By Deb Ott
I am so glad I had the opportunity to go on the June 2016 Encounter Dominican mission trip with our church.
People ask me how it went, and I’m pretty sure that I’m still processing it all. Most often, the words that come out first are, “It was hard, but reeeaaaallllly good!” I have never been on a mission trip to a third-world situation. This was my first time.
I think a few of the things that made it so amazing are the team we took from CCGF and the Food for the Hungry organization whom we have partnered with to adopt the city of El Tamarindo. It’s a city just outside Santo Domingo – the country’s capital city.
You may laugh at this, but in order to get a bit more familiar with the Dominican Republic (I’ll refer to it as DR) , I picked up a book about the DR at my local library from the Children’s department. I think kid books are great at giving the basic facts and a first-glance overview. It helped familiarize me with the island and figure out the basics.
Our CCGF team that went had quite a few meetings in preparation for this trip. This is where we started to get to know each other, figure out how we would shape our trip, and get started planning. Ultimately, we knew our goals were to do the following:
– Home visits to see sponsored kids and meet families in the community
– Work on a well to bring FRESH WATER to El Tamarindo
– Plan and run a Vacation Bible School (VBS) to 100ish local kids
– Women’s Meeting to connect with the women of the community
– Pastors’ Training to further equip the local pastors
– Teen Relationship Talk to encourage healthy sexual decisions
– Work to establish relationships with the community and leaders for future teams
So this list totally got accomplished, and sooooo much more! The community of El Tamarindo was so welcoming to our team, it overwhelmed us. From the welcome ceremony the first day to the tearful goodbyes on our last day in the community, we saw God knitting our hearts together.
Let me add a sidenote here – there were a couple of our CCGF team members who were awesome at Spanish. The FH (Food for the Hungry) team acted as interpreters for those of us who had horrible Spanish, like me. The FH team was spectacular to work with, and they were the glue that made these connections possible.
People ask me what God did in my heart on this trip. I have found that God has taught me how much we have in common as humans – men in the community tend to want to be able to provide for their families and have a thriving community. Women in the community tend to want to see their families all healthy and safe and together. Children in the community tend to want to have fun and be loved. This translated across cultural and language barriers. God is the same God in El Tamarindo as He is in Pittsburgh. You can recognize His presence in people regardless of what language we speak. It was beautiful.
The sweetest moment came one night after a local church hosted an outdoor movie for the community. There were kids from the community sitting with all of the CCGF team members. (I was told it was a blessing to the parents to have someone taking care of their kids for a bit!) We had counted a total of about 4 toys that we had seen over the course of the entire trip. Think about it – about 4 toys spotted among over 100 kids. Toys were special and rare.
At the end of the night everyone was saying their goodbyes. Keep in mind, my Spanish skills were still pretty questionable. A mom who had brought her kids to VBS all week came up to me with her little girl. I’m guessing she was 3 or 4 years old. This sweet girl (I don’t know her name), was holding a stuffed animal. Mom motioned me over and opened up her arms as if to say “Go ahead” to her little one. This precious little one stepped up to me as I squatted down to be eye level with her. Then, without hesitating, she extended her stuffed animal into my hands. I looked up at Mom to see if this was really ok that her little one was giving me her stuffed animal. Mom smiled and encouraged her on.
My kids both have a small mountain of stuffed animals. To get them to even think about parting with ONE of their stuffed animals is like asking the impossible.
But this sweet little girl generously and whole heartedly offered me her toy. WHAT AN AMAZING GIFT!!!!!!!
I was blown away.
The whole way home I was thinking about how to honor this extravagant gift. Then it hit me – this stuffed animal needs to be the mascot for the El Tamarindo kids here at CCGF. So at Summer Day Camp, I got to tell the kids this story and introduce the new mascot. It’s actually a stuffed Woodstock – the yellow bird who is Snoopy’s buddy in Peanuts. We took pictures of all the groups at camp with Woodstock and shared them with the FH team in El Tamarindo. We sent some love to the El Tamarindo kids, and will be praying for them and reminded to give generously every time we see Woodstock.
I’m so excited to see how God continues to knit our communities together. It was worth every effort to take this trip to the Dominican Republic. Please join me in praying for El Tamarindo…