If you asked me one year ago what I would be doing over Christmas break in 2018, I never would have told you that I would be in the Dominican Republic spreading the word of God. That is because I was not in the same place spiritually a year ago that I am today. Sometimes, God works in ways that we have no way of predicting, but I am forever thankful that He made it possible for me to travel to the Dominican Republic with my incredible teammates and coaches.
Over the course of the week that we were in the DR, I saw God work in so many different ways. On the first day of being in Bobita, I was introduced to some of the kids at the children’s home, and I have to admit that I was nervous at first. I’ve never considered myself ‘good with kids,’ and of course there was the language barrier. A few of the girls spoke some English, but they obviously preferred their native language of Spanish. We were forced to use our limited knowledge of Spanish to communicate, and this led to a lot of confusion when trying to learn new games (a group of us ended up playing a lot of UNO because it was something that we all understood how to play no matter what language was being spoken.) We continued to spend a lot of time playing at the children’s home and spending time with the kids. I watched some of our guys get challenged by the Dominicans to numerous games of basketball, and it was amusing to witness how there is no language barrier to competitiveness. On one of the days, we all loaded onto an open-air bus and took the kids from the children’s home to a nearby river. Again, I found myself playing some games in which I had no clue as to what I was supposed to be doing. However, I wouldn’t trade the resulting smiles, laughter, and soaked clothing for anything.
Among the memories made on the trip, the highlight for me came on our next to last day. It will forever be a significant day in my life because it was the day that I decided to commit my life to Christ. I had never been baptized before. Growing up, my parents agreed that they would let me decide when I felt I was ready to be baptized. It was a decision that I had been thinking about since starting school at Lipscomb, but I felt that I truly knew what God’s work looked like and what it really means to be a Christian after just a few days on this trip. I saw this through the pure joy of the children I met, and I also witnessed this through the testimonies given by some of the students of Manna. But one of the students that influenced me the most was a twenty-year-old girl named Edily. Upon meeting her, she had a smile on her face, and that smile never seemed to disappear. She was always looking out for me and making me laugh, and she even offered to help me practice my Spanish. Edily also showed me what courage looks like when she told her testimony. I was reminded that you never know the pain that someone has experienced. Because of all of this, I decided to ask Edily to baptize me the day we were planning on going to the beach. She was shocked but honored. I woke up the morning after asking her and she had a list of questions for me to answer regarding my baptism. I answered them with ease, and I knew the timing of my decision was right. On January 3, 2019, I was baptized by Edily in the ocean while I was surrounded by my new American and Dominican brothers and sisters in Christ.
Although being baptized was my favorite memory, there were so many other moments that I will never forget. We sang common American worships songs in Spanish during church service. We experienced Dominican life during community day when we split into groups to eat lunch in a Dominican home. We hosted a movie night for the kids of the neighborhood, and I became attached to a young girl who wouldn’t leave my side. We hosted VBS on Manna’s grounds for these same children. I watched my teammates go out of their comfort zones by putting on a skit of Daniel in the Lion’s Den just to make these kids laugh. We went on a scavenger hunt through Rio San Juan, swam in a lagoon, deep-cleaned the campus, and toured the classrooms where Manna’s students learn. All of these activities gave us the opportunity to grow in our faith and friendships with the Dominicans and each other.
If you ask me today what I will be doing on my next Christmas break, I will say that I will be hopefully reconnecting with my brothers and sisters in Christ from the Dominican Republic. I saw happiness that I rarely see in the United States, and I will always wonder if an American child would be as relentless with fixing a broken Rubik’s cube as a young Dominican boy is. Two days post-trip and I am sad that I no longer get to see my new friends, but for this I know that God has worked through both me and my fellow teammates.