The team began its first day at the mission site picking up trash, weeding, cutting wood for the playground, and digging holes to build a fence. From the minute we arrived, the locals took an interest in our work and tried to help in any way they could. There were at least a couple instances when a kid, not even half my age, would rip the pick-axe out of my hand and take over my job of breaking the ground where we would be digging. I think this sort of thing paints a pretty good picture of what our first day may have looked like. There was an instant connection between us and the townspeople. Athough we couldn't communicate further than "Hola and Como estas," we managed to accomplish far more than we ever could as just a basketball team.
Our day was split in half. In the morning we worked on our mission project, and in the afternoon we ran basketball clinics for any local kids who were interested. Without being able to dictate, somehow my teammates arranged multiple games of knockout and two-on-two.
Of everything that went on this afternoon, one image really resonated in me. For over an hour and a half, my teammate Eli Pepper rebounded and shot with a local who was mentally disabled. It did not matter where the shot ended up, Eli would chase it down and hand it to this boy so he could shoot again. I think everyone involved with the clinics had a great time - especially Garrison Mathews who had my teammate video him as he surprised me by dunking on me while I was standing under the hoop rebounding.
Two things stand out as highlights for the day. First, I think my teammate Matt Rose delivered a great message to the kids who showed up for our afternoon clinics. He concluded our day at the site by sharing his personal story of faith and testimony which I think was great for the kids there to hear.
Secondly, I want to acknowledge our team devotions at the end of each day. I really value this time where we come together to discuss what we each experience throughout the day and how it ties into what we believe, into our faith. Tonight especially, I felt we really focused on the love and story of Jesus as we see it in what is happening all around us in the Dominican Republic.
I brought up a particular Bible verse in our discussion that is very valuable to me, and I have been reminded of repeatedly since my arrival here.
1 John 4:7 says "Beloved, let us love one another. For love is from God and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God."
The unconditional love and acceptance that the local people have shown our group of "foreigners" has been nothing short of Christ-like. We have attended church beside them, and have watched them in their community. Despite the fact that most do not come from any means at all and live an impoverished lifestyle, everyone in the group of people playing basketball today rejoiced in the message and gospel of Jesus.