Like most people, Ed Galka wasn’t exactly enthused when his company, O. Mustad & Son, decided about five years ago to move some of its operations from Auburn to the Dominican Republic. Galka, a vice president for logistics, never dreamed the company’s move would lead him down a new spiritual path. That’s exactly what happened, however, and that’s how Mission from the Heart — a project of Sacred Heart and St. Ann’s parishes in Auburn and Owasco — was born.
Galka’s position requires him to travel to the Dominican Republic about once a month or every six weeks. Galka soon noticed that many of the people, especially in rural portions of the country, have a way of life that was very different from what he was used to. The people he encountered in the Dominican Republic were very spiritual, religious and family-oriented, he said. What’s more, they were happy with what they had, even though what they had would often be considered nothing by our standards, he added.
Galka recalled walking by one woman who lived in a small, ramshackle house with a corrugated tin roof and a dirt floor. The woman took pride in what she had, however, and was sweeping her dirt floor with a broom when he passed by. During that same visit, Galka was also moved by the sight of two children playing outside who waved enthusiastically when they saw him.
“Here they are, they’re playing with a piece of string and a stick,” Galka said. “They’re playing with this, and they’re happy with it.”
That’s a far cry from the attitudes of many American children, he said, who sometimes aren’t happy even when they have the most expensive toys money can buy.
“Ever since I’ve been going there, I’ve just had this feeling that I’ve got to bring other people to see these people,” said Galka, a member of Sacred Heart Parish.
Galka soon decided he’d like to bring some type of mission group to the Dominican Republic, but it took him some time to decide what the group’s goal should be. After a number of seemingly chance meetings with a variety of people who’d been to the Dominican Republic, he began to form a clear idea of what he wanted to do.
“I can’t tell you how many times it’s changed direction, but I keep feeling that every time it changes direction, it’s for the better. This path that I’m taking is being directed,” he said.
Galka knew he didn’t want his mission group to go to the Dominican Republic strictly to build houses, schools or churches without interacting with the people there, nor did he want people in his group to visit the country with the idea that they were simply helping out poor people. By the same token, he didn’t want the group to go there for the sole purpose of forming relationships with people, either. He wanted to lead a group that would recognize the gifts and strengths of the people they’re helping; a group that could develop a mutually beneficial relationship.
“I definitely think they’re stronger spiritually than we are. They’re happy with what they have, and it’s something we have to learn from,” Galka said.
So far seven parishioners from Sacred Heart and St. Ann’s have signed up to visit the Dominican Republic next summer, and the group has dubbed the project Mission from the Heart. With the help of Father Ronald Gaesser — a retired diocesan priest — the group hopes to develop a relationship with people in the Dominican community of Monte Plata and identify some of the community’s needs. Father Gaesser lives in Auburn but spends about six months of the year ministering in Monte Plata and was a big help in getting Mission from the Heart off the ground, Galka said, noting that Father Gaesser has also helped St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Ithaca undertake a similar project.
“We want to make this not a small-group project, but a parish project. We’re going to go down there as the ambassadors,” Galka said of himself and the other six travelers. “I’ve been down there and I’ve been through it, so I can see the need, but I don’t want to do it solely. We want to experience it firsthand and then try to push our project.”
After returning to Auburn, these “ambassadors” will be able to tell their fellow parishioners about the needs they saw and spearhead fundraising efforts within the parishes to address those needs, Galka said. Future fundraising projects might raise money for the small sheds — without roofs or floors — that are used as chapels and child-care centers in Monte Plata, Galka suggested.
He hopes the group can eventually deliver the money raised to the people in Monte Plata and see that it’s used for the projects it was intended for. This method is better than simply sending people to Monte Plata to complete the projects themselves because that takes jobs and work away from the local residents, he said.
In turn, Galka hopes that by spending time with the residents of Monte Plata, he and his fellow parishioners will learn some lessons from the Dominicans and develop even a fraction of the Dominicans’ spiritual strength and faith.
“If someone else can get out of this what I’ve gotten from going down there, that’s all I’m looking for,” Galka said.