Flashback to 2005… Ethan and I were blessed by the birth of our first daughter, Anna Ruth. That day will forever be etched on our hearts, as she was truly a dream come true. She was born at one of the best hospitals in the nation where she and I received top-notch care. Shortly thereafter, we welcomed her into our comfortable home where she did not want for anything (we had even received a wipe-warmer as a baby gift!). Right from the start, Anna’s future was secure.
Today, Anna is celebrating her 8th birthday in the Dominican Republic. During this trip, we have had the pleasure of meeting children of all ages from two different communities near the city of Santiago. As my daughter anticipated her birthday, telling everyone about its coming, I was struck by the disparity between the path that her life has taken and that of her Dominican peers simply because of situations into which they happened to be born.
I probably don’t need to tell you too much about Anna’s reality beyond the fact that she lives a typical life of a girl being raised in Virginia. However, I will tell you a little bit about the beautiful children we have met in Dominican Republic. All of the kids have been born into poverty. Most of the parents are uneducated, start their families young, and end up having many children. Their small one-room homes are largely constructed of wood and tin; many have dirt floors. Water, if available, is not suitable for consumption. Children get sick often; dental health is clearly not a priority. Most go without shoes and clothes are well-worn. Outhouses are the norm. Electricity is usually only available for 3 hours a day and they don’t know when to expect it to be on. Transportation is expensive; work is limited to the country where these families live and children have to walk 60 minutes to school.
Many extended families in the Dominican Republic live in close proximity, creating a true sense of community. It is touching the way that the older children take care of the younger children, whether they are hermanos (brothers), primos (cousins), or just amigos (friends). We have met 5-year-olds who provide hope to their families because they are the first-ever school graduates (if only preschool) – it’s a start. In the communities where we have worked, people are becoming Christians because of the good work of the church and missionaries before us. Bible groups are popping up all over and youth programming is on the rise. The children radiate with happiness as they play ball and color and their smiles are the biggest and prettiest I think I have ever seen.
I know that Anna will never forget this special birthday*. I pray that she will always carry the wonderful Dominicans whom she has met in her heart. It’s certainly going to be difficult to top this birthday, but based on this amazing experience, I feel hopeful that Anna will celebrate many more birthdays while serving God in our community and our world.
* Thank you, Sairy and Sarah, for the fun party you planned for Anna. It was completely unexpected, and utterly adored. BUMC team, you have been so sweet to Anna all week long. Here is a message that she typed to you: Thank you all for helping me have a spectacular b-day!!!!!!!!! Ps: thank you for all the gifts. They are wonderful!!!!!!!!!!! Your friend, Anna