I have been procrastinating this post because it felt like there was too much to share and to say. The local news asked for a 300-word version of the trip but, of course, there was so much more that happened – in my heart and in the Dominican Republic.
If you don’t follow me on Instagram, here are the cosmetic actions we took-
My husband and I went with our church’s youth group to Sanchez in the Dominican Republic for six days. While there, we worked in the mornings constructing a house for the local church’s pastor and family.
In the afternoons, we played with the neighborhood children through a Vacation Bible School we coordinated and ran.
After that, we went through Santo Domingo and over to Balii, where we spent a night at the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission camp.
Then, home to our huge home and fluffy pillows. You can watch videos that were captured live during a lot of this time on the Grace UMC YouTube channel.
But, of course, there was more to it than our itinerary.
Going on a mission trip had always been on my To Do list. I know I should say it was a “calling,” but it wasn’t as though I was struck by a sudden epiphany. God put this in my heart years ago, but it wasn’t until this trip that it became a realistic option.
So in an attempt to organize my thoughts and all the swirling emotions, I thought I would share with you the reasons why I think every single person should participate in a Mission Trip at some point in their life:
Giving your time is an exercise in humility.
On a Mission Trip, you are at the service of others. It is not about your schedule, your time, or what you want to experience. This is about other’s needing you to be there to catch a bucket of rocks no matter how hot you are.
This is a foreign concept to most of us today. Yes, as parents we frequently feel under the pinnings of our demanding children, but we do that almost because we are forced to. We have no choice. Plus, they are our own cute kids.
But how often do we do this for other humans in the world, especially those we don’t know? Once we push ourselves to go serve strangers who are our neighbors in the universal human plight, we realize that it feels GOOD to serve. There is something more rewarding about helping those who need us, even if it is hard work, than fighting to carve out our “own time” to binge watch Netflix. But it was a lesson I needed to experience to learn.
Connecting with people beyond cultures and languages opens your heart.
We didn’t speak the same language as our Dominican friends, yet that didn’t stop love from being part of our relationship. In America, we are fairly coddled and protected. We stay in our neighborhoods that are mostly composed of similar families and friends.
Without exiting from comfortable streets to engage, there is this odd fear that seeps in. We start to take social cues from sensationalized media stories or Facebook posts. And fear leads to irrational decision-making. Fear leads to the fractured America we seem to have now: us versus them (however you divide it up).
Really connecting with our Dominican “family” made me realize once again, in a tangible way, there is no Us or Them in any way in humanity. There is only ALL.
Being uncomfortable is healthy.
This is from the woman who is actively pursuing uncomfortable situations, so take it as you will. But the fact is being away from a huge bed with mattress that, heaven forbid, isn’t over 7 years old, with hot water, air conditioning, a fully stocked kitchen and Subway sandwiches whenever you want them is GOOD.
Being in a city where you can’t read the signs and don’t understand the smells, sleeping on beds that give “firm” a new challenge, and eating food you can’t identify is healthy. Only then can we come home and appreciate what America offers and provides. We complain a lot in America without understanding how lucky we have it.
People are the point.
Career, riches, food, travel…sure, those are fine pursuits. But in the end, people are the point of life. God (or whatever divine power you believe in) put us here, YOU here, for a reason and it wasn’t to make a lot of money so you can have the best iPhone. It is because lots of people somewhere need you to be part of their story.
And yes, we can do that in our every day lives. We can do that behind the wheel of our minivans by driving kindly. But we can also do it in a big way every now and again.
Our Dominican friends didn’t seem touched by our visit because we finished the house (we didn’t) or because we told amazing Bible stories in Spanish (we didn’t). They were moved by our willingness to escape what they know the comfortable American life is to come to them and live with them and be with them. Our ability to turn our backs away from luxury for one week to turn towards them saying, ‘what can we do to help,’ was what they talked of again and again.
Because you will hear God.
You can’t thrust yourself out of your environment into the scary and unknown purely based on faith without feeling God move in you and around you. The emotions felt were raw and real throughout the week. Overwhelm, exhaustion, elation, fear, anger, surprise, calm, peace, love, homesickness…and more. It was all beautiful, and it all brought us closer together as a team yet also brought me closer to what I feel God wants from me.
I am realizing I will never be perfect. Sometimes, that makes me want to stop pursuing a better life at all; that fact makes me want to give up and just sit on the couch and eat Cheetos while I binge HGTV. But for one week I stepped out towards the life I think those of us privileged enough should be striving towards and God met me. He didn’t put up any big fiery arrows and say in a booming voice, “Now Follow Me This Way.”
But he did get into my heart and show me what being full looks like. He reminded me of my gifts (and my not-gifts). He gave me strength through the week to come out with a clearer head for how to live a life well-served. I sometimes think I need to give away everything and go live on a commune, as Jesus probably would have, in order to be a Christian. But he brought some new truths and options to my heart over the week.
You will notice that nearly all of these reasons to go are impactful internal reasons. Selfish? Perhaps. I can’t speak for the people we worked alongside and touched; I don’t really know in the end what our time with them meant to them. But I can speak for the personal changes I felt, which is where this list exists.
I don’t know where you are on your faith journey, but it doesn’t really matter. I don’t have a propensity to witness; I don’t naturally speak the word of religion to strangers. Oddly, even writing about it so honestly right now makes me squirm.
But you don’t have to have it all figured out, you don’t have to be a defined missionary, to go out and serve the world in love.
And never sell yourself short: you matter. God has people out there all over the world waiting for you to enter their story.
This challenge was designed in September 2015 by me, to push myself outside of my comfort zone. I wanted to force myself to try new things, to learn to embrace my life, to take a situation where I was feeling sad and lonely and force a new perspective. I was feeling stagnant but I realized it was my own fault. There is way too much fun, adventure, laughter and good people in the world for me to feel sad. I didn’t have true goals when I started: just to get out of self-pity and to get in the middle of the road and rush straight forward. Is it working? Yup.