I want to begin by saying that I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to go on this trip to La Romana, Dominican Republic, and would like to say thanks to everyone who helped make it possible with your prayers and contributions.
Growing up at First Baptist, I’ve been privileged to go on many short-term mission trips over the summers. This most recent one to the Dominican Republic, I can say, was like no other trip I have ever been on. One reason I think, is that there were a lot of firsts for me on this trip. For me, it was the first time I had: been overseas, even been out of the country, been in an environment where most everyone spoke a different language than me, been in a community where my ethnicity was in the minority by a large margin, gotten to see and swim in the Caribbean Ocean, flown in a passenger plane since I was about two years old, and the first time I had seen real poverty. I don’t mean American poverty where the “poor” have cell phones, and cable playing on flat-screen TVs. I mean, no hot water, not even clean drinking water, no electricity poverty.
The reason for this trip was to help spread the love of Jesus to those in other parts of the world. So each day, after breakfast, we would divide into two groups. One group would help with the construction workers in building a concrete retaining wall around a local church we were working with. The other group would go to different bateys or barrios each day and host a type of backyard bible club (or VBS) with the kids there. A batey is a small town, owned by a company, where the sugar cane field workers lived. A barrio is pretty much a neighborhood just outside the city.
Typically on these trips, I like to help mostly with the construction. I like the type of work, getting to build things or make repairs. I love working with Jason (a leader of the construction crew from our church), and I always learn a few tricks of the trade to put under my belt. Also, by the end of the week you can step back and see the finished product of what you have been laboring over the whole week. You feel a sense of accomplishment, knowing all the hard work that went into the project. This was not the typical mission trip for me though. Each morning, I would ask God to show me what He wanted me to do each day. We would split into the two groups by a show of hands each morning, and I would judge by the number of people that wanted to do each task. Whichever group had the least amount of people, I would take that as a sign as to where He wanted me to go that day. So for the first 3 days, I had the honor of being part of the group that went into the bateys to help lead the VBS.
I was a little nervous at first seeing as 1) I don’t speak any Spanish, so I had no clue what to even say to the kids. 2) The typical thing for me to do on these trips is the construction, so VBS was something I'm not use to working. 3) I like to claim that I’m not the best with kids. But with all that against me, I believed it was what God wanted me to do that day. So, I began to gain confidence in that, and by believing He was with us.
Each day when we would get off the bus at the different bateys or barrios, we would be swarmed by the kids there. By communicating with hand motions and very few Spanish words, we would begin play games with the kids. We would play games like kickball, jump rope, frisbee, baseball, and a game best described as Dominican hot potato. We played that game alone for about an hour. The kids were happy to play just about anything.
After playing a while with the kids, we would bring them into the community church to sing songs and show a puppet skit about the good Samaritan (that was translated in Spanish). We would then send them home to break for lunch. After lunch, the kids would come back to the church, and we would make faith bead bracelets with the older kids. With the younger kids, we would color coloring pages of a cross, or a scene from the good Samaritan. When we finished with that, we would hand out snacks and juice, and play with the kids for another hour or so. We would finally leave and head back to the mission house around 2 in the afternoon.
Some afternoons we would come back to the mission house just to relax, hang out, or spend some quiet time and read over the devotions David or Natalie (student minister and his intern) would hand out each day. One afternoon, we went to a girl’s orphanage and got to tour the building and visit with the kids there for a few hours. It's amazing how God opened our hearts to be able make connections with the kids there in just a couple of hours.
If you want to know what it was like in the city of La Romana, I haven’t been to a place in America like it to compare. So, I will try my best to describe the area we were in. The buildings were very close together, most weren’t much taller than 2 stories. The streets looked as if they hadn't been repaved since they were first out there. The traffic consisted mostly of motorbikes, mopeds, and a few cars. The air in the city streets smelled of exhaust from all the motorbikes. There were rain showers most every night we were there. The temperature was about in its 80’s, and the humidity level was high. None of the buildings we went in had air conditioning, aside from the Jumbo (pronounced Joombo, which was like a Super Target or Walmart) and a frozen yogurt shop. There was almost always a breeze outside to cool everything off. The windows in most of the churches were metal shutters that opened and closed to let air flow through. The churches in the city had ceiling fans running to cool everyone off. There were frequent blackouts in the city right around midnight. A few of the buildings in the city, including the mission house, had their own backup generators. The bateys we went to were a little different at each site. They all seemed to have a church building. The houses looked like shacks built with cinder blocks that had metal roofs. The walkways or roads all around the houses were made of dirt and gravel. Some of the water sources came from either a water tower that stored all the water, or a well with a faucet. The bathrooms were outhouses, some made of wood, others out of cinder blocks.
There are definitely still needs there. According to wikipedia their average salary is $5,000 a year. If you went to stores like the Jumbo, prices weren’t much different than in America. You can get cheaper foods from the local shops and market but the quality wouldn't be up to our standards. For example, the butcher shops we saw didn’t seem to have A/C and were open to the streets. They would have meat laying out on counters, and hanging out in the open. So, it wouldn’t be very sanitary for us if you were to buy the cheaper produce. The kids there mostly wore flip flops or no shoes at all, and were running around on rocks and gravel. Babies had no diapers. You could see that some of the children had ringworms from unclean water sources. There is a need there, and they live in poverty. But you wouldn’t be able to tell just from talking to the people or playing with the kids. There was a sense that God was taking care of them, and they knew that.
Of all these things I witnessed, and the many things I experienced and learned, one thing stuck out to me, and it’s this: Persistence with a pure heart comes blessing. By that I mean, when we pray persistently with a pure heart about something and give it to God, He blesses us for it. There is a parable in Luke 18 about the persistent widow. She brought her problems before the judge continually and wouldn’t give up. The judge in this parable is said to be unfair, and yet even he still granted her request in the end. We know that our God is just and fair, and by this parable we learn how much more God will grant our pleas and request if we are persistent. I said persistence with a “pure” heart, because this does not mean our God is a genie. We don’t give him our Christmas and birthday wish list, full of stuff. Our motives must be pure and not greedy, focused on God’s will and not being selfish.
For a couple of months before the trip, I would pray about God preparing the way for us at the Dominican, and softening our hearts for the people there. At my work logging into the computer, and performing some other functions, requires a password. I changed my password to Dominican13 (which has changed again, so you can't sneak in and use it) so that every time I had to type it, I would be reminded to pray for the trip. Every time I used that password, I would pray the same prayer right at that moment so that I wouldn’t forget. I feel I was prepared more for this trip than any of the others I have been on. Not prepared by anything that I studied or knew, because I still didn’t speak a lick of Spanish. But, I was prepared because God opened me to be willing to do whatever He would have me do that day, and I knew that God was with us the whole time, guiding us, and preparing the way. God definitely blessed us all on this trip, and anyone who went would agree.
We were blessed: to see the kid’s smiling faces, to see them so content and happy just passing around a ball in a circle with complete strangers who looked different than them, to be taken care of by the people at the mission house where they cooked breakfast lunch and dinner for us every day, to see how the churches worshiped for hours at a time each night through the blackouts and without A/C, and to see God’s beautiful creation at the ocean or the hills in the distance of the sugar cane fields. God willing, these memories will be with me for the rest of my life.
God softened my heart for the people there, and prepared the way for us. Jesus said we will receive what we ask for if we are persistent in Luke 18. That parable proved true for me, and I have experienced it first hand from this trip.