Natalee Sims and I knew we would be back.
After our memorable Destination: Serve trip to the Dominican Republic last year, we decided to lead the trip this past May. We loved working with Students International (STINT). This ministry based in Visalia, CA, gives students many opportunities to work directly with the locals and experience Dominican culture, which is what made the trip so appealing to us.
In late May, ten students and one faculty leader made the trip down to Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic.
We worked with those who have career, academic, or personal needs in the area. We chose the DR because Crown has taken many short-term mission teams there over the last five years as well as interns for a semester.
We divided our team of 11 to work in preschools, a dentistry site, physical therapy, volleyball, and even a women’s social work site.
Here are seven tips and lessons we learned in the DR.
1. Language Is a Powerful Tool
Be proactive by taking the time to learn some of the language so that you can effectively communicate with the people with whom you are working. You might have a translator along, but study the language anyway. You’ll be able to catch more of the dialogue and can add to the conversation. “The kids only spoke Creole and Spanish, so it was very hard to communicate with them,” says Courtney Graves, an Education major at Crown.
2. Live In The Moment
Kathy Cash, our faculty leader, and Graves heard the phrase “live in the moment” about 100 times during their trip. Their site leader, Joel Caraballo, often said this as a reminder to be “all in” with the site and the people. “Although it got a bit annoying hearing this every five seconds, he knew what he was talking about,” says Graves. “He was trying to teach us to enjoy the moment we were in and thank God for it”.
We had to adapt and be flexible at our sites every day. One day, my site leader went to the hospital with his wife so school was cancelled. We ended up sitting around and talking the whole day, focusing on building relationships instead. We learned that nothing in the schedule was set in stone. It is better to stop and enjoy the moment.
3. Be Prepared – Part I
Although this is a pretty humorous lesson, it’s worth noting. If you’re anything like our team members Andra Hiebert and Rebecca Case, it will make your experience more enjoyable. Hiebert and Case are very scared of spiders, and you will find quite a few of them in the DR. One night, Hiebert spotted a spider right above Case’s bunk bed. Needless to say, neither of them got much sleep that night. Bringing a mosquito net definitely helps you feel much more at ease in bed.
4. Do Not Set Expectations Too High
For this trip, we avoided talking about what to expect. “There’s a big chance that whatever we do will not turn out the same, because the people we are with are not the same [as the last trip],” said Sims. Setting expectations too high can lead to disappointment, especially when things don’t go as planned. When you don’t set any expectations, it allows you to take whatever God gives and go with it. I’ve found you’re more open to the Holy Spirit moving in your life and your ministry work.
5. Be Intentional
When on a two-week mission trip, you only have so much time to build lasting relationships. To be intentional, you need to be open to the new culture around you. We had to be willing to try new food, learn the language, and step outside of our comfort zone to meet people. Another way to be intentional is to be present with the people you are serving. God has everything under control!
6. Be Prepared – Part II
Always, always, always wear sunscreen! The one day you don’t, you will get fried like a lobster. I thought to myself, “We haven’t really done anything outside, I’ll be good without sunscreen today.” I was wrong.
7. The Wealthy Poor
While on the trip, we learned the Dominicans aren’t the only ones who are poor. Some Dominicans may be poor materialistically, but as Americans we can be poor relationally. It was eye-opening to realize that although I may have food on the table at each meal and a roof over my head, I could still be poor. We found that many of us didn’t value relationships as highly as what we saw from the Dominicans. In general, my team said they want to focus more on being present in their relationships and friendships after they return home.