Freshman distance runner Kacey Kemper shares her experiences during day five of the track and field team's mission trip to the Dominican Republic.
Today was a very full day and certainly the most impactful for me personally. We spent the morning dropping Magi boxes off at three spots in the city of Rio San Juan. The drops included a preschool, a tiny one-room daycare, and a church. It was incredible witnessing the joy and excitement in the kids as they each received their shoebox-sized Tupperwares full of simple hygiene products and toys. As Corey explained to us as we traversed through the streets, for some of these kids, this will be the only gift they receive all year. As someone who has made boxes for Operation Christmas children for years, it was awesome to finally witness the impact of the boxes at the other end of the process.
After the drops we returned to the outreach center in Rio San Juan. Ryan and Sandy Trues, a missionary couple from the states, run a club for kids on Wednesday and Monday afternoons here. In Rio San Juan, there isn’t much for kids to do after school. Here, they have a place to make crafts, play games, sing songs, and get connected with friends, mentors, and Jesus. The best part of the club is that, although it is organized by Ryan and Sandy, it is completely run by the Dominican students from Manna Christian High School. As we helped set up, one thing Sandy said particularly struck me. She explained, “The kids don’t want to grow up to be like us gringos, they want to be like these cool Dominican teens.” As I watched the Manna students lead the songs and games with passion and enthusiasm, I was struck by the ripple effect this ministry is having in the community. As Americans like Ryan, Sandy, Corey, and Laura Beth, disciple teenagers at Manna, these teens can then in turn disciple and mentor the younger kids of the community. And one day these young kids can grow up, attend Manna, and disciple the generation after them. As Lucas wisely discussed in our devotional later that evening, this is the true goal of mission work: establishing independent communities that will continue to sustain themselves even in the future absence of American missionaries. Essentially, the missionaries here are not just giving the Dominicans fish so they can eat for a day, but teaching them to fish so they can eat for a lifetime. And even more importantly, the missionaries here are teaching the Dominicans to fish for men.
As we ran around with the kids, giving them piggy-back rides and hugs, one thought continued to dominate my mind: “This is a safe place.” Amidst the poverty, tragedies, and family issues of Rio San Juan, this ministry gives kids an opportunity to find God that they might otherwise never discover. It was a true honor to witness the way the Lord is moving in this community, working through Americans to disciple young Dominicans, and raising up a generation of young ones that can one day be the leaders that bring hope and change to their own community.