I’ve been putting off writing a wrap-up of our visit to the Dominican Republic back in June and I know why. Our relationship with that country and those people spans eight years and has been so formative to my faith, my worldview, and my understanding of who Jesus is. I feel that when I write about it to share with others, I can never do it justice. (But here goes anyway).
We spent ten days at the end of June visiting our missionary friends Jess and Torre Aguilar who had just recently come on staff with GO Ministries. Nate and I first connected with GO Ministries in 2008 when we went on our church’s mission trip to the DR. The organization’s model is to empower Dominican workers, such as teachers, pastors, doctors, coaches, and construction workers, to be change agents in their communities. They accomplish this often by partnering those individuals with churches in the US who can offer encouragement and resources. That year, we met Pastor Luis Vargas and his family, and our lives were forever changed. We continue to lead a group from REUNION Christian Church to the DR each year to provide a medical clinic in their community and encourage and work alongside the Vargas family, with the exception of this summer; we traveled down a month before REUNION’s group trip for a visit of our own.
So we went to visit Jess and Torre. And we went to visit the Vargas family (we have visited at least annually since 2008). And we went to visit the incredible GO Ministries staff and community who we have come to know and love deeply. It was, in many ways, a homecoming before our US homecoming.
Jess and Torre had moved to the DR about a month before our visit. We enjoyed helping them paint their new home, dreaming about their growing family in that house (their first child is due in January!), playing games, and simply sharing daily life with them. They put us to work a bit (which we begged for) – Nate doing some technical assistance in their offices and me doing some communications strategy planning – but mostly we just enjoyed being in each other’s presence, playing games, and sharing meals. It had been a long time since we had true friends in person and since we’d seen their faces.
We also had a day with the Vargas family where we helped out at their church in La Mosca, a community known for its poverty, disease, and violence, and where we work each year. The neighborhood itself has sprung up next to the largest garbage dump in Santiago; the people there climb the giant mountain of trash each day and search for things they can use or sell. This is where the Vargas family (Luis, Reina, and their boys Jason and Dilson) pastors the church, leads small groups and community discussions, hosts movie nights, engages in community dialogs, and feeds 100 children 6 days a week. That afternoon we grabbed lunch together and Nate mentioned that he needed a haircut. Before we knew it, we were hanging out at Luis’ mother’s house, drinking strong and sweet Dominican coffee, nieces and nephews all around, and Nate was getting his hair cut by Luis’ brother next door. It was perfect. Luis and Reina also took us to see their “future retirement home” outside the city where they bought a small piece of land and built a simple house that they’re now renting out. At their house later that night, Reina taught me how to make mangu and we enjoyed a delicious dinner with some riveting games of Dominoes to punctuate the day. I’ll proudly mention that we did all this in Spanish without the use of an interpreter. I likely sounded like a three year old, but Luis, Reina, and their boys were patient and kind to us. Except when they were making fun of us. Which is a lot. We love to laugh with those guys.
We also got to visit with the pastor of the Deaf church in Santiago, Pastor Reyes, who is Deaf himself. Yes, Santiago has a vibrant Deaf Christian community! Their Sunday gatherings are led completely in Dominican Sign Language, which is similar enough to American Sign Language that I can understand most of it with ease. As with meeting hearing Dominicans in the city, most people have a family connection in either New York or Boston so they are familiar with where we’re from. Small talk always includes snarky Yankees and/or Red Sox comments, no matter what language. Nate and I enjoyed worship led by various members of the congregation, including the pastor’s young hearing daughter, and then a sermon led by Pastor Reyes. Reyes’ sermons are always insightful and hard-hitting and this was no different. He spoke about idol worship, how we still worship idols today, and how we need to recognize idol worship in others and lovingly point them towards Jesus and away from things that can offer nothing to us. I adore this Deaf community in Santiago and am so amazed at the ways they are working with the government and fighting for equality in education and resources for Deaf people in the DR.
While in the DR, we got to see a lot of other familiar faces that we’ve had the pleasure of meeting over the years there. The people who work for and are connected to GO Ministries are some of the most passionate, hard-working, incredible, joyful individuals I’ve ever met. Though we travel down to the DR each year to “help”, we always feel like we gain far more from our interactions with their community than we ever give in physical assistance. As Nate and I took over leading our annual mission trip to the DR years ago, we knew building relationships was always something we would value over whatever material work got done. It’s heartening to see the fruits of that over the last eight years in the rich friendships we have there.
We weren’t great at capturing moments with our cameras this trip; we were so caught up with catching up with people! So special shoutouts to Jeff and Vicki, Will and Audrey, Isaias and Lenae, Kathy, Dianne, Kerlyn, Jackie and Alan, Tim and Samira, Brook and Sandra, et al. ….. Sorry we didn’t capture your beautiful faces for the blog but we love you a ton; hugs from you this summer were so so good!
Nuestros amigos in la Republica Dominicana, te amamos!