I recently got back from a missions trip to the Dominican Republic with a group of students and adults from my church. The experience impacted us greatly: seeing the widespread poverty, interacting with the people there, those living with joy and hope and those not, doing our best to love the Haitian and Dominican children we met, getting to know each other better, worshipping God in another culture. It is hard to articulate all we experienced or what we are processing or how we are different, but here are some snapshots that have stayed with me.
The first snapshot is Pastor Joe sharing his story of growing up in Mexico and being sponsored so he could attend school as a young child, and then leading the schoolchildren in a prayer asking God for help to be the best students they can be, that their story might take a similar path as his did.
Twice a day, we spent time playing with kids and their families, holding babies, doing crafts, blowing bubbles, playing baseball and soccer and frisbee. And sweating… a lot. At one of these neighborhoods, a Dominican pastor walked up trying to get our attention, trying to gather all “the missionaries” around him. He did not speak any English, but with the help of Pastor Joe he prayed for us and shared Psalm 121 with us:
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
One of the most unique things we did was go in groups into homes, visit with a family, and actually pray for them with the help of a translator. These were, in essence, pastoral visits that our students got to experience. One student later shared with us about visiting the home of a woman with 10 kids who was a former prostitute. She had a picture of Jesus hanging on her wall and pointed to it and said, “Jesus is the only man for me now.”
A couple other impacting statements from students included one sharing how she hoped when she went back home she could continue to be who she had become here. What a great prayer!
Another student said he learned everyone just wants to be loved. What an insight for a 16-year-old to grasp!
And one student wanted to bring home one of the Haitians he met, a boy his age with great basketball talent. He recognized that basketball was this young man’s ticket out, and he also recognized that the only difference between the two of them was where they were born. He desperately wanted this new friend to have the same opportunities and privileges he had always enjoyed.
Not only did we have these holy moments in the Dominican, but a holy moment also broke out on our way home, in Miami International Airport of all places. We had two hours to make our connecting flight. Two hours to get 43 people through all the hoops amidst the chaos and confusion of customs and security checkpoints and needed bathroom breaks and long lines to get food for dinner. We all did get onto the plane in time to sit down, get our seat belts on, and be told by the pilot we wouldn’t be leaving for two more hours because of bad weather in Chicago.
But before that, on our way to the plane, myself and a small group were bringing up the rear, weaving our way through the airport, when I looked ahead and made eye contact with a very large, intimidating TSA agent. He waved us over to him, and I’m just thinking, “Perfect! What’d we do wrong now?”
He walked right over to us and said, “Thank you. Thank you for being missionaries and doing what you did.”
He shared with us that he’s unable to go on mission trips himself, but he always has an eye out for large groups all wearing the same T-shirt and makes a point of personally thanking each group on their way through the airport.
What an unexpected blessing! And what a blessed trip!