ALLIANCE Church members prepare for a work day at the Cenovi , Dominican Republic, construction site.
As of Tuesday, August 21, 2018
On the evening of June 22, 2018, I had the pleasure of leading a group of 20 students and adult volunteers to the Dominican Republic.
Overseas missions were not a new experience for me, but being responsible for 19 other people outside of the country was. To be honest, there was a little bit of anxiety going into that night, but we had been meeting as a team regularly for several months leading up to the trip — we were as ready as we would ever be.
Thinking back to last summer, I remember when my pastor said that he wanted us to take the youth group on a mission trip. It seemed like a daunting task. We had a lot of money to raise and a lot of training to do. Only five of our team members, including myself, had ever been outside the U.S. As we began our preparation though, both our church community and the local community of Hood River rallied and came alongside to support and encourage us.
As part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, we decided to partner with Envision for our short-term trip. Envision believes that the western church has developed a somewhat skewed view of what it means to serve and partner with churches overseas. They describe four “posture shifts” that need to be made: (1) Moving from saviors to participants; (2) From experts to learners; (3) From working for to working with; and (4) From experience to discipleship.
As we began to make these “posture shifts,” it became quite clear that our short-term mission trip was far less about us, and even the people we were going to serve, and more about the work that Jesus was already doing. We were learning to become participants. Our students did an incredible job of this once our feet were on the ground in the Dominican Republic. On the first full day, we attended church and got to tour the community where we would be serving for the next week.
Our trip included a little bit of everything — construction, Vacation Bible School, prayer walks and debrief meetings with Envision staff. Our mornings began at the construction site about an hour’s drive from the compound. We spent about three hours a day working on the foundation for a building that will be used as a national conference center for pastors and church leaders. The completion time largely depends on financing and labor availability.
From the construction site, we enjoyed a very scenic (and stinky) ride over to a church in Cenovi, where we put on a VBS program for the neighborhood kids. Our time with them consisted of games, singing, a short lesson and crafts. It was so fun to watch the students dive right into building relationships with the kids. It was also fun to watch how the language barrier come crashing down. (Insert cheesy line about “love” being the world’s language.)
After wrapping up VBS late in the afternoon, we finally got to head back to the compound to take much-needed showers. Our nightly schedules varied day by day between debrief meetings and one prayer walk. We were not really told what to expect on the prayer walk, but upon returning home, I found that almost every student wished that we would have had a prayer walk every evening.
Here is a brief summary of our experience:
After splitting up into three smaller groups, we were assigned a translator and a lay member from the church and from there, we headed out into the community. The staff at Envision had a hard time describing what to expect because each experience is different, but the overall goal is to connect with people. Even though we will likely never see these people again, we wanted them to know their stories matter.
Several students were bold enough to share their own stories of loss, of heartache, of searching for truth — all with the hope of pointing them to Jesus. As Christians, we believe that Jesus is the one who heals our wounds and restores our hearts. One thing we found to be quite common in the Dominican Republic is how many people are struggling with the loss of a family member or dealing with poor health. When life gets difficult, it is easy to feel hopeless.
But church in Cenovi is providing a hope for hurting people by sharing the gospel with them. They believe that Jesus is the lifter of our heads (Psalm 3:3) and the only one who can fulfill the deepest desires of our hearts.
What a joy it was to get to participate in the work Jesus was and is doing through the Dominican church.
My desire is that our students would continue to carry this posture shift home with them — recognizing we are all part of a much bigger story.