Spring Break Mission Trip: The Dominican Republic

carmen hung, brown '15 (community health, pre-dental); shared fri. gathering, apr. 4, 2015------------

For those who may not know, last week during the Spring Break, I was in the Dominican Republic on a mission trip with Alana and Dany. This was my third time going on one (I went to Chicago last year and Guatemala the year before), and although I hadn’t really set any expectations for what I hoped to do or see during those trips, I feel like this time I found myself to be even more conscious of trying to be observant and open. And during my week in the DR, I do feel that God spoke to me in many ways—through the quiet times we had every morning; through conversations with my site leader and people from other teams; and through serving and observing in the ministry sites.

During one of our debriefing meetings, we were asked to share about how we saw God working in the ministry sites we were working at. And this was something that did not really require much thought for me. Throughout the week, I had seen God working at my site through my site leader, Vanesa, who was one of the dentists in the community. Everything in her work was grounded in her faith and in the Word of God, and I think it was especially encouraging because seeing how someone can be a reflection of Christ in their work being demonstrated to me, is much more real than when we just talk about it. For example, on the first day at the dental clinic, I was really overwhelmed because she put us straight to work setting up the dental chairs, sterilizing the instruments, setting up the trays, and then preparing the patients to be seen by her. Once we were done with that, we had to be ready to assist her with the tools and materials as she operated on her patients. For me, it was especially nerve-wracking because I don’t have any formal training and she expected us to know what all these things were and also to follow the correct procedures for each treatment. However, as she taught us, she reminded us of the passage in Matthew that talks about the importance of doing to others as we would have them do to us, to put in all our effort into doing the best work that we could, as if the preparations were for ourselves. I didn’t expect the work to be so physical, tiring, and busy—we were standing for hours on end and kept working as patient after patient was being seen. At first, a part of me wished that I had more personal interactions with the patients, but my Spanish is not that great, and during a dental visit, it’s not like they are there to talk. However, through Vanesa’s encouragement and also seeing her work, I was reminded me that everything we do should be meant for God’s glory, whether it is considered “spiritual” or not, and meeting people’s physical needs is also a very important thing that we are called to do. Sometimes when we cannot see how God is working or forget that God is always working, we need to just be faithful in what we are doing. We never know the impact our actions can have nor do we know how he will end up touching people’s lives.

During our second to last day at the clinic, God allowed me to see that with one of the patients. There was a 10-year old girl named Stacy who came in and as she sat in the dental chair waiting for Vanesa, she held a report card in her hand. As we helped her at the chair side, Vanesa told us her story. Stacy was growing up in a broken home. Her father was currently with another woman and she and her siblings and had just recently been sent to live with another family. Before that, she would often be found standing outside of her house past midnight while her parents were fighting. When her teeth were being examined, I could see that a lot of her teeth were decayed and that a lot of her permanent teeth had already been extracted. She wasn’t able to pay for her treatments, so Vanesa had actually made a deal with her. As long as she brought good grades at each dental visit, Vanesa would continue to work on her teeth. Vanesa took this as an opportunity to allow her work to be used to build a long-term relationship and to share the Gospel and the love of Christ with one of her patients. And as she was working she also made sure to let us know that although she is very capable of working on her own, she still considers our help very important because it is an opportunity for us to partner together in God’s mission. We are all part of and working as one body of Christ. Although our contributions may not seem grand for that one week we are at her clinic, God uses them collectively for his plan. Even when we go home, we will still be with them as part of the mission as we pray for her, the other workers, and the people, such as Stacy, who visit the clinic. She also reminded us that we aren’t necessarily called to drop our studies and everything else we are doing to be missionaries in a foreign country. In Proverbs 3:5-6 it says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.” We are to remain faithful in the things God has placed in our life because we never know how they may be used for God’s greater purpose. For Vanesa, there was a time when she considered not studying dentistry anymore, but now she is able to see why God has led her to where she is now.

For this mission trip, we partnered with an organization called Students International, whose mission is “Bringing students and the poor together cross-culturally to encounter God, share the Good News, disciple and serve others in occupational ministries.” Not only did I see this shine through, but God also allowed for my time in the DR to be one for teaching and reminding me of many things that I lose sight of so often and so easily. The experiences I had in the DR are a small piece of my life that God has placed with me, a small glimpse of how God is working in all places within the bigger picture he is continually painting.

This sharing is necessary for me, as much as I hope it is helpful for you, to hear. Just coming back from the trip, I already find myself being so easily roped back into the “busyness” of college life and the tendency to place my focus on myself and on achieving my goals. I am reminded of my own need for Christ’s mercy and grace every day of my life. I shouldn’t be living my life out for my own purposes, seeking approval or blessings from other people, but I should be sharing with other people what God has given me. I need to remember my life is a gift from God, be mindful of what motivates me in my work, and think about how whether my actions are honoring God.