Kayla H., from University of Minnesota, recently travelled with a group of college students to love on kids in the Dominican Republic. She’s gracious enough to share what the learned below.
God has given me a passion for traveling, experiencing new cultures, and foreign languages. I want to make the most out of each opportunity I get to go abroad, and I like to reflect on my experiences and be able to communicate their impact with others. One way I try to compose my thoughts is through a kind of exercise I like to do. I think of the things that the people in the new country do better than me, or most of the people at home, and the things America does better (usually sandwiches, bathrooms, and customer service). On my recent trip to the Dominican Republic God revealed so much of Himself through His Dominican disciples. Here are a few things that Dominicans seem to do better than me:
1. Showing love through hospitality
The Dominicans know how to show love through hospitality. In the US we are very focused on the success of the individual, but most Latin American cultures are more focused collectively. The individual puts the needs of his or her family or community above his or her own needs. On the several home visits we did, it was obvious that the Dominicans are so great at using their homes to love and serve others. The people we met jumped up to invite us into their homes and share a part of their lives with us. An older man who had just hurt his leg in a motorcycle accident gave up the chair his leg was resting on so that all of us could sit. His wife stood and gave us her chair, and when she noticed some of us were sitting in the sun, she came over and moved our chairs into the shade for us. Dominicans were also eager to share their homes with community members in need. Many families were caring for orphans and children who needed care that their parents couldn’t or weren’t providing them with. How willing would we be in the same situation to open our houses and belongings to the use of someone in need?
The Dominicans seem to understand and value modesty. As Christians, the Dominicans acknowledge that their physique is not the most important thing about them. It does not define them, give them worth, make them important, or even find them a spouse. God does all of that. Our bodies are temples of the Lord, and the Dominicans reflect that idea in their clothing and by refraining from sometimes very sensual Latin dances. Most of America and even many American Christians (including myself) have forgotten that God created us for His glorification, and that we are given value through the faith He gives us.
3. Speaking the truth in love
I got the impression that Dominicans really understand how to speak the truth in love. I was talking to a Dominican boy when he called one of the adults “the fat one.” I was going to try to explain that it’s not nice to call someone fat, but then decided it wasn’t worth the effort and just said “yes” because it was true, and I know that being called fat in the Dominican Republic isn’t offensive like it is in the US. Americans struggle with a lot of things that we like to label as “sensitive” or “personal”. But ignoring our problems doesn’t make them go away, and it could damage us even more. Dominicans seem less afraid to talk about problems that affect one’s physical or spiritual well-being. An unwilling attitude to acknowledge or change behaviors that don’t reflect what God wants for His people can result in a church member being banned from leadership positions or church activities. I admire not only the Dominicans’ willingness to speak up when something’s wrong, but also that they do it out of love. It is so easy to point out people’s flaws just to make oneself feel better or to influence that person to change in some way that benefits oneself. As a Christian we should hate the things God hates, but sometimes we take it too far and hate the person. God worked through the Dominicans to show me that I need to speak the truth, but leave the judgment for the Righteous Judge.
4. Valuing the power of prayer
Dominicans are fervent prayers. Before Nelson stepped up to be the director of VisionTrust Dominicana, he was seriously injured while driving over one of the many speed bumps used to enforce the speed limit in the Dominican Republic. Two men approached him and cut his throat in an attempt to steal his motorcycle. He was also stabbed and was sent to the hospital. At church that night, Nelson’s congregation prayed for the healing of his neck injury ceaselessly, and the doctors said it healed surprisingly fast. His other injuries, however, healed at normal rate. Nelson told us that it was because his church was only praying for the neck injury. God’s presence and omnipotence is very real. Sometimes I think we forget that God has ultimate authority over everything, and He uses His power for the good of His people. Sometimes I find myself praying for the sake of praying–without actually believing that my prayers will have any effect. However, God is very active, and He commands us to pray for a reason; we should trust Him.
5. Being joyful in the midst of trials
In the US, there are certain things we need to be happy. A good job, money, a spouse, 2.5 kids, a spacious house in a nice neighborhood, job security, a good education, and the list goes on. When we visit countries like the Dominican Republic–where not only does the majority of the population not have these things, they are also oppressed by disease, malnutrition, violence, drug use–we expect them to also be missing out on happiness. This is not the case. Not only do the Dominicans get by without the nice house and money, they find joy in the midst of situations best described as dismal. Dominican Christians seem to understand and live the idea that God is all one needs. All other things are extra. During VBS a nine-year-old boy replied confidently that God shows His love for us through trials. Wow. A nine-year-old boy with no parents, no family, who suffered from AIDS, with so little material wealth and educational opportunities, living in a country stifled by poverty and corrupted by a broken system implemented by colonialism can say that all these things show him that God loves him. So often we see the bad things in our lives as roadblocks that need to be removed. We grumble about them, and ask God to make them go away. Maybe it’s better to find joy in our setbacks, trust in God’s plan for our lives, and boast about our weaknesses because it’s God’s will for our lives, it leads us to rely more on Him, and it shows that He loves us.