by Erin Mackenzie
As of this writing, I have called the Dominican Republic (where I serve as a newly sent career missionary) home for two weeks. I’ll confess: Before I came, I didn’t know as much about this Caribbean island nation as I perhaps could have — though that is changing quickly. One thing I did know was that the Dominican abuts just one other nation, Haiti, with which it shares the island of Hispaniola. A 234-mile border might be all they share, though; the contrast between these neighboring nations is striking. Take these examples from the CIA World Factbook:
- Haiti’s national languages are French and Creole; the Dominican Republic’s is Spanish.
- Ninety-five percent of Dominicans claim to be Roman Catholic; Roman Catholicism is also Haiti’s chief religion, but it represents just over half (54.7%) of the population.
- The life expectancy of Dominicans (78.3 yrs.) is over 14 years longer than that of Haitians (64.2 yrs.).
- Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has a GDP per capita of just $1,800, nearly 90% less than the Dominican’s $17,000. Haiti’s unemployment rate is telling at 40.6% compared with the Dominican’s 5.5%.
The western third versus the eastern two thirds — though they share a border, they’re just about as far apart as they can be.
As I contemplate this reality, I’m reminded of David’s words in Psalm 103:12:
As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
Of all the reasons for which his soul rightly seeks to bless the Lord, the Psalmist pauses on Jesus’ forgiveness of your sins and mine. He willingly went to Calvary, took our wrongs upon His shoulders and severed them from us completely. Clinging to Him and His redeeming act in faith, we have been made right before the Father. David’s analogy reinforces that this, God’s plan for our salvation, is a concept “too vast to measure” (The Lutheran Study Bible, p. 946) for the mind of man. It’s impossible for our human intellects to chart the distance between opposing cardinal directions with a ruler, a tape measure or even the most sophisticated astronomical technique. Equally unfathomable is the love that caused a Father to send His Son into the world “to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).
It all comes down to the Savior on the cross. His broken, bleeding body, crowned with thorns. One weak, bruised arm extended to the left, the other to the right. At least, that’s how we as English speakers would describe what happened there.
The NPR Hidden Brain podcast episode “Lost in Translation” from January 29, 2018, introduces listeners to an aboriginal tongue in Australia with no words for right and left:
Instead, everything is placed in cardinal directions like north, south, east and west. … If you’re in a picnic with someone from this community and you notice an ant climbing up someone’s left leg, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to tell that person, look, there’s an ant on your left leg. … So you might say, there’s an ant on your northwest leg.
Our transgressions have been removed from us as far as the east is from the west — as far as Jesus’ east hand was from His west hand as He hung there in our place. The differences we see between east and west on Hispaniola are great, but they don’t even come close to the gap between us and our sin thanks to Christ’s redeeming death … and resurrection! The hands that were once nailed to the cross were later extended to doubting Thomas, bearing wounds earned in a glorious victory over not just sin, but also death and Satan. Our triumphant Lord is worthy to be exalted always and everywhere.
David concludes Psalm 103 by urging, “Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!” The Lord’s dominion is all-encompassing. It covers both sides of this island, the entire Caribbean, all of Latin America and wherever you are as you read this. You! Lift up your east hand and your west hand and praise the Lord!
Erin Mackenzie serves the Lord through The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) as a career missionary in the Dominican Republic. When she’s not traveling around Latin America overseeing the regional short-term team program (too often, according to her cat, Freddy), Erin enjoys reading, trying new recipes and challenging anyone who claims they can beat her at English or Spanish Scrabble. Read more on her personal blog.