Short Term Mission Experience - Dominican Republic
This summer I had the pleasure of meeting up with a short term mission team from Decatur Presbyterian Church of Decatur, Alabama to work toward the completion of the small hospital Ministries In Action is building in the Dominican Republic. I was prepared to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty. I was prepared for the immersion into a country with countless people who live off of just a fraction of what is considered normal in the US. I was prepared to visit the bateys, impoverished “company towns” of immigrant Haitians in the Dominican Republic. I was not prepared for the change that would take place in my heart.
I have been employed by Ministries In Action for approximately six months. One of my duties is to assist in recruiting short term mission teams to further the progress of our Project Ebenezer ministry. Project Ebenezer is the social arm of Ministries In Action and operates several simultaneous projects throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. Prior to last week I had been told countless times that I really need to participate in one of these projects before I could really understand what Project Ebenezer is all about. I politely agreed outwardly, but inwardly I figured that I could get a pretty good idea by reading the reports and looking through the many photos we have compiled throughout the years.
Those things gave me good head knowledge about the projects. When we pulled up to the hospital under construction in Hato Nuevo for the first time, I felt as if I had been there before. I’d seen the pictures, read the reports and had been briefed ahead of time on what to expect. Even as I began to help shovel gravel and sand to the concrete mixture we mixed for the floor of the generator and laundry building at the rear of the site I sensed that everything was going as I thought it would. I was glad that I could be there to help and figured I would make the most of my trip by working hard to bring the construction a little bit further along. It was all going according to plan until Day Two.
The next day I decided to accompany some of the team members on a walk into the Hato Nuevo community. I have done a little bit of traveling during my lifetime and have been exposed to conditions that were much more humble that those we are used to in the US. I have seen pictures of poverty in Africa and Haiti, but I have never experienced what I found in Hato Nuevo. The streets are not paved. The homes appear to built out of whatever the occupying family could find to tack together. Everything is run over and run down, and it is full of children. Wonderful children. They walked along side of us and rode on our shoulders as we walked though their little town.
We visited the homes of some of the families the Decatur folk have gotten to know throughout the years. I met an elderly gentleman and enjoyed chatting with him about all of the different types of trees planted around his home. I was introduced to a young lady that the Decatur team had helped with schooling. I watched the expressions on the faces of the people of Hato Nuevo as they welcomed back their friends from America. Then I realized the Americans wore the same expressions on their faces and that is when it hit me. I realized that I hadn’t understood the short term missionary concept.
Short term missions is not just about helping with a construction project or volunteering in a feeding program or evangelizing in a different country, although those things are important. Short term missions is about opening arms and hearts and embracing others. Short term missions is about adopting others into our spiritual families. The team from Decatur, AL returns to the same spot every year. They pray for their friends from Hato Nuevo throughout the year. Watching them and participating with them changed me.
We spent the majority of our time helping with the construction of the hospital, but we were also able to visit a batey where we installed a water purification system for a community who had been drinking contaminated water for years. At another batey some of the team members assisted MIA missionary Dr. Silvia Martinez with clinical services. We also visited a very poor community called El Cacique, where we distributed hot meals to children and taught them about Jesus. Some of the Decatur team members were invited to play in a basketball game. After the game all of the participants sat down on the side of the court to hear the gospel presented. On our off day we went white water rafting up in the mountains.
I had to leave the Decatur team a day early, but was told they were crying as they left their friends in Hato Nuevo. I know they brought clothes and toys to leave behind with the children of Hato Nuevo, and some of the team members went back to the dorm shirtless and shoeless the last day. They left all the physical possessions they could with that community, but more importantly they left their hearts. They will be back in the Dominican Republic next year, because for that small group from Decatur, Alabama, Hato Nuevo is also home.
If you have not yet participated in a short term mission experience let me recommend it. Not only will it make a huge difference in the lives of others, it will change you too.
Ministries In Action