A Completely New Experience

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.

Deanna Westlake, Joe Hartman School

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. 

Evangelism in Batey 50 

My evangelist friend, Alex, walked through Batey 50 spreading the news that we would be having a worship service at the corner of the village under the tree with wide spreading branches for shade.
Soon, people  started coming – young and old, men and women.  They came with chairs for the guest and a few chairs for themselves.  They came with the most colorful drum I’d ever seen.  They came with tambourines, and what is sometimes called a “Merengue Salsa Beat Machine”.  Mostly they came with a sense of joy.  Clearly, they were glad we had come.  They were ready for some joyous worship.  Before the Evangelist officially  began the service,  they started in.
They couldn’t wait to sing, and to play those wonderful percussion instruments.
But that’s not the way it used to be.
When Pastor Lubin Beaucejour and I began to do evangelism in Sugar Cane villages (called Bateys)  in 2002, we were ignored in Batey 50.  Not so much elsewhere.  In fact, it’s hard to ignore my friend, Pastor Lubin.  He is joyous, an out-going conversationalists, and has a way of presenting the Gospel that is hard to resist.
Let me describe it.  One day, Pastor Lubin noticed a large group of people lined up waiting for the medical clinic to open.  Nurses were inside setting up.  So, my friend decided to “redeem the time” and told them he had some good news for them.  They formed a circle around him and began to listen.  45 minutes later they were holding hands with each other, confessing their sins with bowed heads, then repeating the “sinners prayer” asking Jesus to come into their lives.  That was followed with joyful shouting, broad smiles, hugs, and the hope that we would never leave.  We started a new church with 80 new converts that day.
Not so with Batey 50!  Pastor Lubin walked around the village talking to people who showed no interest.  I was walking around the village praying my heart out – asking the Wind of the Spirit to blow through that Batey with evangelistic power, just as the gentle breezes were blowing across the sugar cane that was bending with the wind.
The only person that came to faith that day was a woman who had been brought there that day by a taxi driver.  She had come to Batey 50 to visit the Voodoo Witch Doctor.  She been given some money to go their in order to  receive special powers.  There was someone with whom people in her village were very angry.  They wanted him dead.  They depended on the dark powers of Voodoo to do the job.  The Voodoo practitioner in Batey 50 was just the man who could give her those powers to kill.
Her life was changed that day.  Pastor Lubin talked to her about how evil those forces of Voodoo were.  She herself was bound by them.  She needed to receive Jesus into her life who would free her from those dark forces and give her everlasting life.  She believed that day.  Her life was changed.  But her was the only one who was changed in that spiritually dark place.
As I walked through and around the village praying, as was my custom, I was aware of how sad this place appeared to be.  No American would ever want to live in any of the housing that exists on those Bateys.  We would call them shacks.
Batey 50 was the worst of them.  The houses were thrown together lean-to’s – shacks made with old pieces of boards and sheets of tin.   They had dirt floors, the roofs leaked, and the appearance was awful – the saddest excuse for housing  I’d seen.  I thought, no human being should ever have to live like that. No wonder our message was being ignored.
Several years later the new lovely church was built.  Clearly, it was the nicest building in the village.  It was across the street from the Voodoo guy who didn’t want it built there and performed Voodoo rituals to stop construction.  One team found a cut-up snake – a part of a voodoo ritual.  But it had no effect on them nor on the church building they were constructing.
Voodoo must act in the dark.  The light of the Gospel was beginning to shine.
In the year 2010 new latrines were being erected.  Plans were being made to build new houses on Batey 50 by mission teams which would replace the shacks.  Things were beginning to change.  Pastor Lubin returned to do evangelism.  This time the reception was different.  People gathered to listen and  30 people came forward to accept Christ as their Savior.
I returned this year, 2015 to view the changes that had been made.  It was remarkable.  The campaign to build 50 new houses on Batey 50 was nearly completed.  Two more houses were dedicated and the people were thrilled.  This year some elderly people were getting new houses (a small 3-room cement block building with a tin roof).  It is hard to describe their joy.
As the physical houses changed, so did the spiritual atmosphere.  There was joy, thanksgiving and up-lifting worship.
Joy in Batey 50 IMG_0346 IMG_0348
That night our team showed a children’s movie on a large screen erected on the newly built play ground.   It was an incredible  phenomenon for a people who lived out their lives with no electricity. Life was clearly changing and it was all for the better.
I have never seen social ministry and spiritual ministry come together in such a powerful way.  The folks at Wallingford First Baptist understand that the compassion of Christ demands that they be involved in the relief of the suffering of humanity, but that there is more.  As Christians they must also be concerned about the eternal soul that will never die.  The latter motivates the former.  People need to hear of the saving message that God so loved us that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life.  Without caring for people’s desperate physical needs, that life-saving message will be ignored.
The people in Batey 50 have changed its name.  It’s now called Batey Esperanza – Batey Hope.
It’s no longer called by  a mere number – today it’s a meaningful place of hope!
Pastor Bill
For more info on the DR Mission Team, please visit drmissionteam.org or search #DRMT15 on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. 

DRMT Lite Experience 2015

We were as diverse as we could be and yet we came together as one. We had Josh Powers as our fearless leader and he made sure that everyone had their individual needs met without making anyone feel like a burden. He was very fun to be around, easy to talk to, and made this trip so enjoyable for all of us. He and my roomie, Diana Sarro are the best at making every moment count and living life to the fullest. As a DRMT Lite group, we were separate but for the most part we were able to join the main group in all of the major activities.  Furthermore, as a member of this “elite” group, it was nice riding in a nice, air-conditioned van and, of course, staying at the luxurious Casa de Campo villa. Because Josh had been there before and had developed so many connections throughout the trip we were able to do other exciting things around the Casa de Campo compound and meet many other great people.
DRMT Lite 2015
From beginning to end, it was really a very nice DRMT Lite experience/missions trip for me. I loved talking to the honorary members of the DRMT Lite group hearing stories of the past when they were here many years ago when the project, the school, and the hospital were at its infancy stage. It was really touching to see Pat MaClary cry as she walked through the halls of Buen Samaritano Hospital and reminisced about the time she and her husband, Dave, worked on the foundation of the building. We awed as Deb Huegel walked on the beautiful marbled hospital tiles that she and her husband, Bill once helped carry and installed. I also admired Debbie Gravell’s commitment to help the teachers at the Joe Hartman school at all cost. She not only came with bags of goodies and instructional materials that teachers could use in their classroom, she also made a commitment to help them get what they need in order to teach these needy children. Debbie Gravell was relentless. She also came out in the hot sun to help me with the 20+ kids that had gathered at the school on Monday, July 6th when the Week 2 construction crew were out in the fields working. Debbie Gravell came with a bag full of toys and games for the kids to play and she saw I needed help and that I was greatly outnumbered and decided to give me a hand out there with the kids.
It is so easy for those of us that came afterwards to take for granted what is standing there now but hearing the stories of what once was nothing but dirt and a vision was very touching. Now, meeting and being friends with the people, American and Dominican who had a hand in building it from the ground up is great. Thank you to all of the faithful people that persevered through the years and during the hottest and harshest of conditions to make all this a reality.
– Cindy Jones, RI
For more info on the DR Mission Team, please visit drmissionteam.org or search #DRMT15 on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. 

Ten Years Ago…

La Romana has been in my heart,a passion that ran through my veins, since I was 16 years old. So, I guess I’ll put it out there (haha), for the last 19 years I have had the opportunity to be blessed by this “experience”.

Ten years ago, my life was much different. In the past 10 years, my husband and I have bought a house, changed jobs, and had three *awesome* sons. Going to the DR was put on hold. My plate has been very full, along with my heart. I was content to pray for the mission in those years, happy to help when I could with different projects going on throughout the year for the trip, but it wasn’t my time to go. I had 3 little people that needed me day and night, and I was totally OK with that. Until this past year.

This year, the trip would be different. Bringing my 9 year old son, Noah was what I had dreamed about for years. I know I want to raise my sons to be compassionate and caring, putting others’ ahead of themselves. How better to teach compassion than being in the mission field, right? We had opportunities daily to help, play, pray, distribute food, smile, hug, build…the list goes on and on. So there was no doubt in my mind that this was going to be an EPIC experience for him to be taking. Little did I know, the trip would mean so much more to me also.

Watching Noah take in the sights of a batey, playing baseball with little children who will probably remember that day for years to come, seeing him work hard to pack boxes of food to be distributed to very hungry bellies…I mean, literally, I have no words. I have tears in my eyes just thinking about it. It was everything I had hoped and dreamed for him, and he was soaking it up!

And then there’s me. I’m not sure if I had an expectation for MYSELF on the trip. I had spent so much time and energy fundraising, preparing, telling Noah about it. I’m not sure that I ever really thought too long about MY trip. On Wednesday, I had my big moment…I was working on the roof of The Joe Hartman School with my sister, Wilson, Noah and a few other Americans, along with a handful of workers that work there daily. Sandra was chatting with one and asked him what his name was. Clauvis. Did he have children? Yes, the oldes is Clauson. My heart did this wierd thing. It dropped, but not in a bad way. I knew the next word out of his mouth would be Yeulison, the boy our family has sponsored to attend school for the last 3 years. We have prayed for him nightly, we talked about him like we knew him, but we didn’t, really. I think I grabbed his arm and I think I said “I am his madrina.” He smiled so big, and within minutes, he left the worksite to go home and get him.

The next few minutes I’m not sure what I was doing…just waiting. He walked up the stairs to the roof where we were working and I hugged him so tightly. My sunglasses hid my leaking eyes, and I held myself together. He sorta hugged me back, but he was cautious. Over the next 3 hours we read books together, we played legos, farm animals, talked, and he played ball with Noah. “Yeulison, do you need anything?” “Comida” We gave him every Cliff Bar we had in our bags. He ate them quickly, didn’t savor them at all. He ate them like he was hungry. Very hungry.

His story isn’t an easy one. His dad does his best, working construction jobs, taking care of 5 sons alone, ranging in age from 3-11. The 3 oldest are enrolled at the school but they are not “easy” kids. They sometimes steal things (I don’t know, I might if I had no posessions to call my own too), they are hungry, they fall down and get hurt frequently (maybe I would also, if my belly were always empty). Their house is not in good condition at all, holes throughout their roof that let the rain in to soak their belongings.

By the end of the afternoon, he had hugged me a million times, all caution gone. He smiled. I had seen pictures of him for years, not once had I seen his smile. I. Was. In. Love. If someone had said “Oh, you can take him home with you”, I swear I would have. Aaron would *probably* forgiven me at some point. I mean, what’s another after you have 3 already, right? The following day, we spent the day together, along with his 4 brothers, just playing, reading, talking.

This family has my heart now. I have thought about them every day since I have returned. I’ve told everyone that’s asked how the trip was all about my little guy, Yeulison. I know I can’t change the world. I know I can’t end hunger. I know that I can’t love everyone…I’m only one person. I CAN change his world, though. I can eradicate hunger for his father and the 5 boys. I can pray for them, and I can tell everyone I know about how trips like this change lives. Short term mission trips may be short, but all you need is a moment, and in that one moment on a roof of a school, your life will change. Trips like this will change YOUR life, and you’ll never be the same.

~Danielle Barnhart

For more info on the DR Mission Team, please visit drmissionteam.org or search #DRMT15 on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. 

Danielle with the Louidor boys!

Danielle with the Louidor boys!

Left to right: Noah(9), Yeulison(9), and Clauson(11)

Left to right: Noah(9), Yeulison(9), and Clauson(11)

DRMT LITE: My First Mission Trip at age 62


Meeting our sponsor child Barbara Libby, Thirl and I have sponsored for three years since she entered the school in Kindergarten was the highlight of my trip.  I must say though there were many highlights and God moments.

Two weeks before we left, God began healing me from all my health issues.  I praise God for healing me completely the moment I stepped on Dominican soil.  I haven’t felt so healthy, vibrant and energetic in years.  I am still feeling well.

One of the reasons I felt God called me to make this trip was to find out how to partner with teachers and families at the Joe Hartman School.  This school has no funding except what individuals give for sponsorship for children and teachers.  I couldn’t believe it when I found out we could sponsor a child or teacher for $180 a year providing the children with uniforms, some books, some supplies and an education for a whole year. Seeing the beginning of the kitchen being built at Joe Hartman School was another highlight.  Knowing that our sponsored child, Escarlin, and all the other children at the school will receive a meal so they can focus and learn means so much to me.  Thank you to all who worked on this project during our two weeks.  Thank you especially to 80 year old Dave Maclary for going out there on Monday and working as hard as the teenagers.  You are awesome, Dave.

Meeting the teachers was so inspiring.  As a retired teacher and Christian Educator, it was heart-warming to see the excitement in these teachers that are not even paid a living wage.  They love the children and the Lord.  Jackie Valentine and Sandra Moya planned a teacher training for the first day our DRMT Lite team arrived.  We were blessed to be able to accompany them to the school for this training.  They had every detail of their presentation planned and all the teachers were present and excited.  They had arranged for a translator.  Our translator would have translated word for word what was being said.  However, God had an even more enriching plan.  On the DRMT Lite team was Cindy Jones.  She asked that morning to go to the school with us.  She said she was a teacher.  I had no idea she spoke fluent Spanish and was of Dominican descent.  She was who God sent to translate for the teachers not only in their language but being a teacher she was able to explain in their language the methodology and answer questions thereby enriching the whole experience.  Thank you God, for Cindy.  Thank you, Cindy, for asking to come.

As the training went on, I took notes as I listened to what the teachers did in the classroom and imagined what supplies and teaching tools they could use to enhance what they were doing.  I watched as Jackie and Sandra demonstrated various activities that could be used to help their classes be more of a community and learn social skills.  I wrote down supplies they would need to do these activities.  The teachers never asked us for anything.  So we asked them.  Some couldn’t even imagine besides a bookcase what they could use to teach.  Some asked for a few materials but only after we invited them to do so.

 Two other days we were privileged to return to the school.  Joe Hartman Day and the Monday before we left.  Many of our team worked in the library sorting the few books they had and reading with children.  There was a crowd of about 20 children who had gathered at the school that morning.  Too many for our small team to read with each of them.   Cindy and I went out with a bag of toys I had “misplaced” that I wanted to give out on Joe Hartman Day.  God had purposely put them aside for us for that morning.  There are very few toys at the school and the children have no toys in their home

That bag of match box cars, bracelets, two frisbees and a box of dice and our imaginations and love for children were all Cindy and I had to keep the children entertained for the morning.  I played frisbee, crashed matchbox cars with the boys and gave out bracelets to these wonderful loving children.  The highlight of that morning was a boy about ten and his friend who spoke a little English.  They went out of their way to talk with me.  The first thing they asked me was if I was a Christian.  When I said yes they rejoiced and praised God with me.  The other boy had a plastic cross around his neck and through sign language, my limited Spanish and his limited English I was able to learn it was his prized possession.  I really believe if I had said no I wasn’t a Christian those boys would have told me about their Jesus right there and then.

What a rewarding and Spirit-filled experience this was for me.  Thank you to all who financially and prayerfully supported me to go on this trip.  These are just a few of the God moments I experienced in those 6 days.  As time goes on and I talk to friends and family I will share more of the God moments I had the privilege to encounter.

Thank you, God.

Debbie Gravell

For more info on the DR Mission Team, please visit drmissionteam.org or search #DRMT15 on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. 

A Special Kind of People

I am back home now and I can’t stop thinking about my trip especially, all the people left behind.  I keep picturing their smiles every time they see us coming.  They have such joy even though life is so hard for them.  I always feel bad for the kids that are on the other side of the gate when we have our gathering at Joe Hartman. They have touched me in a way I can’t explain.  I feel so blessed to be able to make someone smile or share my lunch with a couple of the kids.  The parents seem so grateful that we pay a little attention to their son or daughter.  One of the fathers that Shannon and I sponsor took Shannon out from where she was playing and opened up a coconut and poured the juice from it into her month.  They have nothing yet he found a way to show her how much he appreciated us taking care of his son.  The mom who would give her son to us and wanted us to take him to the United States just so he could have a better life.  How selfless!  They are a special kind of people.  Hard workers, joyful, and appreciative. I miss them and the feeling of love all around.  God has not forgotten them and neither will I.

Laurie Hinman

For more info on the DR Mission Team, please visit drmissionteam.org or search #DRMT15 on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.