of questions to take to her pastor, but he had no good answers. “That’s something that was written in the past,” he told her. “Just leave it.”

She left, all right. She and her mother became active members of a Church of Christ. A few years later she met Manuel at an event for the ministry Jóvenes en Camino in La Ceiba. He was studying at Baxter Institute. They married in 1986 and moved here, to Manuel’s homeland.

Ondina and Manuel Aquino with their family in an early photo.

Ondina and Manuel Aquino with their family in an early photo.

Those two visitors helped put Ondina on a path that’s led to countless blessings in the lives of the children she’s served — and the guests she’s welcomed as family.

To this day, she doesn’t know who they were or how they found her.

“God has answered a lot of questions,” she said, “but not that one.”

Now that we seem finally to be emerging from the pandemic, I hope to be able to model, in some small way, the hospitality shown by this dear sister in Christ. 

Who knows? Perhaps I, like Ondina, will be entertaining angels unawares.

I’ll save the concon for them.

ERIK TRYGGESTAD is president and CEO of The Christian Chronicle. Contact [email protected], and follow him on Twitter @eriktryggestad.

Neyba, Dominican Republic

Filed under: Church of Christ concon Insight Opinion

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