Dominican Republic Mission Trip: Arrival

To call a mission trip 'life-changing' is an understatement.

At the end of July, a team of eight from Lifeline Church headed down to Santiago, Dominican Republic, for a week-long mission trip with G.O. Ministries. Over the next several posts, I’ll be sharing some thoughts from my journal.

The Miami airport has got to be one of the most boring places for a long layover. Steve’s wife, Thelma, took the boys, Adam and Connor, to kill some time on the Sky-tram. I’m not sure if Megan and Jennie went with. Dave, Steve, and I parked ourselves at the gate and took turns hunting down a burger and guarding the carry-ons. We met another team, about thirty folks from Rockford, Kankakee and such. This is their group’s second mission trip. A friendly bunch; everyone says that they’ll be praying for us, and I’m not sure why but that just makes me feel awkward.

I also feel bad because I hope our team doesn’t have to work with them. My poor hearing makes it difficult enough to manage a conversation of just the eight voices on our team.

Folks have been asking me what my expectations are for this trip, and my expectation is that I will be really uncomfortable. Uncomfortably hot. Uncomfortably tired. Uncomfortably surrounded. These aren’t complaints, mind you…they’re just the closest things to expectations I might have.

Really, though, I just want to be useful in a place that needs help.

And although it isn't so much an expectation, a surprising question has been weighing on my mind as the trip neared: Am I a Christian? I honestly don’t know why or when this question became an issue for me. Participating on this this trip is a demonstration of some very basic Christian teachings, but acts alone don’t count.

My heart is there, too.

I think.

Pastor Steve thinks that if there were a litmus test for being a Christ follower, I would pass. But Steve doesn’t like litmus tests, and I suspect the actual test result would show a pH out of whack. Truth is, I’ve got good things in my heart, and a ton of bad things I just can’t shake. I wish I could shake them, but I can’t, and at times they fester like a wound, begging for my attention. The best I can do, I figure, is to simply acknowledge and accept that the bad exists as I try to explore the good and see where it leads me.

So much of what I believe is just slightly off from core foundational beliefs of Lifeline Church that I continue to doubt myself. Am I a Christian? I wish I knew.

The flight to Santiago was uneventful. I’ve proven again that I can sleep any time, any place, in any position. (I have even been known to fall asleep standing up.) However, I think if a sleep-anywhere-anyplace-any position contest were run, that I’d lose to Thelma. She is always a bundle of energy, but as soon as there is a chance for sleep, she is out in a heartbeat.

We were met in Santiago by our team leads, Kyle and Matt, and a media intern who will be documenting our trip for G.O. Ministries. At Thelma's suggestion, we made a pyramid for our group photo. We piled our luggage onto a flatbed and packed ourselves into a van for the ride to Hoya del Caimito. Kyle raced down the highway, and probably because of the night, the Dominican Republic looks more like Tucson than it does a tropical island. Wide open spaces with patches of green are dotted with small square buildings and harsh fluorescent lights. Hurried traffic slips to a near-standstill to crawl over the giant speed bumps which are called “sleeping policeman.”

Once entering Hoya del Caimito, the van turns through narrow streets--left at El Presidente, right at the Fresca Frio, and finally stopping at a three-story dorm. The building's gate doubles as the alarm system…you can’t get through it without making a squeaking racket. There is a dorm for each the guys and the ladies on the second floor—each room holds twenty-four beds, eight sets of bunk beds stacked three high; three toilets, each with a waste basket as you don’t flush toilet paper here; five sinks that may or may not have running water; five showers that probably don’t have hot water, each with a garbage can storing water for the times when there is no water at all.

Oh, yes, my expectations have already been met. But, thankfully, it’s just the eight of us on our own.

The kitchen sits on the roof of the building, completely open to the outside and caged in to keep the birds out. Looking through the bars to the street below, I can see right into people’s houses. People hang out together on the street—they literally have chairs and card tables set up on the road—and some play dominos. They sit together on the sidewalk. They shout out to one another as they walk in and out of darkness, avoiding the cars and mopeds. They seem to lack so much of what we have back home, and yet they have something my own neighborhood lacks…each other.

I can’t imagine living here, and yet, there in the darkness, I see so much to envy.

We ate dinner, met some more long-term missionaries, and then went back down to the dorm for sleep. Tomorrow we head on out to the barrio to finish digging a cistern that was started by other teams.

I’m excited to get started.

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