2023 Mission Trip to Juan Tomás, República Dominicana
S.H.IN.E “Seeing Him IN Everything”
S.H.IN.E was Oakland Christian’s theme for the 2014-15 school year, and through my 10 years of teaching at this school, it is one of the themes that most stick out in my mind. This message was weighing heavily on my heart and mind after we returned from our last trip to the Dominican, and so I began to consider that this might be the theme for the 2023 trip. Last year our team discussed together what we wanted the theme to be, and so therefore I was slightly uneasy about simply telling them when we came back to school that “S.H.IN.E” would be our new theme. However, because I felt that God must have laid it on my heart for a reason, I wanted to obediently embrace this message. The team agreed that it was a great focus for the Dominican Trip in 2023, and so I proceeded with this motivation in mind. Slowly but surely, in combination with other things that God had been already laying on my heart this past year, it began to make more sense.
But little did I know when 11 students and 2 teachers embarked on this journey just how much the challenge to S.H.IN.E would impact us-- both as a team and individually.
Laying Sidewalks & Floors
On our first day of work, those who had traveled to the Dominican last year were met with a familiar task: developing a pit to mix cement and then laying it down through what felt like very primitive tactics. However, practicing the technique in a “low-stakes” situation (rebuilding part of a sidewalk) was great preparation for what we would experience several days later-- the grueling process of laying the foundation for the entire floor of a house. And yet it is that “familiarity” that would continue to fuel the team-- both in our work and in our relationships throughout the week.
Building a Garden
The next days were spent creating a community garden-- literally from the ground up. The seeds had already been purchased by the Dominicans, and some of them were planted in order to start the germination process, but then our goal was to cut wood and sheet metal, haul it to the garden site, build boxes to create “raised beds”, gather large rocks to line the beds with, and then fill those beds with a mixture of dirt and goat dung. Yes, there was a small group of men from our team who gathered the waste from the goat farm located next to the school and sat in the truck that transported it to the site. Those are memories that none of them will soon forget! Our goal was to fully make 6 boxes; however, due to torrential downpours during a crucial day to finish the work on the garden, we only made 2. Gratefully, the materials are already cut for the other 4.
The most important aspect of our trip was being able to continue to develop relationships with the Dominican people. From the very beginning when we first stepped foot onto the campus-- and a group of “familiar girls” met me, called me by name, and welcomed me back to “my family”-- the phrase that kept going through my mind was “how beautiful it is to know and to be known.” Since last year was the first annual Dominican Mission Trip, it was full of unknowns and uncertainties. To then approach this year with familiarity instead of apprehension-- and to be able to know people by face and call them by name-- was a true blessing. As with last year, we arrived in the DR early enough to start building/rebuilding those relationships right away: playing games, talking, singing, and laughing. Two of our girls then chose to teach English for a couple of days in the 1st - 3rd-grade classrooms, we all had the opportunity to interact with MANY children, and a group of us were invited to visit the home of one of the girls that OCS sponsors. Per usual, there was “never nothing going on” while we were there, which provided the perfect opportunity to continue to live in community and to do life together.
Being part of the community meant that we were able to participate in a special communion service the first night that we were there, as well as a unique prayer service the following Wednesday. Latin American cultures are also very open to having visitors use their talents during church services, so right away one of our members was accompanying worship on the keyboard. Then for the Sunday morning worship, the service opened with us singing two songs-- in a mixture of Spanish and English-- with accompaniment on the keys, the cajón, and the guitar. It was truly rewarding to be able to offer a sacrifice of praise in another country-- and in their language.
Working As One
Sometimes while on a mission trip, there is a temptation to complain that there are “too many workers and not enough work.” However, Richard, our leader in the Dominican, said it perfectly the last night we were there: “You have learned what this mission is all about. It is not about completing projects; it’s about forming relationships.” Whatever project we embarked upon, we were always silently asking ourselves, “Who is that person? How is that person related? Do they live in the village? Who are these kids’ parents? WHERE are these kids’ parents?!?” Indeed, we have seen over and over again that when you endeavor to do something-- in work or in play-- you do it together. It was, therefore, a great last day of work when we went back to the village, to the house where we had laid the cement floor, and with a great conglomeration of people were able to paint the inside and outside of that house-- and also level out the front yard. The lady who lives in the house was in such desperate need-- as evidenced by the closet of a bathroom, guarded only by a makeshift curtain-- that she reached out to Richard’s church… and “God’s church”, indeed, came together as one. We also became one this year in a less expected situation… practicing the “Latin American Way” of seeing how many people you can cram into one vehicle. It may have been uncomfortable-- and scary for some-- but these, too, are unforgettable memories.
Working As Needed
Along with “too many workers”, sometimes we are tempted to question the effectiveness of our mission. Again, it’s not about “checking boxes” or “accomplishing monumental tasks.” Sometimes it’s about seeing Him in the little things… in more isolated moments. These include the times when we emptied out and reorganized a huge (mess of a) tool shed, helped with folding laundry, ministered to those on the ball field before playing with them and fixed and cleaned gutters. This last task is particularly notable, considering that three of our team members got stuck on the roof during one particular torrential downpour. The work was desperately needed, but it was interrupted in a rather stark way. We praise God for our safety!
At first, the interruption by the continual downpours was frustrating, especially when it seemed like that could be the story for the rest of our trip-- days and days of continual rain. However, when the work was called off for that day, and only that day, what transpired ended up being a memory that no one will ever forget: Embracing the Rain. The Dominicans had not seen rain in a while, and so they were actually very happy to watch it shower down… which also provided the opportunity for another Latin American Tradition: the Environmental Slip-n-Slide. Team members, even the more serious ones among us, had the opportunity to become kids again for the afternoon--and the joy was undeniable.
Seeing Him IN Everything
Much like the orchestration of each day on the trip, we know that God put this team together just as He wanted it. Some of us didn’t know each other at all-- or very little-- before we left, but the ways in which we were able to see God in each other were one of the best parts of this journey. Little did we know a year ago how it would all unfold, nor just how much reminding ourselves and each other to “See Him in Everything” would impact us personally and corporately. For that reason, we are confident that all we have experienced will continue to shape us in the weeks, months, and years ahead. To God be the glory!
How YOU Can Continue to Support This Mission
Not only did we donate nearly $1,500 in supplies to the school Manantial de Vida, but we also brought a countless amount of used sporting equipment: 16 bats, 9 gloves, 7 volleyballs, 3 basketballs, 2 footballs, 1 baseball helmet, 2 baseball/softball bags, and 2 ball pumps. If you donated money or equipment this year, please know that we are so grateful. Before next year’s trip, we will start promoting such needs again; however, in the meantime, would you consider sponsoring a child’s education at Manantial de Vida?
To date, Oakland Christian School is sponsoring two girls (an incoming 2nd grader and a 7th grader), allowing them to enjoy a Christian education for a full year. Between last year’s team and this year’s, there are also five additional children being supported through ongoing sponsorships. It is our hope and prayer that in the future, we will sponsor even more children through the support of our OCS community. For only $32 a month, you can help to offset the cost of a Christian education for a child in Juan Tomás. https://partnersnchrist.reachapp.co/
Bringing Community Home
Finally, not only did we see our love of the Dominicans and their culture flourish, but we also saw our care for and appreciation of one another grow. It is now our prayer that we will take all that we experienced—in particular, the sense of community—and use it to bring unity to Oakland Christian School in the fall. We deeply desire for our school to be a genuinely safe place for all students and staff to unabashedly walk out their unique, God-given purpose for God’s glory.
View our event photo album HERE