Janelle, a Mission of Mercy sponsor, shares about her time in the Dominican Republic in June, when God gave her a new definition of poverty.
I have never been what I consider rich, at least by the world’s standards. For one reason or another, God has not allowed it. That’s ok with me – who needs worldly riches anyway? That is a new attitude for me, one that is different than what I had a few months ago.
This summer I had the opportunity to go on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. It was my first international trip and I was very excited. This is something I had prayed about for years. It just so happens that I work at a Christian radio station and we were partnering with Mission of Mercy to gather a team together to do light construction, Vacation Bible School, and other activities. When the email came in asking me if I would like to go as part of the radio team, I didn’t have to think twice about it.
Bringing special skills really wasn’t necessary, just a willing heart to serve. I already had that. So as I began to prepare for the trip, it seemed easy. I prayed for God to do a work in me and in my heart. I prayed that God would break down the walls in me as well as the other team members, and that we would love those we were going to serve. With charged-up ambitions and motivations, 32 team members from 8 states boarded planes to converge on our destination (Santiago, DR) to make a difference in the lives of children.
Little did I know that I would be the one changed by those seven days.
The week started off with team devotions. The first night our trip leader shared Matthew 26:11, which says, "The poor you will always have with you." I thought, Yeah, that is what we came for, to serve the poor. After all, we were in a developing country. I expected to see the poor side of communities, cities, and people. I thought I was ready for that.
At the Mission of Mercy child development center, we got right to work sanding, painting, and making cement from scratch. They don’t have access to a lot of resources, so they have to do construction the old fashioned way. It was ok. I was prepared to work hard and sweat.
There were breaks in the work for playing with the kids. We were encouraged to do that as one way of showing them love, connecting through a common interest. In the DR, baseball is huge. One baseball, a glove, and a bat have magnetic powers to bring out kids and adults, like a colony of ants. Pick-up baseball games or just playing catch can be an opportunity to meet the families that live there.
The week also included some home visits. I understood the living conditions would be different. After all this was not America. So our trip leader took us on a journey in the neighborhood to see the culture, the environment, and the people who lived there. We set out with our cameras and fanny packs, loaded with curiosity and questions. In a way, I felt a little like a tourist. We stood out to these people, different for sure, as we were well dressed, even in our work clothes. Curious to soak up as much as we could, we pressed into their world; most of us had not seen anything like it.
There were people just standing outside their cement block and tin houses. There, in their dirt front yards, trash was everywhere. There were banana trees growing in the most inconvenient places. Children were holding mangos-- their one meal of the day. People with hungry faces watched the parade of Americans pass by.
We stopped at the house of a tutor, one of the teachers for the center. She was proud to show us her three-room living space. Her house boasted a homey feeling despite the exceptionally bare cement floor. There was one bed which she shared with her two small kids; the bed also served as her closet. There was a small kitchen with several fly-covered pots, and a TV perched atop of the small refrigerator.
That was it. No bathroom. There was no running water.
She was most hospitable by letting us come in. As I stood there and listened to her story through the interpreter, I was reminded of the verse given to us at the beginning of the week. "The poor you will always have with you.” Yes, by American standards she was poor. She was definitely living on the front lines of poverty. But as I heard her testify of her future, she had hope. She wanted to go back to school to learn how to be a nurse. She wanted to provide a bright future for her kids. She wanted to continue to work at the center to make a difference for the kids that attended. She had hope in her eyes, joy in her heart. Though she was surrounded by a reality that had gripped me, she lacked nothing in spirit. She had hope, she had everything.
Crouched outside her door, God broke my heart. Tears streamed down my face as I thought of all that I had at home: my family, my kids, my job, my church. She had everything that matters, and I felt as if I was lacking.
I saw poverty face to face. My heart broke again and again. I saw the least of these in their faces and I was changed. I was in tears again today with the conviction that I have so much.
So who are the poor among us? I came away from those seven days knowing that in many ways I was.