Missions trips—when the cute purse is traded in for an adventure-ready backpack, bug spray is the necessary substitute for perfume, and updates on teammates’ bowel movements are not only acceptable conversations during mealtimes, but expected.
As I’ve previously mentioned, I just came back from my first Peace trip to the Dominican Republic. I served there for two weeks with 24 college students from Crave, the college ministry at Saddleback Church. Inquiring minds want to know… “How was it?” And…it’s impossible to sufficiently answer that question. I’m still trying to figure it out. I learned so much, grew so much, and discovered so much on this trip, and want to share with you some of the things we did, saw, and experienced.
Few things make me happier than a freshly stamped passport. I love traveling. I love experiencing different cultures and seeing new places. I was excited about going to the D.R. But, arriving in this developing country was quite the culture shock; no matter that I’m well-traveled and thought I was prepared. What hit me first was the heat. I’ve never experienced weather so hot and humid. The air was so thick, I didn’t feel like I was getting enough oxygen from normal breathing. Every so often a few deep breaths, a few extra sips of oxygen, felt necessary. The weather, the food, the water—everything that was once familiar had turned into a delicious jungle of strangeness. I first looked upon the tropical land of the Dominican Republic the way a shy, small child cautiously eyes a stranger—clutching onto his parent’s leg, and peeking around to assess the situation and search for possible dangers. I don’t just jump into new situations. Call it timidity, or call it caution. This jungle needed to be carefully stepped into…
WHAT WE DID
It’s tough to make a list, but here’s the short version:
We attended church services and built relationships at El Circulo, a church and our ministry partner in the Dominican Republic. They’re a passionate community that knows how to worship the Lord! I loved hanging out with Ana, Liz, Grettel, Pastor Fausto, Josh, Letizia, Brenda, Jaime, Ezra, Miguel, Juan, Christian, Pablo, and so many others at this church. (Above: El Circulo baptism on the beach. Below: Me and Whitney (r) with our new friend Letizia, from El Circulo.)
We visited Mary’s orphanage and played with the children, sang with them, laughed with them, and taught them about Jesus.
We held medical clinics for the children in the slums of Pantoja (above), where there was no electricity, no running water, no plumbing. We prayed for people with illnesses, including a man with TB. We diagnosed the kids, distributed parasite medication, and played with them. (Below: photo of the slums.)
We served the employees of ACE Wireless, a cell phone company whose owner, Victor, works closely with El Circulo. Many of his employees have come to know the Lord at his company! We held a church service there, built relationships, played games, prayed and shared the Gospel, hung out, and cooked and served meals with the ACE employees.
We traveled to Cotui, a village about two hours outside of Santo Domingo. Our team held children’s programs and medical clinics, did construction on the church and sidewalks, and prayed and hung out with the people of the village.
We served a meal to and hung out with people at a leper community in Santo Domingo.
We played with Lucy’s children. Lucy’s House is like an orphanage, except that she has legally adopted the over 100 children living there!
We went to the marketplace in Santo Domingo. We took a Sabbath at the beach. We walked around the Colonial District where Christopher Columbus’s home was. We enjoyed the city, the culture, the country.
We ate at Domino’s Pizza, Burger King, and McDonald’s. We had local fare (fried plantains—delicious, rice and beans, chicken, cabbage salad, sweet pineapple). We craved ice cream. Peanut butter was a luxury. And Coca-Cola was the most delicious it had ever been.
These last two weeks were probably the hardest of my entire life. The spiritual intensity, physical challenges, and heightened emotions made for a difficult trip. I have never seen poverty like the poverty I saw in the Dominican Republic. Walking around neighborhoods where there was no plumbing and seeing children play barefoot in the unpaved streets (above) was overwhelming. Touching lepers, rubbing their backs, holding their fingerless hands, and seeing the joy in their faces and knowing that no one visits them besides people from the church—what do you do with that? Playing with kids that you can’t talk to because you don’t know Spanish and they don’t know English, but still leaving them at the end of the day feeling like you understood each other—it’s almost magical. Sleeping on a concrete floor in a stifling hot house where we found a tarantula, wearing the same clothes I wore that day to bed, feeling so dirty and uncomfortable and homesick, desperate for God, completely broken—it’s a tough, beautiful place to be. I realized how much I desperately need God—and how broken and desperate for him I am all the time; I just don’t realize my condition because it’s so easy to cover up with…busyness, fun, stuff. And we all need him—we all desperately need him.
I seriously doubted my future as a missionary while I was in the Dominican Republic. But it’s so weird…since I’ve been home I haven’t been able to stop thinking about where God will take me next. I’m excited to think about people in the world who are invisible to me right now, but who God might bring me to in the future. Maybe I will break down again. Maybe I won’t be able to have a conversation with them. (I couldn't with Kayla, above.) But maybe I can feed them, or hug them, or smile at them. And maybe, maybe, that will make a difference in their life in some small way.
The last two weeks were probably the hardest of my entire life, but also two of the best.