I sat in a hotel room in the Dominican Republic, wondering how to put it all together. This was my fourth time in this country, and I thought back to each visit, each brief connection with the people and the culture of this place.
The first time I came to Dominican Republic I was blissfully ignorant about the poverty that existed just a few minutes outside the resort where we were staying. Our family of 4 was on an all-inclusive vacation and we had a blast – swimming in the ocean, playing on the beach, and feasting on buffets for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I really had no clue about the living conditions of the people outside the resort.
I remember riding the coach bus from the airport to the resort, exhausted from lack of sleep the night before. Our flight had been delayed by 4 hours, and we didn’t board until 2:30 a.m. And our trip involved a connecting flight to Dominican. Our boys were 7 and 3 then, and they had made it through a sleep-less night much better than their mother! As we rode the bus, the sun rose on a foreign country, a foreign culture, and a foreign people. The view out my window revealed palm trees, colourful yet small houses, many more resorts, streets packed with scooters carrying up to 5 people at once, dogs running rampant, quaint towns, and sparkling ocean waters. The complete lack of snow was a welcome sight for my Northern Ontario self. And then we were at the resort, and the only other time we left its walls was to wander down the street one day to the convenience store for some needed supplies.
Another memory I have of that first trip was watching as a girl who worked at the hotel hop on the back of a motorcycle after her shift, and I wondered what she was going home to that day. Where was home? What was home? Was she the only one working in the household? I had heard the statistics and some of the stories, and now I was starting to put faces to the information.
The first visit didn’t impact my life very much, except to make me curious, and leave me wanting more. Since then I have travelled to Dominican Republic three more times, all for ministry purposes, trying to make a difference somehow. Since then I have put many faces of all ages behind the statistics and the stories. Since then I have been changed from the inside out. I am so grateful for all that God has taught me these last few years, and for all the people I’ve met. I’ve met those that are helping and those that are being helped. I’ve seen both successful sustainable development techniques and the kind of aid that only enables cycles of poverty and doesn’t equip anyone for a better future.
I’ve met with Jesus in a child’s hand reaching out to mine and in my hand clutching back. I’ve seen Jesus in the toothless smile of a mother of seven as she proudly welcomed me into her one-room home, and in the smile I returned to her as I stepped through her doorway. I’ve talked with Jesus as different ministries shared their visions with me, and I’ve been His voice in saying Well done.
For me, the hardest parts of my visits are the entrance and the exit. The leaving my home and the coming back to my home. It is hard for me to leave those I love the most and it is hard to come back to them a different person each time.
You see, each visit changes me completely. Every trip rearranges so many places in me that it is hard to keep up.
An over-simplified recap of the ministry trips would go something like this…
The first trip opened up my eyes and my heart to the issues of poverty in a big way.
The second trip was a time of travel and research as we met with six different groups and hoped to find a partner in ministry for our church. I was on information overload for a long while after my return.
And my third ministry trip had the makings of a partnership. Working alongside the people, getting to know them more, seeing sustainable development at work where it is so desperately needed.
Here’s the thing… this place, these people… it is starting to feel like home, they are becoming my neighbours. On that last trip, when we pulled up to the same place our ministry teams have stayed each time, I breathed this huge sigh of relief. Like when I pull up on my driveway after a few days or weeks away. Like when I get that first glimpse of my parent’s house or my sister’s house or my mother-in-law’s apartment – they all live hours away from me. My heart was saying It’s good to be home.
And that’s when I knew these recent adventures had taken root in the deepest places of me. It was all settling in for the long haul, in good ways, and I was looking forward to whatever God was bringing through these trips. I was glad to have these neighbours in my life, glad that my world had expanded this far, glad to have a part of me that had made the move enough from my head to my heart to call this place home.
You see, at the start of this, years ago on that first trip to Dominican – I just didn’t know. I thought I knew, I thought I had it worked out – my place in the global scene. But the unseen journey I made from my head to my heart during these last few years has been messy, confusing, and scary. My ideas of roles in this world have been radically shifted. Ignorance is no longer an excuse or an option. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.
I’d love to walk through the trips with you a little more in the coming weeks, and give you glimpses of the amazing adventures we’ve had with our neighbours in Dominican Republic.