As expected, our last day in San Pablo left a somber and yet satisfied shadow on our faces. There are no words to express the gratitude and joy we all feel towards each and every child we learned to love. As I reflect back on the week, I am constantly reminded of God's sovereignty and how it was displayed to us in every aspect of the trip. When it took us 30 hours of travel and one restful sleep on the airport floor to make it to the DR, I was convinced that it was God's plan to see us here. When I lost my wallet in a Dominican supermarket and was later reunited after a stranger turned it in, I was convinced that God is always working through our panic attacks. When we watched 15 kids dance joyfully while wearing their brand new tie-dye shirts, I was convinced that God saw this moment while I was stressing over the logistics of the difficult craft. God has been our constant throughout this week and has reminded me to acknowledge just how constant He has always been and will always be even after we return.
Going back to my wallet incident (sorry mom if you are reading this, I was going to call you eventually :)), I know deep in my heart that God was trying to get my attention. I had the privilege of sharing the story last night during our debriefing and was blessed with some wisdom from our wonderful leaders. I shared what happened and then opened up enough to say that there were many things going on in my life that were leaving me frustrated with God. I was feeling disconnected and forgotten, wondering why He was allowing these things to happen to me. During and after my 20 minute panic attack in the middle of the foreign supermarket, I saw my current life. Something terrible happened and I was angry, questioning God and His plan. When my wallet was returned, I realized the symbolism God was using to speak to me. I was distressed and felt alone, when in reality, He was still sovereign and was still on His throne. I needed only to be patient and have faith. Mr. Gillens spoke up in the debrief and said he was frustrated while digging through piles of shirts looking for my wallet, but then he prayed and felt peace over the situation. It was in that moment, I knew God needed me to forgetfully lay down my wallet and walk away. He needed to once again show me His sovereignty in this week and in the rest of my life. So as we prepare for our return to Los Estados Unidos and for Easter, I praise the God of Calvary. He is the God of all nations, the God who allows big tasks to be completed through small people, and the God who whispers peace to us when we need it most.
Vaya con Dios mis amigos,
~ Abigail Ploetz
I am not really much of a writer, however I need to start practicing for this next year when I will be on the World Race Gap Year for which we are required to blogs like these! So here goes...
This trip has been a different experience than my other mission trips I have been on. I expected this though, because the two previous trips were both to Jamaica with the same group of people and we solely focused on putting on a basketball camp. However on the Jamaica trips we were at the church, where we lived and served, the whole time. On this trip we stay at a different place than where we've served, and we've served in two different parts of the Island. Also we have a lot more down time then you would expect, and have gotten to go to many different shops and food places throughout our time here. We've gone to a corner store that we are allowed to walk to like every day. We've gone to a local ice cream place, had some amazing churro's, and tonight we are going to a local supermarket that supposedly has anything we'd want to buy. Now while it is different than what I thought it was going to be I have really enjoyed it. It's nice to have the downtime and ability to experience the culture in public places outside of the work of the mission. Now don't get me wrong I really loved Jamaica and created great relationship because we played basketball all the time. Also in Jamaica I witnessed the Holy Spirit move in an amazing way when I witnessed 8 of the Jamaicans there were baptized! Going out to all these places and the downtime has been a great thing to help build out camaraderie as a group and has had us grow in our relationships with people who we didn't know that well before. Another that I knew would be different was the language barrier. In Jamaica they spoke English, or at least close to it, so I could understand them. Here it is very challenging when speaking with the kids because I don't understand much Spanish at all. It has been a good learning experience for how to communicate and love on those kids without speaking. I am not much of a talker but being able to say good job or encourage when doing basketball camps for little kids is very helpful and great! But since I don't speak Spanish I can't do that as well here. Knowing how to love on others like I am doing here with out speaking is very important and is actually a lot easier for someone who doesn't talk much. This is a nerve wracking thing for someone who's not expressive though, but by doing this it has helped me grow as a person. I just realized that this is how God loves on us and shows appreciation and encouragement towards us. We rarely here God audibly speak to us but He shows his love in the people around us and the gifts He's blessed us with and just in His creation. This is the lesson that I have learned I suppose on this trip that just by showing emotion, and loving on the kids without words even, is how God wants us to love each other and Him: by our actions!
All in all this trip has been great and full of adventure; I can't wait for the rest of it.
~ Nicholas Hesselgesser
Getting here was an adventure. Contrary to what we may have learned from Prof. Higgins, we discovered hurricanes do occur in Hartford (where we had been forced to land & refuel)! One of the students this year is filming the trip to create a documentary, so when we arrived, Brian Burman walked a few of us around the nearby neighborhood to get some shots. I'd been to the Dominican last year with Project Mañana. but this was not the neighborhood they worked in, so I hadn't seen any of these parts. A block away from where we were staying we walked through a hot, narrow sidewalk between houses. There were occasional holes in the sidewalk where we could see into the sewer. It smelled very bad. Brian told us that when it rains heavily, the area will flood up into the houses, and the sewer mixes in with the water. Trash was everywhere. Seriously, it was everywhere. And while I pride myself in being able to mentally cope with the difficult facts of life, I was overwhelmed. When I am serving in tough conditions, there is always a small part of me thinking, "At least I will be able to get back to comfort soon". But while we walked, I considered how the majority of the world is in poverty, the poverty is their comfort. If we don't understand poverty, we don't understand life! And here's a thought- maybe poverty is a blessing of sorts. I comprehended what Jesus called the disciples to do. And I understood what he meant when he said, "Leave everything, sell all you have, and follow me." But we don't remember what everything is, because we forget what nothing is. Our "get back to comfort soon" is after death. Right now, we need to get back to poverty.
Maybe it seems rash or childish, but then again, the rich have never been big fans of what the poor Jesus had to say.
~ Luke Schlake
I'm not sure if y'all know this, it has been quite an adventure getting here. We started the day, April 6th, at 4:00 am. Got through security, waited a little bit, then loaded onto the plane. The plane ride to Boston wasn't all that bad, just a little bumpy. But, we were on time, we were awake, for the most part, and ready to hop onto the next flight... This is where it starts to go downhill... As soon as we got off the plane, Gillens told us, "Grab a buddy, get some food, and come back to this spot at 12:00 because our plane leaves at 1." So we walk through the airport, and grab some food. Everyone comes back at 12 to find out that our flight got pushed back to 1:45 pm, then 2:30, then 3:15! I'm telling you, April 6th, 2017 was the worst day in airplane history. Atlanta, Boston, New York, and Chicago all had flights that were either pushed back or cancelled due to the weather. As a whole, our patience was tested but we stayed calm. But, when we boarded the plane from Boston to JFK, it just got worse. The turbulence was so unpredictable. The ride was mostly bumpy but at other times it felt like we dropped down at least 1,000 feet. Then, the pilot said, "So...We're here, we've arrived at the JFK airport, but there's at least 7 other planes here and we all wanna land but the JFK isn't accepting any flights... We're just going to fly in circles for 45 minutes." After 90 minutes of flying, the pilot again said, "After all that flying, we need to touch down somewhere close by like Connecticut to refuel. We'll only be there shortly and then go back up in the air. Stay in there with me guys." So we touch down in Connecticut and we stay on the ground for so long, that Luke and Molly just start passing out Twizzlers, lollipops, and cookies because we had been on the plane that long. After maybe 4 hours on a 30 minute flight, we finally get to JFK, only to find out that the STI airport was CLOSED for construction from 10 pm to 9 am! It was 10 pm (I'm guessing) and we were not only physically tired, but emotionally. We were supposed to be in the DR by this time but in reality, we were only have way there. This was a troubling time for the whole group. But then we got our new flight time, stayed the night in the airport, and eventually got on the flight to Santiago. In total we spent 30 hours total traveling to our destination but we definitely got closer because we had no one else to talk to and I'm thankful to know that God was in control of the whole situation. ~ Jillian