Watch this short music video and enjoy some of the experiences of the 152 volunteers that were part of the 2017 Dominican Republic Mission Team from June 30 to July 15. More info at drmissionteam.org, and be sure to follow the DR Mission Team on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter!
by Danielle Barnhart
As a parent, have you ever thought that maybe you aren’t instilling in your children all you had hoped to? I can’t be the only person who feels like this! When our little ones are born, we do all the right things. We baby-proof the house, read them all the beautiful board books that you were showered with as gifts, we only use the Dreft detergent, and of course we buy a wide variety of very wholesome foods, because our children will NOT grow up to eat chicken nuggets.
Fast forward three years…Some of the books on the shelf are dusty, the toddler lives on ONLY chicken nuggets, and especially when they’re out in public, people must think my home has no boundaries or rules by the way my son is body surfing down the aisles in the grocery store. I know, kids are so fun, right?
Twenty years ago, I had the opportunity to go on a trip, mostly because my mom thought it would be a great thing for me to experience. Was I excited? Yes, of course. But I had no idea how much this trip would shape the course of my life and impact my future. Fast forward 20 years, and I am traveling to the Dominican Republic that very same mission trip with my 2 sons, now ages 8 and 10. My sons have heard countless stories about poverty, have seen pictures of villages where children are hungry and unclothed. They have heard that some children have no opportunities to change their circumstances simply because they were born in a country stricken by poverty.
As a family, we sponsor children to attend school, and without this sponsorship, they would not have the opportunity to have an education. The cost? A mere $200 for the entire year! We pray for “our” kids, we talk about them and look forward to seeing their sweet little smiles in photos and in person when we go see them in the DR! Why do we sponsor kids? Because I love kids, and because that’s the kind of people I want to raise…people who care about other people; People who have hearts to love a person simply because they can, and that love can change the course of a person’s life. That is the God’s honest truth. Loving others can change lives!
My son met the little boy he sponsors just this past July. This will be the 3rd year that little Alexander Martinez is attending school because my son sponsors him. Well, he’s 8, so he doesn’t have a job to pay for such a thing. But when his birthday rolls around, instead of making a big wish-list of all the things he wants (to collect dust in his room or be pushed to the side mere weeks from the party), he asks his friends to make a donation to his “sponsorship fund” instead. As his birthday is approaching in a few days, I asked Eli to let me know if he had thought of any gift ideas so I could go out shopping, he thought for a second. “Ehhhh, what about a pogo stick? (5 second pause) Are they expensive? (5 more second pause) Ahhh, forget it, I’ll just take a donation to my DR trip so I can go again next year.”
In that moment, first, I choked back tears. Then my heart just felt full, and I thanked God for letting me be a mom to this sweet boy. This sweet boy is the reason for most of my strands of silver glitter hair (I pluck them, in case you’re wondering). This boy is the ultimate picture of energy, which in some situation, is not always good. He can be opinionated (even when his opinion is not popular or untimely in its delivery), he can be challenging, he can be hysterical, and in general, just a “handful”. But most of all, he can be a child that makes an impact on the world because he loves deeply, he cares about others, and he knows that God is doing a mighty work in and through him. He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose.
So, today, I think I have this parenting thing down! Ask me tomorrow, I may have another answer for you…
Everyone please Close your eyes…
IMAGINE walking,and taking an hour ride in a school bus down long dirt roads surrounded by endless sugar can fields. You arrive at one village and step off the bus into smoldering heat. You take one step at a time, breathing in the clouds of dirt they walk on, surrounded by beautiful half-clothed and hopeful children and families living in metal huts (cement if they are lucky), and seeing children sleeping on cement and dirt. Imagine children living this primitive life, surrounding you…speaking a language you don’t speak, grabbing your hands, desperate to be embraced, and excited someone cares.
Imagine not knowing which way to turn, overwhelmed by how you could possibly help. You pause and pray. “God, guide our every footstep, use us for your will, help us to see with your eyes, feel with your heart, and trust your path for us.”
Imagine you open your eyes and a 6 year old girl with a sparkle of hope in her eyes grabs your hand, jumps into your arms, and steals your heart. Her name is Daniella.
God’s purpose became crystal clear.
Language and cultural barriers disappeared, all worldly interferences dissolved, and God’s love and hope shined brightly through Daniella and her family.
Now Open your eyes…
Sweet soul Daniella invited us into her one room cement home to grab a machete to cut some sugar cane for us, and we met her family and became like family. ‘Her 4 year old sister’s name is Darianna, her 9 month old brother’s name is Samuel, and her mom’s name is Sonia. Each day we arrived at Batey 50, they found us and stayed with us. They helped with construction work and painting. God definitely gives you a supernatural strength when you do his work. We sweat rivers as we shoveled rocks, bent rebar, raked piles of dirt and rocks, and painted pictures of love and light to brighten the new Park for their village.
God moved through all of us to help each other and gave us a love and peace beyond all understanding, but yet so very deep and real. Each day with left them a little something. Ava and Kyle said…“Wow! They have nothing, but are so happy. They have nothing, and are so thankful for dirty shoes, play dough, and toothpaste. They have nothing, yet they still believe in God.”
This is how God moved, he connected us deeply and showed us the hope, love, and faith of a family with nothing through their eyes…they don’t have a voice so he gave them one through us. Daniella’s mom gave us a one page thank you letter for our love, items given, and for being friends with her children, She explained that they have nothing to give in return but their love and blessings for our home in America. This is simply and powerfully a God kind of love like no other.
“…use your freedom to serve one another in love, that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence. Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom.”
The beautiful souls on Batey 50 may be trapped in slavery and hidden in the sugar canes, but they are free because they know Jesus. Please pray for all their protection and perseverance in their faith, and please pray for all those on other Batey’s who are trapped in darkness.
“The hardest part was seeing it, the best part was being there to help, and the hardest part was leaving. “ To see my kids connecting with all the children and working so hard was beyond words…they are already begging me to go back next year. We saw the power of perseverance in God’s name using all the DR mission teams to transform a village over 25 years from a dark-voodoo stricken place to a village filled with the love and light of God. They went from broken metal shacks to solid cement homes. They have hope alive in their hearts. This year was the completion of Batey 50 and We found out on one of our last days there that Daniella does not live on Batey 50, her family stays with her Aunt and Grandmother most days. Daniella and her siblings live on Batey 35, so who knows what God has in store next year… Maybe Daniella is the voice of Batey 35. Please pray.
As of April, I had no intention of going on the mission trip this year. One day I was checking my e-mail, and I saw something from John Powers about the celebration planned for Batey 50 day. This wasn’t an email sent specifically to me; it was a mass email to anyone associated with the trip, but the message might as well have been talking to me directly. The email was regarding the completion of the batey and right then and there I knew I had to call John and sign up for the trip. Not only did I sign up to go, but I decided to stay for 2 weeks instead of my usual 1 week. One of my earlier trips to the Dominican Republic we went to Batey 50 and started working on some latrines there. Towards the end of the workweek, some of the people of the batey were complaining of holes in their roofs. In response, a few of us tried plugging the holes in whatever material made up the roof of their tin shack. One of the members, John Litevich, who has a background in construction was saying how there was no point to repairing the holes and that we should just rebuild all the houses; from there an idea was formed.
1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” – These are the things God has prepared for those who love Him.
The people of Batey 50 could never and would never have even thought of having a complete concrete house with a real roof and a floor not made of the dirt the house was built on. Other than the church, there was likely no other structure they had ever seen that was made of concrete; but God had a different plan for these people. A big part of Dominican culture is religion. These people have nothing material, but have everything spiritual. Their love for God is one that every other country should replicate. Their love for God is what allowed them to be blessed with the opportunity of all new houses and in turn allow us volunteers to be blessed by growing with them for 7 years total, 5 years for me.
Fast forward to the trip, the day finally came to celebrate the completion of the last house and the playground we had built for them during our time there this year. Everyone got there and was in high spirits. Unfortunately before the celebration started I had an accident and had to leave to get 8 stitches in my hand; I lost my balance on a fence while trying to help set up for the day. I missed all but maybe 30 minutes of the day. Now what I haven’t mentioned yet is that the whole trip I kept thinking “what is my purpose on this trip, why am I here?” In previous years I had always just thought I was there to work, but this year I wasn’t feeling accomplished with only that. I thought if working wasn’t giving me fulfillment and I’m not even able go to the party to celebrate being done with the houses, then what is my purpose here? Why did I even come? I was scheduled to stay on the trip for 2 week, but I clearly was no longer going to be working like I was the first week which just added to the my questioning. The first night I was back in the US, I was reading my Bible and reflecting on the trip. I came across this verse:
“And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give, but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.” 2 Corinthians 8:10-11
This was the answer I had been looking for. My purpose was not just to work, but also to see the work get finished. It wasn’t to be at Batey 50 day, it was to see the project I helped start and had been apart of for the majority of my 6 trips to the Dominican be completed. A project so powerful to me, I even got the logo cut into my hair. At the end of my two weeks I came to this realization and it took less than 12 hours in America to understand it. Seeing a whole village be transformed, knowing I wanted to help start it and was there and just as full of desire to finish it is something I will be able to carry with me all the days of my life. The people there may be blessed with a playground and new homes, but the blessings I’ve been given from working with them and getting to know them can never be matched.
I’d like to start by reading Isaiah 6:8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
As I think of the many instances when I saw God at work in the DR, I was most moved by baby Christian Antonio. I had the privilege of praying over a 10 pound 16 month old little boy that was struggling for his life in the good Sam hospital. He was extremely dehydrated and malnourished with pneumonia. The nurses didn’t give him much of a chance of survival. Then God stepped in.
So many people, including us at FCC, have been praying for him. He is now improving everyday, eating and beginning to thrive. God is amazing especially in places like the Dominican Republic where he continues to bless his most special people.
I have been blessed by the opportunity to be part of this wonderful mission experience. You cannot be part of something like this and come back the same.
Let me begin with an observation. All to often today we characterize our young people as entitled and lazy with their focus on Smart Phones, electronics, video games, dirt bikes and the like. On this trip I was blessed to witness an amazing group of young people who took on the mission of God’s work. They did so with a positive attitude and an energy that amazed me. I want to thank all of them for restoring my confidence in the younger generation and giving me renewed hope for future generations.
I was also struck by the pure innocence and joy of the children at the Joe Hartman School and at the Bateys. While they know very little about the world we are blessed to live in, they appreciate all that is done for them and their face lights up with a hug or a smile or the simple act of passing a tennis ball back and forth.
I was also blessed to be a part of such a wonderful group of people who volunteered for this trip. Whether it was the first time going (like me) or the 26th trip, I have made a new group of friends who came together for a common goal. Regardless of whether you were involved in Medical, Teaching, Evangelism, Food distribution, or one of the Construction efforts, the spirit and enthusiasm were overwhelming and contagious.
I remain in awe of what has been accomplished over the course of the last 26 years. The lifeline that has been established such as the Good Samaritan Hospital, The Joe Hartman School, the massive food distribution efforts, the Medical teams that make such an impact. While you can see the pictures and videos and get a sense of what it is like, for me there is nothing so impactful as actually being there to appreciate what has been done and what still needs to be done.
Finally, we had the opportunity to visit Batey 105 as an example of what Batey 50 looked like before the rebuilding process took place. It is difficult to understand how people actually live in conditions such as this. To understand that so many people, so many Bateys exist with these type of conditions is emotionally striking. It brings home the realization that God has put before us a tremendous opportunity.
Come with us on the next DRMT trip…….you will come back a changed person.
Take a minute and read through this “Huffington Post” blog explaining just what is so special about Batey 50.
During the 2015 “Joe Hartman Day”, the Dominican Republic Mission Team was treated to the students performing their school’s theme song!
Going to the Dominican Republic was a scary choice from the start. I have never left the country, or traveled alone without my family. I heard about this trip through a friend I worked with and was instantly drawn to the idea of serving in a different country. I knew absolutely no one I was going on the trip with. As much as that though alone would make me almost not go, I knew I wanted to and that there were more important things other than me being scared to go. God obviously likes taking us all out of comfort zones.
In order for us to get to know each other the church helped set up a retreat to go to. I actually met quite a few people who were also going on the trip for the first time and that made me feel relieved.
When it was finally time to go to the airport and arrive in the DR, it was incredibly hot and humid. We had a bit of a jam when our resort hotel didn’t have any rooms. We ended up going to an alright place… a little creepy, a little dirty, but who knows, maybe that was one of the best hotels there. That was my first eye opener. The DR definitely does not have the same rules and health precautions the U.S. has. Since I was last in line I got a single room which instantly freaked me out. Also my light in my bathroom did not work so I had to ask some man, who spoke no English as I spoke no Spanish, to fix it. That was the first time I’ve experienced such a big language barrier.
So when the real work began when we visited Casa de Pastoral where we would be staying in the next couple of days, once Week 1 left. We went to Joe Hartman, Kilometer 6, to see the children and to celebrate. When I got there the school was beautiful and the kids were all in their uniforms waiting to be picked by a sponsor. After walking from classroom to classroom not knowing how all this worked, I began taking pictures of the kids and they seemed to love that they could see themselves. I came across a little girl who was quiet and was definitely shy. She did not reach out for my camera or phone and did not seem to be as a crazy as the other children which made me feel like she was the one I should sponsor. She was so sweet and although we couldn’t talk we found ways to communicate by dancing, playing hand games, drawing and using gestures. She had so much love to give and every time I would come back to Joe Hartman she would run from her house and always find me. I went to her house to drop off gifts and like all the houses it was the size of a living room and held up by boarded up wood. At the moment for some reason it really clicked that this little girl lived here along with a family in these kinds of decisions. Throughout the week we did a lot of cement filling, bucket passing and painting. It’s crazy to think that they have no machines to build anything and they use their own hands to do everything. With that I learned to appreciate and admire these hard workers who do this day in and day out. Atleast, I had a home with a bed, air conditioning and food to go back to while who knows where they would go. Maybe back to their shacks with the little food and water they had.
I didn’t go to Batey 50 except once and that was a shocker. Sugar Cane stretched out for miles and there were no bathrooms so we had to go in the actual sugar cane. People would swarm you if you were giving something away and there houses were nothing but boarded up wood and metal sheets on the dirt ground. There, week 1 built 5 houses along with the help of week 2. They handed out food and made a garden.
I went on the medical team for a day and participated in taking blood pressure and assisting our medics by providing women’s health to the women over there as well as dentistry. It was interesting to find out the clinical needs and how they even get to a hospital which is not as easy as you’d think. Speaking of hospital I never knew that our group years ago built that hospital there in La Romana, a three story hospital using nothing but their own hands and tools. The hospital is beautiful and fully running. It’s absolutely incredible!
Unfortunately I did get sick and had stomach problems for the majority of the trip. I’m pretty sure it was from my water bottle, because when I finally left to go to the airport to go home I smelled it and it smelled like straight mildew. So if you do use the same water bottle up there make sure you wash it with soap and water and you don’t leave it out in the hot sun. After I stopped drinking from it I felt a lot better. I did have a lot of fun with the people there and my group. To be honest it went by really fast. There are so many more details and adventures like pranks, bathroom dilemmas, mosquitoes, and just feelings that cant be explained I could write forever. I’m just glad I met the people I did over there and I’m glad I could experience something so incredible. So now whenever I’m having a bad day and think my world is ending, I can put my time and energy into them and know there are more important things in life then a bad hair day, or no internet service. I do believe everyone should do something like this and get this kind of experience.
– Deanna Westlake
For more info on the DR Mission Team, please visit drmissionteam.org or search #DRMT15 on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.