The most significant impact that the DR mission trip had on me was just seeing the absolute, abject poverty that some of the people of El Cercado were living in. Throughout schooling we learn about third world countries, and on TV or the internet, we often see humanitarian advertisements. However, while we’re in the comfort of our homes, they mean little to nothing to us. When you actually immerse yourself in that sort of culture, it becomes real not only in a material sense, but in a human sense.
In America, we become desensitized to poverty, and even suspicious of it. When we see a man begging on the street, a number of thoughts run through our heads. We don’t know if he genuinely needs help; if we give him money, we don’t know that he will spend it responsibly; we don’t want to spend our own money on food for him; and after all, how do we know he’s not just begging because he is lazy? I think that I’m not alone in jumping to these conclusions sometimes, and it leads to a less sensitive society.
What the Dominican people were lacking in material possession, they more than made up for with faith. I’ve never witnessed such a strong faith community. Sure, the groups I’m involved in at home are made up of truly good and faithful people, and I’m proud to be a part of them; Newman Club is why I was in the DR in the first place. But, for me, it just seemed different because we can all return to our everyday comforts outside of our faith lives, but these people’s comforts were their faith lives. They don’t all necessarily have warm beds, television, or even families to turn to throughout the day. However, they know that they always have God, and that is enough for them. It’s an example that we should emulate in our own lives.
This all culminated for me on a day when we went to visit a Haitian market in a town called Elias Pina. We visited a bakery being run by a mission out of Green Bay, WI and got some bread (which was delicious, for what it’s worth). As a few of us waited in the back of the truck, a man walked up to our truck and asked for some of my bread. My American mindset made me suspicious of him, and I slowly lowered the bread in my hand. Understanding that I wasn’t giving him any, his face dropped and he walked away. Then, guilt poured into me, and I remembered a passage from Matthew’s Gospel (25:40), “And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’” I turning away someone who was less fortunate than me, and the fact that I was holding food and blatantly refused to give him any filled me with shame. New questions dawned on me: what if he was starving? What if he was working all day to feed his family, and he only sought something as small as a piece of bread for himself? Who was I to deny him that? As we pulled away, we were driving past him. I yelled out “Mi hermano (my brother),” and tried tossing him a piece of bread, but unfortunately it flew past him because he was surprised by it. Then, after we got the truck to stop, I handed him a few pieces and wished him well. The look in his eyes as he received it showed me that he needed that bread, and an intense feeling of love dawned on me. The next day, we worked with local agriculture projects in the village, and I continued handing bread to people throughout the day. Elderly adults and small children alike took it graciously and thanked me. I constantly asked people “Tu quiere pan? (Do you want bread?)” in my broken Spanish and horrible accent, but they took it with a smile and a “gracias.” In such a small act, I felt real solidarity and shared an experience in a very basic, human way with them. And all through it, I felt the intercession of God. I’ll carry those moments with me wherever I go in life, and I’ll try to remind myself and others that helping the least of our brothers is a service to God Himself.
-Sean Grealy, Sophomore at Hofstra
As I write this, almost one month ago – January 5, 2014 – I was sitting on a plane waiting to go on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. Between not knowing what was in store for me over the next 10 days and getting roughly one hour of sleep, I was anxious to go. However, the trip started in a way that I could not have imagined: a cancelled flight, and not just any cancelled flight. Our group sat on the plane for eight hours and nearly took off twice before the flight was cancelled. It was not how I wanted to start the trip but, as usual, God had other plans. For whatever reason, He did not want us to go to the Dominican Republic that day. The whole ordeal was definitely a unique bonding experience for our little group and the trip would not have been the same without that hectic start. For me, personally, this start to the trip really tested my patience. Living in a world where we feel we need to know everything as soon as it happens, I’ve never had high levels of tolerance or patience. That being said, the delays taught me that good things do in fact happen to those who wait, because sometimes God wants us to slow down and think about what we’re doing. The delay allowed me to better mentally prepare myself for the upcoming trip. Two days later we boarded another flight and, after a delay of only three hours, started a journey that I won’t soon forget.
Through the trip I learned how much I really take for granted: such simple things like a good house, clean clothing, food, and clean water. These things are a part of my everyday life that I don’t think about, and yet in El Cercado these things are a struggle for many people. Some people there live in shacks with no electricity and a fire pit for a kitchen. This made me really appreciate my own home with four solid walls, heat, electricity, air conditioning, clean running water, and other things that these people could probably only dream of.
One of the many things I learned to appreciate on this trip was a good hot shower. Showers annoy me just because they’re usually early in the morning when I don’t want to be awake or even move. At the retreat house where we were in the Dominican there was no hot water. For a week I took freezing cold showers. After I got back from the trip, one of the first things that I immediately wanted to do was take a long hot shower. When I did, it honestly felt like the best shower I had ever taken. It was then I realized how great showers really are. With a turn of a knob, hot, clean water comes out right away. It’s something so simple, yet it is not available in some places. In the Dominican Republic I saw many people going to bathe in the river or walking long distances to reach clean water, only to then carry a heavy, full water bucket back the same distance. Seeing people do that made me realize how truly lucky I am.
Another thing I learned on this trip is tolerance of other languages. Before this trip I had always been one of those “You’re in America, speak English!” people. However, I found myself in a country that didn’t speak English and found myself struggling to speak basic Spanish words and phrases (which I haven’t learned since the eighth grade). This showed me the struggle that some people who don't speak English in America go through. I learned to appreciate how hard it must be for them to communicate. Recently many people have spoken against a Coca-Cola commercial that featured “America the Beautiful” being sung in several languages. The commercial showed me how, as Americans, we may come from different countries, have different backgrounds, and even speak different languages, yet we truly are united in one nation with many of us sharing similar goals in life. The ironic part for me is that if I had not been to a foreign country, I probably wouldn’t have come to this conclusion and would have thought the commercial was terrible.
I will also be honest in saying that I was one of those people who was always doing something on his smart phone. However, since there was no cell phone reception where we were, my phone was basically reduced to just a camera. I found that I didn’t need to be so “connected” to everything and that I didn’t need to see what was on Facebook every five minutes. For a week I was happy to be “off the grid,” so to speak, and I definitely think that without my phone, I had a much better experience. Since getting back, I’ve definitely found that I have been using my phone less and that I don’t go on social networks as often as I used to. When I think about the people there, sometimes I feel jealous. Their way of life is much simpler, it seems. Here it feels like we’re all constantly on our phones or on the computer, seemingly doing something more important than having a face-to-face conversation. I’m not saying that there aren’t people who do this in the Dominican Republic. However I definitely saw this less in El Cercado. Technology is great, but what’s going on in the physical world in front of us is more important than what’s happening on our computer screens. Going to the Dominican Republic taught me that no technology can take the place of going out and doing things in the real world and speaking to and meeting with people face-to-face.
Another cool experience I had when we were there was getting to play a game of volleyball with the local school children. Our group hardly knew Spanish and the children didn’t know English. Yet through playing a simple volleyball game we all had fun and became friends. I myself am not very athletic. However, I still enjoyed just playing and having fun. To me, this really showed how universal sports can be and how even simple games can break barriers and bring people together.
I think that everyone should get to have an experience helping the poor. It really makes you stop and appreciate all that you have. Having the latest and greatest Apple product or other technology no longer seems important. What does become important are the simple pleasures in life. An organized trip with a group is truly the best way to go. It helps to make the work fun and is a great way to build strong friendships. The lessons that can be learned on a trip like this can last a lifetime. I do hope that I will be able to get back to El Cercado sometime soon. However, I feel that nothing will ever compare to having my eyes truly opened to the world for the first time and the unique experience that was this trip.
-Nick Hintz, Sophomore at Hofstra
Our College Missionaries
This blog is by our student and missionaries so that you can learn a little more about our experience on our mission trips!