High school senior, Amethyst F., traveled with her church to love on children at the Santo Domingo School for the Deaf in the Dominican Republic. We’re excited she chose to share her experience with us on the blog today!
Benjamin Franklin once said: “Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing.”
Honestly, it has taken me a couple days to figure out how to even begin this post. How can I fit all the love, experiences, opportunities, and beauty into the confines of a blog post? It seems almost unfair that I would have to deduce the experience to this; but writing is one of the most powerful modes of communication in the world, and it is my hope, that through this post you may be able to gain, even if it’s only the slightest bit, an understanding of everything that this trip truly was: The embodiment of Ben Franklin’s statement – I truly believe that I was a part of something that is worth writing.
I could give you a trip itinerary, tell you exactly what we did every hour of every day, but I’m afraid that that wouldn’t fully communicate everything this country and trip have taught me. I was invited on this special mission trip, last May when I took an internship with the Missions Department of my church. At the time, it was a dream. And that’s all. I was excited to travel, from my earliest years, traveling and understanding different places and their cultures has always been a huge passion of mine. I have been out of the country only twice before, once to Mexico when I was younger, and another time on a mission trip to work in the capital city (Quito) of Ecuador in South America; but I have to be honest, from the onset, this trip seemed different. I was in love with a place I had never seen, amazed by the beauty of people that I have never met. There was something tugging the strings of my heart from the beginning. All summer I had been thinking about it, working up to the moment when we landed in beautiful Santo Domingo. At 17, this would be my second mission trip, just a couple weeks after my birthday, and there was something so incredibly amazing about being a part of it, I can’t begin to sum it up into words. I had devoted my time over the summer to producing the media content for Height’s Hands and Feet Department, so with my camera tucked safely in my bag, I set out for this new country with a fire in my heart and excitement practically oozing out of me.
I certainly was not disappointed when we landed in the country’s capital city. It was as beautiful, if not more so, than I had imagined it to be. The people, the place, the culture. Every aspect of it was breathtaking. We were welcomed warmly by the VisionTrust team, and consequently I couldn’t stop the biggest, goofiest smile from spreading across my face. I could already feel how great this was going to be. And it was true, from the moment that the plane landed to the second that it took off again bringing us back to the states, it was nothing but a blessing to be in the country. We wound our way through the throngs of people in the airport out to the van that would be our constant mode of transportation for the week, and took off! I watched the beach through the lens of my camera, the vivid colors, the beautiful sunlight bouncing off the water…and then I realized how fast we were going. Driving is a completely new experience in the Dominican, speed limits and lane-lines are truly only suggestions and bumper to bumper contact is the norm. After the initial culture shock from the ride, it seemed like I could take on anything – from screaming kids to squealing brakes.
We made it to the Mission House, a beautiful facility that doubles as the offices where it immediately felt at home.
Then came the school, our main purpose for coming to the Dominican Republic in the first place: to teach the children at the Santo Domingo School for the Deaf vocational skills in order that they are able to build off of them and hopefully benefit their community and themselves through them. I, personally, was assigned to the “littles” class – meaning the class of beginners, the ones who were just beginning to learn sign and didn’t have much language yet at all. It is so easy to step into the frame of mind that you are only going on a mission trip to help these “poor, unfortunate” people, when in reality, yes, you are going to help them (although, these people were happy and certainly not the embodiment of those who enjoy eliciting pity- they were thankful, and beautiful, and content), but God uses these kinds of things to teach you as well.
Personally throughout the span of the week I felt that the more time I spent with the students, both the littles and the older students, the more God was actually communicating to me. Through the littles I learned how much grace and patience and love God is able to extend even through these little people. It was frustrating for me to not know how to communicate, constantly translating from English to Spanish to Sign Language and then back all over again in my head; and yet, here I was, most likely making a fool of myself and these little kids (most of them kindergarten and first grade age) had nothing but patience and love to give back to me. They didn’t care that I couldn’t speak perfect sign, they didn’t even care that I barely knew what I was doing – they just wanted my love, pure and simple. I poured out more love on these kids in the past week than I am capable of in my humanity; I know this because I lack patience of my own accord, and as frustrating as it was to not know perfect sign, all I could feel was love and all I could extend was love – and that was the best form of communication that I could have used. God allowed me to see how HUGE He really is, how small language barriers and cultural differences are in His eyes. Love is a language that is universal, and only through his grace was I able to not only understand that, but be a part of it through the capacity of His blessing me with love of His standard. He showed me it doesn’t matter that I can’t sign like a champ, it doesn’t even matter that the extent of my Spanish is about the language skills of a two year old – all that mattered is that I was there for the kids and I loved them as unconditionally as He loves me every single day.
From the onset this all seemed so much bigger than a trip to the Dominican to help some students, and through the trip, time and time again, it was proved to me that it was. These kids ministered to me just as much as I was there for them. The bonds I was able to create because of the language barriers are so much greater and deeper than I could have hoped to have formed otherwise. I know there is someone out there that has to be better suited for this work than I am and yet, God chose me. From the beginning, when he was knitting me together in my mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:4, Psalm 139:13) this was a part of his plan. How crazy to think when you put it all in perspective. There is a pool of people eligible to do the same job, ten times more qualified than myself, and yet, God chose me to spend time with these precious children. One night at debrief, a member on our team made this statement and she concluded with the fact that she refused to believe that her being in the Dominican doesn’t serve a purpose; because, yes, there are people that are better suited to do what we tried to accomplish, but God brought us to the school, and we were able to extend our love, and maybe that’s all that was needed all along.
And as ill-suited as it sometimes felt, it was encouraging to see our efforts pay off. Whether that be one of the littles reciting the alphabet in Sign Language or one of the older students remembering the story of David that we had shared with them over the course of the week during an impromptu review by one of the teachers. It was so encouraging to see how incredibly brilliant these children are! Throughout the week, my heart dove deeper and deeper into the bonds that I was building with them, investing everything that I had to offer into the students. Leaving them that last day was one of the hardest things that I have ever done. Lots of tears led me through the myriad of thoughts in my head. It felt like I had torn my own heart out of my chest and left it there with them, it still feels that way a week later. I am homesick for the Dominican. With each day that passes since we’ve returned, my heart has grown nothing but fonder of the country, and sadder at the fact that I am not there still. But who knows what the future holds?
I have never loved any stranger – never truly had the capacity – as much as God allowed me to love the beautiful kids. I’ve learned so much through them, so much about myself, about my faith, about my life, that I would have never understood had I not had these kids to show me how great and beautiful life truly is. The same fire that was in my heart the day that we landed remains, the burning hope that I will see these kids again, that I will experience this amazing culture once more. There is nothing that can tear my heart from these people, because there is nothing that has hindered my heart from loving them to the fullest extent. I guess I’ll just have to begin the countdown until I am able to return! I cannot wait to return (hopefully next year), to build on the friendships that I’ve established; and if not that, it is my prayer that we will be reunited once again in Heaven one day. I hope to see all of them there, with the same beautiful smiles that mark their faces now!
I can’t express all that this trip has meant to me, taught me, and how it has blessed me. It’s hard to even write about it because I know that no matter how hard I try, I can never truly express how truly amazing it was. However, I hope that this has given you the slightest glimmer of insight into what it is like to be a part of something so genuinely beautiful. I can’t wait to see how God works in the lives of these amazing students!