Message shared by Kate
Imagine: a profound blue sky with white clouds so pure and clean hovering above you. A mountain range far beyond in the distance captures your eye. As it borders the area, it wraps around inviting you to wonder what is on the other side. How majestic the landscape is before you. A luscious green forest surrounds you with wild coconuts at the top of the trees awaiting your thirst to cleanse your dry mouth. Birds sing to you as you wipe the sweat off yet another time. The laughter of children makes you smile just at the sound of it. Their beaming faces draw you in and you can’t help but to love them. The air is cool, but be careful for it will sweep you off your feet in an instant with how peaceful and sweet it is, if you let it. The sun is bright and warms you quickly for God is everywhere you turn in this place. This was how I spent my week in the Dominican Republic in mission.
My name is Katie and I am here to celebrate with you. To celebrate mission and how brilliant an experience like this can be. You don’t realize how easily it makes you desire to help someone in great need and how easily it can make you forget where you live and where you come from until you try it. Mission is what we are called to do.
I’m 17 years old and a senior in high school where I am very much involved in the clubs and social groups that make up the school. I’m also on the varsity swim team there as well. I go to a UMC, which is a small country church that I adore. I lovingly sing in the choir and am a part of a wonderful youth group that my dad actually leads. I have a job where I get to teach the cutest kids in the world. I teach swim lessons to kids ranging from 2-10 years old and I’m also a lifeguard. That’s how I get my killer tan lines over the summer ☺ However, this summer I was soaked in sweat under the hot Dominican sun, not basking away at the side of the pool like I would any other summer.
I have been thoroughly involved with a mission organization through the Methodist church called Voices of Youth. Ever since the mission choir made up of about 25 teenagers and 6 adults came to give a concert, I fell in love. Voices of Youth was founded 26 years ago and is intended to be a try-out process for those in music who sing and also are interested in mission work. You fill out your application and get references and sing on a tape you send in, in hopes of being selected from a bunch of youth all over the state of Virginia. Months go by and that glorious letter comes in saying that “Congratulations, you made it!” Once the joy sets you back down on your feet, you soon realize that, wow, 3 ½ weeks is a long time away from home with people who are complete strangers. Yeah, that feeling came across me, but only lasted a mere 2 minutes before I couldn’t help but be so excited to be a part of something new! They wanted me; I was important. My first year on Voices in 2009, we went to the Gulf Coast in Mississippi to do Katrina relief work. Of course, I couldn’t help myself since I had such a blast the first time, so I applied again as youth staff in 2011. I got in and helped lead the trip that occurred this past summer to Santiago, Dominican Republic.
Amazing. That seems to be one of the first words that comes to mind when I think of my experience to the Dominican. I learned so much from the people there and how large their faith is in God. Their love is powerful and easily seen in all that they do.
As you all are aware, clean water is scarce in the Dominican, most especially in the community that we grew close to, Cuesta Arena, which lies in the northern part of the DR- Santiago. We were told specifically not to give the children of the village water, for a fear of the spread of sickness, particularly Cholera. Each day was a personal challenge for me to tell these thirsty kids, no. How could I give them nothing to drink when they had immediately opened their hearts up to us the minute we arrived? That was everything that they had and I simply couldn’t share a sip or two of my nice, cold water? It didn’t make sense to me. Giving the kids water was actually discussed different times within our group. I don’t think I was the only one who struggled with the inability to share the water we had with them. Isn’t that what we came here to do? So on our last day, we brought a third jug of water to share. We unloaded and began our work of digging and playing with the kids for the day. Soon enough, the crinkling sound of plastic cups surrounded us and the kids’ faces lit up. An out of order line formed and little hands shot up waving anxiously for what we consider so simple- water. God’s grace and compassion was seen immediately through the kids as one or two of them offered for me to have their water first. How extraordinary. The people of the Dominican are such a gracious people. When I had told them ‘no’ to water countless times before, they extended grace to me anyway and wanted to give me their water first—the water they had been longing for. These people, young and old, were always willing to show their love and appreciation, even if a cup of water or a new makeover with chalk as eye shadow, or even an accomplished pat on the back was all they could physically give us.
With Spanish being the prime language and way of communication of the country, it surely made things a little difficult. If I wanted to express my thanks for the people of the house we stayed in for cooking our meals, I mean that wasn’t so hard- “Gracias senora!”or “Gracias senor!” However, while on the work site, communicating with the people who dug alongside us was another story. Our directive for being there originally was to continue digging a large pit that will later store a water cistern for clean water for the community. It ended up being basically a big 10 by 10 hole when we finished. That’s a lot of dirt, you know. So it had to go somewhere. Another group of people took that dirt to the mission house made up of cement to pack down as a floor. Thirdly, a large chunk of the people in our group played endlessly with the children of the village. The kids had so much happiness in their eyes. They found it so silly to draw on us with chalk. It was supposed to represent makeup, and it ended up being quite the makeover. Some of the kids even worked with us. The Dominican people work hard. They really showed us how to sweat. While in typical culture, they wore pants and heavy shirts, we thought it was almost unbearable to be in a t-shirt and shorts. With 3 different work groups, the process of getting a certain message along was tricky. But through repeated actions and pointing fingers on where to go, all of the jobs got done with time still left over to sing and worship together at the end of the day. We taught them simple songs and they did the same. Each morning on the way to the site, our choral director would teach us a song in Spanish, like “Jesus Loves Me” and the song we sang at the beginning of the service, among many others. That song we sang today became one we would sing all day, every day. It would make your heart jump when you would hear a child start singing it, almost trying to give us that reassurance while we were still working. Leaving and letting go was rough for us. We actually sang “Caminando en la luz de Dios” while on the bus as the village of Cuesta Arena faded away. We grew close to the people and I know that they grew close to us, too.
Even though communicating verbally was a challenge and saying no to the children of the DR was extremely hard, the communication of God’s everlasting love and grace came so easily. I went on this mission trip with Voices of Youth with the intention to give all the love that I had, and I unexpectedly came back with the gift of grace and compassion from these driven people. And I found that it was exactly what I needed. This is how the kingdom of God should work—to be in service in Christ to those in need and then to receive the same, even if that’s not what we expect, and even if it’s not a physical gift. Extending grace is a beautiful thing.
Being in mission almost seems natural. Doing something as simple as dropping off canned goods to a local Salvation Army is a great thing. Going on a youth oriented trip can be so much fun as well. Or even giving someone their extra change they forgot to get in the Wal-Mart self-serve checkout line. Mission is simply what we’re called to do.
I love the Coke commercial where enjoyable music is played in the background as several people encounter each other as a mishap suddenly occurs one after the other. Someone sees the other perform the random act of kindness and becomes inspired to do the same. A stressed mother drops her purse while hauling the groceries to her car and someone picks it up and hands it to her with a smile. You see her tension on the TV screen dwindle away. A hectic businessman doesn’t see the no-crossing sign flashing before him as he is typing away on his Blackberry and almost steps into oncoming traffic before a nice gentleman puts his arm out to stop him. One sees the other do these things and wants to help out too. If God’s kingdom could be like this, there would be no problem at all! We may not all be drinking Coke at the end of the day like those in the commercial, but we would all be much happier, I believe. Much like how mission works, inspiration can lead you to do what God is calling you to do. That may even be in the mission field.
A specific itinerary is almost given to us from Paul in Romans as chapter 12, verses 9-21 reads about how we should be in service to one another. It reminds me greatly of the people of the Dominican that I encountered with during that special week. Paul encourages us to love sincerely and be joyful in hope, while also giving our enemy something to eat and drink, without lacking in zeal. How can you not anticipate being in mission to a people as Paul describes? But do you, first, fit under the description?
When first being asked to speak during this Mission Celebration weekend, I was confused and puzzled at why they would ask me. Don’t they know that I’m just 17? I mean I’m not even a legal adult yet! I’m just in high school. I’m supposed to getting ready for college endlessly stressing over if my SAT scores are high enough. Right? What am I going to be majoring in next fall? Do I have a decent ‘career plan’ in mind? Granted, that’s what my guidance counselor keeps asking me, but still, why am I here?
Why are you here? “OH! It’s just another Sunday!” “It’s routine! We always come!” Right? But, shouldn’t you be here to worship; to become fulfilled and renewed for a new week? Isn’t that the right answer? Shouldn’t you be here to celebrate all that God has made and done for you? What are you celebrating?
Are you celebrating that your boss at work is gone on vacation this upcoming week which will make it less chaotic around there? Or what an awesome play your favorite football team had giving them that latest win? Are you celebrating the birth of your next door neighbor’s son or are you celebrating a day of rain? Are you rejoicing over the people of the Dominican’s new clean water source? Because I am. I’m excited for mission, excited to be here. I’m excited to share this with you; to share my story and my mission experience. To celebrate and worship with you all here today. But it’s a good thing that this celebration doesn’t have to end. Because mission doesn’t just stop when the mission trip is over. It’s only just begun.
So come! The invitation is open! Come and celebrate with me; celebrate mission and service. And go out and do. As Paul tells us, be faithful in prayer and share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Share your celebration. We are all in mission together for His kingdom, so that one day we can all be drinking Coke at the end of the day together.
Now, go out to the mission field.
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