It’s 8am and 17 people have gathered at the Orlando International Airport for a flight to the Dominican Republic. A few days later we would be standing in a circle on a huge oceanfront patio, crying, hugging, holding hands, processing the previous few days. We visited four bateys (the villages that surround the sugarcane fields), saved eight adults and ten children, handed out 1300 pounds of rice and beans, gave out backpacks and school notebooks, cut 12 heads of hair, and installed 15 water filtration systems. Strangers became family. We prayed, sang, and laughed.
In March of 2020, most of these same 17 people were ready to board the plane to Santo Domingo. However, at the last minute we were forced to cancel the trip due to the outbreak of Covid. It wasn’t until nearly 2 1/2 years later that we were able to gather again and fly down to serve in the bateys around La Romana, Dominican Republic.
The ride from the airport in Santo Domingo to La Romana is about two hours. Two hours on a rickety bus, where turning on the air conditioning means opening the windows. However, it is a great opportunity for us to get to know each other a little better and prepare our hearts to transform others.
The people of La Romana are very simple, but they are also incredibly passionate about their faith. Church service is a daily event there. Here in the United States, we spend a week rehearsing songs and writing scripts for our Sunday services. In the Dominican Republic, they sing whatever comes to them with joy and pastors preach whatever God puts on their hearts. We visited four churches during our visit, and each service was more joyous than the last. Though the services were spoken in Spanish, it wasn’t a barrier for us. We knew we were rejoicing with our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord, and for that moment we were all one speaking the same language of Jesus. It was also not unusual for us to attend an impromptu church service at a batey. Residents gather, pull chairs from their houses, and bring out the bongo drums and guitars. And again, they dance and sing with everything in their hearts.
For me personally, I have never felt so close to God as I do while on a mission trip. I can feel my faith grow deeper in His name. I shed my inhibitions and pray with all my heart. I hug harder than I have ever hugged before. I feel the calling. I feel like I belong. It’s an experience that changes your foundation, your values, and your soul.
Of course, it isn’t a mission trip without obstacles. We met residents of the bateys that don’t follow Christ. They practice voo doo. The Witch Doctor of the batey maintains a fire in his front yard to summon up the demons and unleash them on the Earth. We met many of who resisted the invitation to follow Christ. There was an 84 year old man who said he wasn’t ready. How much longer was he going to wait? However, it’s when one person surrenders to God that makes our mission a success.
One thing we focus on is flexibility. We are asked to be flexible (flexibility is our best ability is a recurring theme throughout the trip). We run into barriers that prevent us from completing our mission sometimes. We encountered a flooded road that led us to visit a different batey than we originally planned on. We came across a batey that was just too big for us to serve, so we instead went to a smaller village where we met a young lady that spoke four languages perfectly and was a nurse for her batey. Her mother played bongo drums and her grandfather sang and played the guira (the guira is a Dominican instrument – it’s looks like a round cheese grater).
However, despite the hurdles, we go where God leads us. He introduces us to who he wants us to meet. We minister to the adults, tell stories and play soccer with the children. Many times we organize a game of Pato Pato Ganso (Duck Duck Goose). We share the gospel with many, often times through our translators. Our goal is to bring hope to those that are feeling hopeless and to share the good word of the Lord.
We break bread together as a team. Meals always consists of rice, beans, meat, and fruit. Breakfast at the hotel is fried eggs, French toast, fruit, and Dominican farina (oatmeal made with condensed milk and cinnamon). In the summer, the mango is in season and tastes like it was freshly harvested. In the fall we found ourselves eating in season avocado with every meal.
The unity and experiences we share as a team bind us together in the word. We return to our families with renewed spirits and enlightened hearts. The transition back to our lives can at times be quite an adjustment, but I find that my faith is strengthened and I feel we have made a difference to many in the bateys. Many memories are made and hearts are transformed. And that’s all we ask for.