At the end of May we took a college team with Latte Losers to the Dominican Republic. Leah K. from University of Minnesota shares her experience with us on the blog today.
Looking back now, I’m still not sure what I expected to accomplish in the time I spent in the Dominican Republic. Perhaps I was hoping to leave some sort of mark or make an impact on the people I met – inspiring them in their walk with God or teaching them something new. Although I hope that is true in some way, these people ended up making an enormous impact in my life – teaching me lessons more valuable than I could’ve ever imagined.
The first of these lessons is love.
What does it mean to love one another? Is it only telling someone “I love you” when you get the chance? Can it be shown through gifts? It can be, but it is so much more than that. Love doesn’t need to be anything complex. It can be as simple as a smile from across the room, or sitting quietly and coloring a picture together. Showing love doesn’t even require two people to speak the same language.
Our team was showered with love from the moment we first stepped into the mission house. We were served ceaselessly by our hosts each day as they prepared delicious meals for us, cleaned up after us, and kept us safe and healthy during our time in country. At times, it was all I could do to say, “Gracías” before my dinner plate was cleared from the table.
It amazes me how quickly I was able to fall in love with the country and the people – especially the children. All it took was the simple conversations we had and hearing their laughs as we played together for me to really take notice of the love they were filled with! I found myself thinking, “Who am I to be loved by these children?” Yet, they loved me anyway. It is in the same way that God loves us all.
The second lesson is joy.
How many times have I thought that I’ve been worse off because my wi-fi was acting up or I couldn’t go see a movie with friends because I had homework to do or got scheduled to work? How many times, when asked, “How are you?” have I replied with “Okay, but…”? More than I care to admit.
Rather than grumbling about things when they don’t go as expected, I learned the importance of taking joy in the little things. Although things may not always go as smoothly as I’d like, God has blessed me with far more than I deserve, and still, in spite of that amazing gift, I have not always appreciated the opportunities available to me.
The opposite is true of those I met in Santo Domingo – every one of them lives their life in joy. A conversation that I had with one of the boys at the orphanage we visited is one that will stay with me forever. He was the first person to approach me upon our arrival, and his response to my simple question, “Como estás?” reflects such a positive outlook on life, filled with pure joy and thankfulness for what God has blessed him with. He simply said, “I am happy. I have my brothers and sisters, a delicious meal, I can see the ocean, Jesus loves me, and you all are here today.”
With that response, he put me in my place. The people I met may be materially poor, but they are so spiritually wealthy – truly grateful for all they have been blessed with and absolutely filled with a true joy given to them through the knowledge that they have the unfailing love of a God who is always with them! Finding this same joy means putting your trust in God completely, and by doing so, knowing that He will provide for you – giving you more than you could ever need.
To see and experience God’s love and joy shining through each of these beautiful people is something I won’t soon forget. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to experience that love and joy during my time in the Dominican Republic and pray that I have the chance to return again soon. What an incredible blessing to serve alongside them as we all came together in the name of God – taking the time to really listen to their stories, play, laugh, and learn from them. Even though we come from different places, I think many times we fail to recognize that we are all loved by the same God with a love that cannot be shaken. This love doesn’t care about the color of your skin or how much money you have. Instead, it is a love that envelops us and provides us with far more than we could ever hope for. It is a love that should fill us with overwhelming joy and motivate us to share that love with those around us.
Much like the words of the song we sang with the children during VBS, I can now say I know what it looks like to have the love and joy of God “en mi corazón.”