I've returned home again! In fact I arrived on Sunday morning. I still haven't gotten over the jet lag, and I think I may have a funny tummy, but the worst thing is just how much I want to be back in the Dominican Republic!
I went there for 2 weeks on a mission trip with an organisation called Mission Direct. I went with ten other people from the town where I live, but there was 20 of us on the team altogether.
I did write a couple of blog posts whilst I was out there, but the internet connection was very limited. Over the next few days, and weeks and months I want to try and share with you as much as I can about the whole trip. I want to try and explain how I felt, what I was met with, how I coped, and what God did whilst I was out there, but also how I'm feeling now, how the trip has affected me, the thoughts and ideas it had left me with, and how God is using the experience for me now, and in the future too...
Here is some things I wrote whilst I was away, I wrote this just a few days into the 2 weeks, I'll share more of my experiences with you soon!...
"A year, or so, of planning and preparation, and finally I'm here!
Saturday was the longest day of my life, I was awake for 24 hours. Our flight was delayed by 5 hours, we had been seated onto the original plane and we were just waiting to leave when the pilot informed us that there was a hydraulic leak and so we would have to wait atleast 2 hours. I felt like God had failed me, I'd asked Him for a safe and smooth journey and it had already gone wrong. Then I looked at myself and I realised how very, very wrong I was. Was I alive? Yes. Would it have been safe for that plane to have flown? No. Was it the end of the world for us to be delayed? No it wasn't. God hadn't failed me, God never fails me, I had failed Him, when am I ever going to learn to stop doing that? Even though I had already doubted Him, not even a day into the trip, He still forgave me, He still continued to love me.
I want to describe the plane journey as magical, but that's not really what I mean at all, because it wasn't made up or fiction, it was very, very real, and very, very beautiful. As we flew higher and higher and I could see England's patchwork of fields disappearing into tiny little, little squares I was in awe of how great God is. My chases for the moon always feel so big, they always feel so, so important, yet the truth of the matter is that they are tiny, I am tiny. I felt humbled by my small-ness, I had never quite realised before how insignificant and how little my life could matter, but the truth is it does matter, God says that I matter, God knows me by name, little, tiny, tiny me, He loves me unconditionally, and even when He can see that my chases for the moon are really a lot smaller than I seem to think, they do matter to Him, they matter to Him even more than they matter to me. He laughs with affection as I admire His beauty, He lovingly ruffles my hair and gives me a nudge to show that He understands.
The clouds were stunning, I took so, so many photos of them, they were like nothing I'd ever seen, it was as if they danced and changed and transformed in tune with the angel's song, putting on a show to shout aloud how amazing, and how beautiful and how marvellous God truly is.
As we finally came down to land, we saw our first glimpses of the Dominican Republic. We saw how very, very green it was, I think we saw rainforest, we saw a lot of shanty towns, and I found it hard to take it all in. I'd finally arrived on the other side of the world. Some of my friends who have come with me were talking about how different it was to what they had expected. I don't know what I had expected, I hadn't actually formed an image in my head because I had nothing to base it on, so everything just seemed completely new to me.
We were met by a wall of heat, I have never known anything like it. I was thanking God as every single one of our 20-30 bags arrived safely on the conveyor belt, I was exhausted and I felt a little bit shocked that I was here at last.
We were met outside the airport by Claire and more of the different people from Mission Direct and a charity they are partnered with called The Samaritan Foundation, we loaded our bags onto the truck and climbed aboard the bus. I can't explain what our first sights of the Dominican Republic were like. I felt like I was watching it on the TV, it was as if some random celebrity had travelled out here and they were filming the streets as they drove along them, and there I was spectating. I felt like I was in a bubble, with messed up timings, confused eating habits and a complete exhaustion, it did feel hard to take it all in.
One thing I really remember was driving past this man who was laying cement. All he had was a plank of wood and the cement. He used his hands and feet to lay the cement, and I don't know what it was but I was struck by just how different this was from home.
I had been told many times that it was different, I knew that in my head and had prepared myself for it, but finally I saw it for myself, I saw these people just on the streets like there would be people on the streets in any other town and they were doing what any other people in any other town would be doing too. It finally dawned on me, these are real people living here, it is so easy to just see them as numbers. These are real people who lay cement with their hands and feet. These are real people who live in houses that do look like they might fall down. These are real people who just want to have a good time when they go out on a Saturday night. These are God's beautiful, beautiful creation.
Sunday finally came, I was still feeling tired especially as I woke up way too early. We started the day by giving the TV a go, and the first channel we came to was a Spanish Bible study, I honestly felt rather blown away and excited, Bible study...on TV? Wow!! It sort of gave me a taste of things to come. And by that I mean the way that Christianity is accepted amongst so many of the people! Particularly those I met! Its a normality for people to be Christian, so, so much beauty in it all. After finding out about what exactly we are doing for the next 2 weeks, we headed off to an American Church service. They welcomed us in and accepted us, and I almost cried. They sang the same songs we sing. I don't know why I was so shocked, but as we joined in singing with people who live on the other side of the world, 'Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me...' I realised again how much bigger the Church is, how wherever we are, we are joined us one, united under Him, to give Him glory and to be His hands and feet.
In the afternoon we went off to visit some of the villages. The Samaritan Foundation was set up by a man called Elio, please, please google his story because it is so amazing, but basically what they do is they build communities, taking people out of shanty houses and giving them somewhere to live, and trying to educate them, to enable them to work.
I was very, very nervous of going to the villages, I really had no idea what to expect and it felt very daunting.
As we got off the bus at village number 9, called Paradise, we were welcomed with open arms by the children, they ran up and were just so happy to see us. I still felt nervous, the language barrier is something I find really hard, but they could not have been any more accepting. They walked with us, wanting to hold our hands, to be carried and to just be with us. We went on to visit Esperanza (meaning hope) which is the current project for The Samaritan Foundation, there is about 250 houses there in total with just 7 left to build, 5 of which our team have sponsored! These are also the houses we'll be helping to build whilst we're here. I loved Esperanza it was such a beautiful place, full of community and so much, I don't know, total joy? This is 1200 people living together, generally with around 7 people to a small house, and its not easy for them, their lives have been improved dramatically, but still they live in poverty, and even in it all, still they are happy. They are happy. They are joy-filled.
We have three translators, Stephanie, Isachar and Mario, they are AMAZING!! I shall tell all about them some time, for now I shall tell you a small bit about Isachar... He is what my brother would call a legend, he is so, so funny, all the kids know him at the villages and they love him a lot. When we visited Esperanza on Sunday and one of the boys asked what we were there for Isachar told them that we were going to have a party, a while later the boys were all in fits of laughter because loads of children from the village had turned up for this party, they had known it wasn't real and they found it hilarious how they'd tricked everyone! It was funny to be honest and the laughs of everyone were just so genuine, I can't quite explain it all but I could see God and He was beautiful.
When we climbed out of the bus in Esperanza a little girl ran straight up and grabbed my friend's hand, and the girl was talking to another girl standing a little way off, I don't know what they were actually saying but it looked like she was telling her to come and get someone else's hand but she was too shy, so I held out my hand and she stepped forward shyly, after that she just came with me as we walked around the village, she was shy, and almost seemed a bit sad and lonely and lost but I could almost see the security she found in holding my hand and hugging me.
This is a girl I have never met before and the absolute trust and complete want to be with me was truly incredible. So beautiful. So Him."
Here I have shared just a snippet of what I experienced, I have so much more to write about. So much more to say about the amazing translators, so much more to say about it all. Looking forward to sharing my experience.
Thanking God for His blessings. Even in all the mess all is grace. And He is Beauty.